Practice

COX Architecture is a multidisciplinary Australian practice which integrates architecture, planning, urban design and interior design.

We have offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, Adelaide, Kuala Lumpur, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Muscat. Overall we have approximately 400 staff.

We are unusual for a large multi-studio practice in that we work to a defined design ethos in all studios. This ethos is based upon principles of structure, craft, art and nature.

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Evolution

In 1962, Philip Cox and his then partner Ian McKay designed the CB Alexander College at Tocal in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. The college came to epitomise the renowned Sydney School which looked to create a distinctly Australian architectural idiom. ‘Tocal’ is renowned for its integration with nature, its expression of structure, and its crafting of materials – all core elements of our ethos today.

The work of the early decades of the practice also established other key principles we prioritise today, one being the planning of cities and design of buildings that are adaptable to inevitable changes – cultural, social, technological, economic. The other is the creation of places of innate sustainability – environmental strategies that are embedded in rather than added to the design. As the practice’s reputation grew, we opened offices in Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Our projects became increasingly diverse ranging from stadia to exhibition centres to university buildings to resorts. Some of the seminal architectural projects were the desert township of Yulara at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in central Australia, the Bruce Stadium, the restoration of Norfolk Island and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Philip Cox stimulated our working in Asia in the 1990s, focusing on China well before many other international practices realised the opportunities opening up there. Our keen interest in designing in landscapes, urban conditions and cultures different than our own led to projects in Singapore, Malaysia and the Middle East.

We found that our sensitivity to Australia’s diverse environments enabled us to appreciate those in other countries, and we were successful in winning competitions, including the Helix Bridge in Singapore, the National Maritime Museum of China, the Oman Renaissance Museum, and the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Brettoneux in France.

Today, we are a single practice of Australian and international studios unified by our ethos and collaborative spirit. Our purpose is simply expressed (albeit complex in thinking and resolution) – to make the built environment more experientially rich than it was before.

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Ethos

The ethos that unifies our design process across six Australian and three international studios is based upon principles and potentials in Structure, Craft, Art and Nature.

The reason that our ethos is based upon design process, rather than an outcome, is that we don’t want to be renowned for a particular language or style of architecture, as some large practices do.

There are several other aspects of planning and architecture we prioritise, including connectivity and relationship to context, public engagement and environmental performance. These aspects are encapsulated within the four principles. They have far-reaching meanings.

Structure

Our focus upon structure lies in its potentials for architectural expression and experience.

We think that two contrasting attitudes to structure prevail today. The first is a subjugation of structure such that its presence is non-evident. The second is the use of structure by technology to be irrationally expressed.

Our preference is to design buildings with the integrity of structure implicit. This means contemplating structure at the beginning of the design process and considering how it can solve problems, what role it might play in determining form, and how it could enrich experience of space.

Much of our approach has been influenced by the Australian industrial vernacular, especially where improvised, hybridised structure has produced intriguing architectural form. The obvious applicability is to sports stadia, bridges, exhibition and convention centres, but in our work has also been as informative in office towers and education buildings.

For this reason, a research emphasis in our group is on advanced structural technologies, parametric modelling and non-linear computer analyses. Design by collaboration with structural engineers with whom we have formed relationships equally underpins our design process.

Industrial Vernacular Inspiration
 
Examples of Australian industrial vernacular
Examples of Australian industrial vernacular
AAMI Park
AAMI Park, Melbourne Victoria
Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle, Western Australia
Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle, Western Australia

Craft

South Australian Film Corporation
South Australian Film Corporation
South Australian Film Corporation, Adelaide, South Australia

Our interest in craft is a reaction to contemporary prefabrication and proprietarisation of materials, and to emphasis upon visual form over tactile experience.

By considering how buildings and places are put together at the start of the design process, there is opportunity to explore the potentials of diverse materials and fabrication techniques other than the obvious or expected. This exploration can lead to particular design strategies which focus on character and experience.

This is not an advocacy to return to the ‘arts and crafts’ movement of history. It is a search for how everyday materials might be reinterpreted and for what new materials sciences are developing. It also entails finding exponents of ‘lost crafts’ – stonemasons, bricklayers, woodturners and the like – that we can engage with to enrich spatial experience, delight with the play of light and relate to context whether built or natural.

Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum
Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, Remote Mesa, Winton, North-west Queensland
Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, Remote Mesa, Winton, North-west Queensland

Art

The Darling, Pyrmont, Sydney, New South Wales
The Darling, Pyrmont, Sydney, New South Wales
The Darling

The question of whether architecture is an art or a science has been posed repeatedly, often with the response it is both.

Our view is that the art of architecture is the primary purpose; the science is an enabler of it.

If you look at the last century of modernism, nearly all architectural movements grew out of art movements – Constructivism, Suprematism, Cubism, Expressionism and De Stijl in particular. While Post-Modernism was a short-lived reaction to Modernism (it however borrowing from earlier art history), late century architectural movements like Deconstructivism and Minimalism were rooted in art.

We are interested in how architecture today fits, or doesn’t fit into the continuum of art evolution – for example, what territories in art offer potentials yet to be explored. A corollary is what we can learn from contemporary artists and how they view the world, making collaboration with artists an incisive part of our design process.

Nature

As with the art world, we think there is much unexplored from the natural world. The structures of natural organisms and the way they interrelate offers different potentials than those of the built environment.

Our modelling is often based upon nature. From it, we are seeking to find balance between the built and natural environment, and also to impart innate sustainability to our planning and architecture.

Sometimes this approach results in rehabilitation or re-introduction of physical landscape, in other instances in design solutions to problems where nature offers a lateral alternative to conventional sources. In other instances, our approach might be in response to natural forces like floods or winds, an increasingly prevalent concern due to climate change.

The Helix Bridge
The Helix Bridge in Singapore's DNA-like structure.

The four key principles of Structure, Craft, Art and Nature are interrelated. By considering each in relation to the others, we find we are able to both evolve robust design solutions and challenge them by raising the possibility of other approaches relevant to the contemporary world.

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Research

Our relationship with universities around Australia is crucial to our development. The partnerships we create are mutually beneficial, providing funds and expertise for universities to continue research, and providing our practice with knowledge to inform our planning and architecture. We also collaborate with private sector research organisations to further our knowledge of urban systems.

The following are current undertakings:

  • University of New South Wales
    • A research scholarship program based around the Master of Philosophy degree at the Australian Graduate School of Urbanism;
    • A UNSW/Cox Urban Conversations Series, to date on the topics of Urban Governance and Affordable Housing;
    • A collaboration with the School of Computational Design on stadium design, resulting to date in joint presentation of a paper in South Korea;
  • University of Wollongong
    • A joint University of Wollongong/Bluescope Steel program funded by a $20 million, 5 year Australian Research Council (ARC) grant – the objective is to develop 3 technology hubs to advance steel technologies.
  • University of Sydney
    • Two joint research projects with the Charles Perkins Centre, one on Healthy Communities, the other on Healthy Buildings, with focus on how our biology interacts with the built and physiological environments.
  • Kinesis
    • A formalised partnership with the data-led sustainability and strategic urban planning consultants Kinesis to model patterns of use of cities and large-scale urban regeneration projects

Collaboration

Cox Architecture is collaborative in our work. We are structured to facilitate collaboration between our offices instantaneously, and within our offices.

On the latter for example, we are introducing a methodology of creating a series of mini-offices, called Co-Labs, within each office. Varying between 10 – 20 staff, the Co-Labs each have say 5 projects which all people within the Co-Lab get to know intimately. This enables detailed design reviews of the projects within the Co-Lab, and facilitates learning among younger staff. Each Co-Lab is equipped with senior designers and documenters, graduates, students and site-contract architects.

Collaboration with urban planning firms, engineers, artists and industrial designers is also critical to our design ethos. While we don’t tend to formalise partnerships, we nurture relationships with certain consultants and individuals with whom we have found a synergy.

Our Design Ethos focus on Structure is, for example, informed by our collaboration with engineers, on Art in our collaboration with artists, and on Craft in our collaboration with industrial designers and craftspeople. These collaborations involve both research and practical application.

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Design Process

Our design process interconnects manual (crafted) and technological (computer-generated) analysis from the scale of the city to that of a building or interior. We employ one to test, validate and enhance the other.

For example, if we explore possibilities through parametric modelling and non-linear algorithms, we will also construct a physical model simultaneously. We may then produce detailed models at large scale.

Within each office are Building Information Modelling (BIM) leaders who share knowledge and train staff in our systems which are tailored to our design and documentation processes. The most prevalent system we use is AutoCAD and REVIT with Navisworks, augmented by advanced 3D prototyping.

Our design process frequently employs our 3D visualisation artists. Rather than their role being merely articulating designs, we use a combination of their 3D visualisation and our hand-sketching over it to explore design from an overall project to any component.

The software we employ includes 3D Studio Max, Adobe Creative Suite, Sketchup, Grasshopper, GIS and Rhino 3D.

Our technologies are developed to simultaneously relate design and planning intent to outcomes, such as yield and mix to facilitate comparative economic feasibility analyses. This is applicable to individual buildings and to urban regeneration projects.

1. Revit model
1. Revit model
2. 3D render
2. 3D render
3. Navisworks clash detection model
3. Navisworks clash detection model
4. Completed project
4. Completed project
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Internships & Scholarships

Cox Architecture offers a range of internships and scholarships as a means of recruiting outstanding graduates and fulfilling social responsibilities. They include:

National

We are an employment partner of CareerTrackers, an Australia-wide Indigenous Internship Program which supports pre-professional indigenous university students to undertake paid multi-year internships. The aim is to engage the students as full-time employees upon graduation.

New South Wales

The COX University Scholarship is an initiative with UNSW, UTS and The University of Sydney. These scholarships are awarded to final year undergraduate students at each university, who have displayed a high standard of design work. The prize is supplemented by an offer of an internship. Selection is made by the respective university and a COX representative.

Queensland

The Peter Hale Prize for Architecture at the University of Queensland. This prize to the top graduate in architecture is annual and offers a combination of a monetary prize and a minimum year’s employment.

Western Australia

The University of Western Australia Prize and Cox Howlett and Bailey Architectural Award. This prize is awarded to the most outstanding final year student who has also made significant contribution to the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and the Visual Arts.

Supporting the World Economic Forum’s Hellenic Initiative by providing internships for young graduates from Greece.

Australian Capital Territory

The Cox Architecture Student Design Prize at the University of Canberra. This prize is open to students in either the Bachelor of Arts in Architecture or Master of Architecture degree that have completed an architecture design unit in the previous year. Selection is by presentation of the design project. The prize includes a monetary amount and a one-year SONA membership, with commended students receiving a lesser amount and SONA membership.

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