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Meet “aspirational realists” MAArchitects

Meet “aspirational realists” MAArchitects

Karen Alcock, principal, visionary, pragmatic. Qualities that have fuelled MAArchitects into delivering some of the best sights in Melbourne’s streets.

Karen Alcock, principal of MAArchitects, summed up the practice in three simple words. “Big little practice.” With only ten members of MAArchitects, the range of projects, from multi-residential buildings to highrises and the odd residential project, the practice’s accomplishments stand tall against a field of larger firms.

And it is thanks to Alcock, equipped with the skills and experience to lead these giant projects with a team of few but phenomenal professionals. “We are a practice built on relationships, and we care about what we do,” Alcock says, and their portfolio on show agrees. “Working with my staff on something together, there is a real excitement to thinking ‘looks great’.”

And looks great it does – building from two simple tenets, to create good work and mentor good architects, the results of MAArchitets work are evidence of this.

Alcock has been in the industry for just shy of 30 years, from being the director of Neometro Architects to founding MAArchitects. In essence, Alcock has been an intrinsic part of the growth of Melbourne’s cityscape. This includes the robust multi-residential Jewell Apartments and the entire commercial and residential building of Luxe.

And one of MAArchitects was Wangaratta Street, a shortlisted applicant for the INDE.Awards The Building category, which now houses the MAArchitects office with some stellar views and even more stellar architecture.

The project reflects the practice, one that embodies the surrounding built environment with its unique architecture. As the jury said, ‘Incorporating a complexity of intents manifested through robust yet refined aesthetic values and pragmatics, the Wangaratta Offices fosters holistic workplace practices.’ This project shows the underlying ethos of Alcock and her team: one that understands the language (and also limitations) a city presents.

“There’s something really nice about understanding how one particular city works, as in Melbourne and building on that experience to shift the city, develop the city, contribute to the city, and that’s something that we’re focused on,” she elaborates.

And a focal part is Alcock’s practice is understanding the minute details of the different styles, forms and achievement architecture takes across the globe, stemming from her travels here and worldwide.

And with Melbourne, it can be hard to replicate specific architectural trends due to different materials, practices and expectations found overseas. But where there is a lack of resources, Alcock and her team make up for it with simple, unbridled passion.

“I love architecture because you can do everything. One minute I’m drawing, the next I’m on site with the trade, the next minute, you’re running around the finished project, and you get that personal approach.” And this attitude is what gives Melbourne its iconic personality.

But Alcock has another succinct description of her studio, “We’re aspirational realists.” And aspirational realism takes root in all of her work. Practical yet passionate. Efficient but bold. Big yet little.

“It’s that idea of collaboration, of being small, of being hands-on, and we call ourselves a big little practice because we can do these bigger projects. But there is that intimacy and personal approach to being a smaller practice.”



Caelan Kaluder is the editorial assistant of both Habitus and Indesign. As a recent graduate of ANU, he fell headfirst into the world of the design curious. He has directed various plays and held a residency in Canberra Youth Theatre. He has also worked as a freelance writer and has a keen eye for finding the latest in the world of architecture and design - with a soft spot for all things creative in the workplace and at home.