At the recent Australian Achievement in Architecture Awards ceremony in Hobart Troppo co-founders Phil Harris and Adrian Welke deservedly walked away with the evening’s highest accolade.
Was anyone actually really surprised at Phil Harris and Adrian Welke’s win in the recent Australian Achievement in Architecture Awards? As two of the industry’s most well loved and respected figures it was only a matter of time before the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) bestowed its highest honour upon the Troppo co-founders. Winning the Gold Medal places both of them at the top of an impressive list of past winners, including Harry Seidler, Glenn Murcutt and Peter Corrigan. Having established Troppo in Darwin 34 years ago Adelaide-based Harris and Perth-based Welke have watched it grow and diversify to also include studios in Adelaide, Townsville, Perth and Byron Bay. The practice has won numerous awards at state, national and international levels and cultivated a portfolio of over 2500 projects that range from tiny remote buildings to large-scale urban design. Amongst its many distinctions is the 1994 Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture for the Bowali Visitors Centre in Kakadu and the 2010 UNESCO-supported Global Sustainable Architecture Award. What has long set both Harris and Welke apart is their desire to produce socially responsible architecture that responds to climate and local setting. Troppo is widely regarded as a world leader in environmentally sustainable design with an architecture that promotes the importance of building for place and people. As AIA National President and this year’s Jury Chair Paul Berkemeier notes, “Through their work Harris and Welke have evolved an architecture that deals with the heat, the rain and the subtleties of climate, while understanding and reviving the lessons of the Top End’s history and legacy of building.” It’s quite possibly what imbues the Troppo portfolio with that unmistakably appealing sense of ‘heart’ and most definitely what gives it that characteristically signature Troppo style. Economy in construction and a smart energy efficient approach is synonymous with the practice’s name as is a wonderfully informal spirit, which Harris and Welke both embody in abundance. According to Berkemeier, “They have pioneered a unique approach to Australian architecture – irreverent but sophisticated, inventive with a tinge of larrikin spirit.” This casual, laidback attitude translates into conceptually accessible, fun architecture that is adaptable to any change in climate or lifestyle. It’s also an approach that makes Harris and Welke a pleasure to work with, which was a fact not lost on this year’s jury. Between the two of them they have mentored, educated and supported many students and graduates, who in turn have gone on to have successful careers themselves. As agents of change they have been enthusiastic and influential, even championing a number of regulatory issues that contradict recent Building Code amendments. It may very well just be Harris and Welke’s time and the jury was savvy enough to acknowledge this. But what is undisputable is that there are no two more deserving recipients of the Institute’s most prestigious award. If the Gold Medal is presented in recognition of distinguished services then Harris and Welke’s outstanding contribution to the architecture profession has been duly recognised. In true Troppo spirit this is going to be toasted for some time to come. troppo.com.au