Founded in 2005 and based in the suburbs of Sydney, multi-award winning boutique architecture practice CplusC Architectural Workshop specialises in the design and construction of expertly-detailed, luxurious, and sustainable homes.
Founder and Managing Director Clinton Cole leads a team of multi-disciplinary individuals who share his passion for architecture and building artisanship. CplusC is a working example of Mr Cole’s personal philosophy – design excellence achieved through a deep understanding of the craft of building. As one of just a handful of Architects in Australia with the experience and expertise to perform an unprecedented service as both Architect and Builder for clients, Mr Cole has passed this knowledge down through the training of many apprentices, Construction Managers, Project Managers, and by assisting many architectural graduates to gain their architectural registration and provide ongoing support to students, graduates and Architects pursuing the Architect as a Builder practice model. Mr Cole spoke with us recently about the reasons behind starting up a combined architectural and construction firm, the sustainable and regenerative ethos that drives the firm’s builds, and the company’s work helping students from lower socioeconomic groups thrive in the industry.
Architectural and construction services
“I came from a construction background before I studied architecture,” Mr Cole explains. “After graduation and during studies, I worked for a few conventional architectural firms, and what I noticed was a lot of their work was ending up in the bottom drawer, unbuilt.”
This significant problem generally came down to a lack of control over the construction phase and cost management being brought to the design process, prompting Mr Cole to get his builder’s license and begin a firm that would offer both architectural and construction services under one roof.
“[Our services] are really from concept design all the way through to the construction phase. We focus exclusively on ‘forever homes’ – single residential houses, people who are committed to the long-term outcome and to multi-generational homes.”
With this brief in mind, sustainability has become a key part of the company’s design process. With houses designed for long-term, multi-generational living, clients are focused beyond their lifetime on how the home can serve the needs of their children.
“This includes things like having chicken coops and productive gardens, of course, the usual solar and water. We’re moving into projects where we have ‘natural’ pools, where the pool actually has fish and frogs in it, that’s filtered naturally through reed beds. This is next-level sustainability, and it’s a pleasure to be working in that particular field.”
Sustainability has always been a key consideration for CplusC. The very first projects Mr Cole worked on when the business started were in semi-remote areas, so having access to solar, water capture, and grain water systems was a necessity rather than an option.
“We would also work on very tight budgets, so looking at maximising any kind of materials available in and around the site that could be used or recycled – from cutting down local trees to recycling bridges that were being pulled down. They were my first projects, and I fell in love with that whole notion of sourcing locally and being almost off the grid.”
This ethos has been transferred into the company’s city-based projects, and in the almost twenty years it has been operating, these practices have become a lot more commonplace. It still remains, however, that the wider architectural space does not promote these practices.
“We really like to use our projects as a symbol of what can be achieved for the broader public, not just our clients. Making an impact on those who might not use an architect in their lifetime is really what we’re all about.”
Sustainable and regenerative projects
When the company receives a new enquiry for a design and build, the budget is usually the very first thing to be discussed. One-off, bespoke homes are certainly more expensive than anything mass-produced, so the cost can often be a deciding factor.
“Budget will depend on the scope of the work,” Mr Cole explains. “Whether you’re knocking down and rebuilding – the state of the existing building if you are retaining it, plays a big role in determining the budget. Some existing buildings don’t need a lot of work; others need a substantial amount of work to retain them.”
One of the first major projects Mr Cole undertook is known as The House in the Bush, a stunning design nestled in the dense bushland of Bowen Mountain, an elevated rural region adjoining the Blue Mountains National Park in New South Wales with views back to Sydney.
“That house is still current in terms of the outcome and the images of that project – it’s still generating work for us now. That has really led to some larger next-level, sustainable, and regenerative projects, such as the Welcome to the Jungle House and a house we currently have under construction called the Holocene House.”
The Holocene House truly embraces this sustainable attitude, boasting a natural pool and 64 solar panels, features put in place by the client with the impact on the local community and the broader public in mind.
“We’re fortunate to be in a position where having focused on this type of work for several decades, we’re getting clients that are very much aligned with what we believe is an appropriate way to spend your budget and to consider future generations, not just yourselves – unlike the majority of architectural clients.”
By doing both architecture and construction, CplusC finds that 80% of its revenue is generated from construction. This means that when the architectural side of the business is being utilised, the firm is very cognisant of the impact of these choices on the build.
“I started this company to have pretty much unfettered control over the quality, cost, time, and scope. They’re the things we manage during the design process and the things we’re able to deliver as promised during the construction process. It’s really important during the design process to keep the client’s feet firmly on the ground about budget and time.”
Mr Cole admits that this managing of expectations is not a strong point in general in the architectural industry. If these expectations are not managed well, the project will never see the light of day, as those firms he worked with in the early days proved.
“As I say to our clients – we’re putting all this energy and all this time, and spending all of this money, during the design process, we want to make sure it leads to a built outcome. There’s nothing anyone should be proud of in terms of an unbuilt outcome. The industry now has unbuilt design awards, which I find kind of ironic.”
The business began with just Mr Cole running the entire architectural and construction sides himself, bringing in the occasional contractor when needed to see the work through. Recent developments have allowed him to take a step back and delegate this work.
“I’ve got three construction teams running our construction projects. At this time in my life, I’m looking at working out how I can upskill and empower staff to take over projects, and probably over the next 5-10 years I’ll be backing out of the business myself, letting the next generation of people on our team do what I’m doing now.”
Over the 20 years Mr Cole has been working in the industry, the relationship between conventional architects and conventional builders has continued to grow further apart, with important skills being completely isolated from processes.
“In my view, the relationship with the client, architect, and separate builder is no longer working, and I think the industry really needs to pivot and start looking to companies like ours for a pathway forward. Architects and builders teaming up are going to give the client more certainty and more responsibility for the project that they’re delivering. It can fall into a bit of a blame game when there are three parties involved.”
CplusC has recently announced a $100k contribution to NSW University to support students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to succeed in the industry and is currently supporting two students from the university, support which includes paid employment with the firm itself.
Showing the industry a new way forward by utilising joint architecture and construction firms, CplusC is doing more than just creating beautiful, sustainable multi-generational homes. Find out more about CplusC Architectural Workshop by visiting www.cplusc.com.au.