Working mainly on the East Coast of Australia, particularly around the iconic Northern New South Wales surf town of Byron Bay, architect Harley Graham’s Byron studio has a collaborative approach to design, with all projects telling stories about their owners and how they interact with the public domain. Three Balls Red caught up with Graham to learn about his inspiring new boutique hotel project in Byron Bay, the role sustainability plays in his designs and his inspirations.

How did HGA begin? Have you always had a passion for architecture and design?

HGA was actually born in Berlin while I was working over there for Studio Daniel Libeskind. And well as working crazy hours there, I decided to punish myself and continue to work on little projects in Australia at the same time.

Would you call yourself a storyteller?

I guess all designers are storytellers. The projects we design at HGA all tell stories about their owners and about how they interact with the public domain. They also speak about how they are put together. The best-case scenario is when buildings add some insight into the landscape that surrounds them.

What does your design process look like? Can you visualise the end result - including particular rooms and spaces - at the beginning of a project and design back from there?

We have a very collaborative approach at HGA. Everyone designs. In the beginning, we try to dream the house, and think about how it may touch the earth and how it could feel spatially. From there, we sketch and model in 3D at the same time to test ideas. We create numerous options to discuss and slowly narrow down to two or three options to review with the client.

What role does sustainability play in your work?

Sustainability has always been a large part of the studio’s focus. Last year, Phoenix House won the Milo Dunphy Award for Sustainability from the NSW Institute of Architects. Beyond materiality, we are often discussing social and community sustainability and how buildings can become better places for community.

What do you think personally constitutes a great home?

So many different things! We love homes that surprise us spatially; things that are unexpected. We love a ‘human’ scale. Homes can have vast and crazy spaces but there always needs to be places in a home that are snug and comforting. Light, materiality, and connecting to the environment - all the usual things.

What has been your most rewarding or meaningful project?

All of our projects are rewarding. Great collaborations with clients who become friends, beautiful sculptural legacies that inspire people. Currently, we are just finishing off Hotel Marvell in the middle of Byron Bay. It's a 24-room hotel with public rooftop pool and bar, dripping in plants and colour.

What are you working on right now? I remember you telling me you had an upcoming project at Currumbin Valley…

Yes, we have an amazing house just starting construction called Fincatalluca. It has incredible rammed earth walls and hardwood timbers throughout and looks over Currumbin Creek. We are also just finishing off the design of a home on Belongil Beach, which is constructed from pigmented precast concrete panels with roof gardens that look to the lighthouse.

Who or what inspires you?

Living and working on the incredible Bundjalung Country inspires the whole Shire and beyond I belief. The team at HGA inspires me every day. I’m also really inspired by the multitude of local artists and designers in the region raising the level for everyone.

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