Meet Eric Ye. A profile of the 2018 Architects Medallion winner

The Architects Medallion is awarded each year to a graduate of the Master of Architecture course from an approved school in NSW who has achieved distinction generally throughout the final two years of the course. We sat down with this year's winner, Eric Ye.

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So you’ve graduated from a 5-year degree. You’re in practice, and now going in to teaching. You sound optimistic about the profession. Are you?

Yes, I am. I think it’s taken me a while to reach this answer. We’re witnessing a lot of change in the urban environment - not just in Sydney but the whole of Australia. So there’s a lot of opportunity for architects to help shape this new environment. The built environment is a very complex thing. It’s made up of lots of actors; consultants and others who bring their own expertise - like local governments, communities, engineers and landscape architects.

My idea of what the architectural profession is has changed a lot. Maybe this is naive, but as a year 12 boy, I thought architecture was about this one heroic figure, designing a building and then putting it out in the world. But the reality is we rarely work by ourselves- we’re always working in collaboration with other people. Even these ‘starchitects’ have a team of people behind them. In practice, and at university, collaboration nurtures a better outcome for all. There are a lot of stakeholders and influencers in the act of making the built environment. We need to acknowledge those actors.

I found that I’ve been very lucky being at UTS. We had a strong focus on collaboration and group work, and a very multi-disciplinary understanding of how architecture can work. In my 5 years at UTS I found a close-knit group of collaborators - like Jack Gillbanks with whom I went on to start POST-publication.

You work at Andrew Burges Architects, and you teach at the same time. Why is that important to you?

I learn a lot from teaching. I’m learning things I otherwise wouldn't have It makes you a better communicator. It makes you a better architect. So often we’re talking to people who have no training in architecture, so it helps you communicate to a broader audience. Through teaching there is the potential to explore project types - which aren’t always covered in practice. For example, as a student I worked on a server farm for a design studio. A server farm is a really interesting thing, because they are generally designed by engineers and there is very little design input. More and more we are relying on this kind of digital infrastructure, and so buildings like these will become more present in our built environment. In that design studio we explored the architect’s capacity to give our expertise to other parts of the built environment, which aren’t typically within our scope of work.

During my time at UTS, I’ve been very lucky to have been taught by a diverse range of amazing tutors and to have worked with some really talented, engaged peers. Teaching is then a way for me to stay in contact with that community and a way to contribute to the vibrant culture at UTS.

So you live in Sydney, but you’ve already had the chance to compare design cultures, design media and design education around the world. In 2016 you were invited to be a part of the Oslo Architecture Triennial and you’ve completed part of your studies in Denmark. How would you describe what was common in those places, and what is different?

What was common was the collaborative nature of those environments. In Denmark we worked in close collaboration with our studio peers. The Oslo Architecture Triennial's Academy Program was a week-long intensive workshop, working in small clusters with 20 other schools across the world. It was interesting to hear the diverse range of views. What I found really comforting was the collaborative nature and working with people from different backgrounds. That cements the importance of diversity. Everyone has a unique viewpoint on the city that we all share. Sydney is a really multicultural city. There’s a wealth of knowledge and ideas from this diversity which is exciting.

The Architects Medallion has a prestigious past. Being awarded the Medallion gives you a platform. If you had a message for the profession what would that be, and what do you hope to do?

I’d say we’re in a very exciting time - both in our profession, and in Sydney. There’s a lot happening in our built environment, and I think - now more than ever - architects have a responsibility and a very relevant set of skills in the shaping of this future environment. We’re generalists; we’re very good at listening to the different actors and parties and finding spatial solutions to that. We have very good spatial intelligence. Most of us spend 80% of our lives in buildings and that’s a lot of time to be spent in potentially crappy spaces. 

What’s the POST publication about?
We want to look in to the fringes of architecture and build a broader audience for architecture. This goes back to my earlier point - architecture is not a solo profession. A lot of the time in academic and profession discourse we have a tendency to gravitate inwards. We want POST to expand the conversation to bring in the other actors and influencers in the built environment and see what we can learn from them. For example, we have an upcoming piece about food in architecture, and how food culture affects architecture. In the past we’ve looked at display suites that masquerade as cafes and civic spaces. It’s bizarre that in large residential development a lot of direction that architects are given is from real estate agents. There’s a lot of power and influence in that way of selling the apartments, and - in a very weird way - the agent and the display suite - become the main interaction for a lot of people with that segment of the built environment. So we’re interested in exploring the people on the fringe of architecture - and what they contribute, and what we can learn from them. Because, at the end of the day, everyone has a stake in the built environment.

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