Samujana: An interview with Gary Fell

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Life for Gary Fell always revolved around design and architecture, growing up surrounded by people who fostered his interest for creating tangible works of art. Who would have thought that this world-renowned architect first took a different path during his formative years?

Following a standard academic route, Gary Fell took a degree in Philosophy. Luckily, he still pursued his one true passion. While taking his first degree, he discovered the joy of building something. Working at a theatre, he started accepting the requests of his friends to make production set designs for their plays.

It was then the beginning of an even greater purpose: making truly world-class design.

We were able to have a quick conversation with Gary as he shares with us some of his philosophy about design and what’s it like working on Samujana.

As a designer, where do you draw inspiration? Who are the most influential to your design ethos? Are there specific works that you can say greatly impacted you?

Gary Fell: To answer the first part, and not to be evasive, just about anywhere – we are like sponges really I think, constantly absorbing influences to such a degree that its almost subliminal. I am very “catholic” in my likes with regard to architecture – basically I like all the good stuff – all periods/styles interest me in some way. I draw inspiration and ideas from everywhere and yet nowhere specifically. Perhaps the first “modern” building I saw which really interested me was Mies Van der Rohe’s Barcelona pavilion but without doubt it was visiting 2 buildings by Le Corbusier where “the penny dropped” so to speak, first Maison La Roche-Jeanneret in Paris and then later in the same year Ronchamp Chapel where I was actually treated to an impromptu performance by a choral group on their way to Zurich for a concert who burst into Bach – aside from the choir I was the only person in the building – incredible. In addition  I very much admire Oscar Niemeyer’s work and have an abiding fascination with Brutalism and find much to be inspired by in the Romanesque period but in truth, as I say above, I can find interest and inspiration in just about anything and everything really – what matters is that its done well.

How do you start each design? What process do you take to come up with your work of art?

Gary Fell:My starting point is always the site conditions – what is the topography (or indeed urban situation) like, where is the sun coming from, do we have significant trees or similar – the basics which (one would hope) influence how a building might look really. There are certain “a priori” ideas (for me) such as maximization of through ventilation, ensuring that the building isn’t subject to solar gain on windows, sourcing as much material locally and similar – for example in Samujana, since the buildings are partly excavated from the hillside, we made a decision to utilize the excavated rock within the design as a major component, even going as far as to use the waste chippings in lieu of gravel beds on parts of the roof(s). Of course in many of our projects, like Samujana, views are critical, as is privacy – all these items become the basic building blocks of the process, the starting point of the design, this gets read against the clients brief and somehow all of this condenses into a design. I draw a lot and tend to work through ideas in this way (I believe many architects do this) gradually arriving at the final work. Within the office all projects start life (form my sketches) in 3d programs whereupon they are worked through until we believe we have a good building.

How do you describe Samujana (design-wise)?

Gary Fell: In truth . . . its something I never do. Others might describe it as modern tropical or whatever but for me in many ways its an exercise in landscape. I wanted the buildings to be very much “part” of the hillside, and for greenery to cover as much of the surfaces as possible, blending gardens with interior spaces in such as way as to minimize the difference between what is inside and what is outside. In many ways it’s a huge exercising in terracing a hillside, much as a rice farmer might, except with lots of concrete.

What do you want the guests to feel whenever they are at Samujana?

Gary Fell:Whatever takes their fancy really but I think the houses are calming and tranquil and I like the idea that people feel this way when they are in my work since that was very much the idea. Equally though, once you’re done with peace and tranquillity, they are great party houses – and who can resist a good party?

What was your most notable event while working on Samujana?

Gary Fell: I have to say meeting my wife, right at the very beginning of the project. There have been a fair few “notable events”, some funny, some less so but it’d be impossible to top that eh?

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