ClarkeHopkinsClarke looks to the future

Les Clarke, the last of ClarkeHopkinsClarke’s three founding partners recently retired in his 56th year with the practice.

Alongside David Hopkins and Jack Clarke, the trio founded Melbourne-based architecture practice ClarkeHopkinsClarke. With an early focus on residential and education projects, Les also designed several acclaimed homes, including the Housing Institute of Australia’s House of the Year in 1978. Today the practice’s work spans the education, multi-residential, retail, commercial, mixed-use, community, health care and aged care sectors.

Melbourne's robust development scene has allowed the firm to grow across key sectors, with the ClarkeHopkinsClarke team encompassing over 100 team members. This growth represents a new chapter for ClarkeHopkinsClarke and new opportunities, with associates Jordan Curran and Simon LeNepveu recently enlisted as new partners.

Continuing the work of Les Clarke, LeNepveu’s focus is on education planning, and he is well regarded for his strong capability in the design and delivery of these projects. LeNepveu has been with ClarkeHopkinsClarke for over 10 years, and will continue working with education team leader Wayne Stephens to carry Les Clarke’s legacy into the future.

Commencing his career working closely with Les Clarke and Dean Landy, Jordan Curran’s focus within the ClarkeHopkinsClarke practice is on projects with a strong urban design component such as those in the community, retail and mixed use sectors.

Urban Melbourne spoke both Jordan Curran and Simon LeNepveu about planning for the future of the practice.

Urban Melbourne: Firstly congratulations on your promotions to the position of partner within the practice. With Les Clarke stepping down how do you both see your respective roles evolving; Jordan in community, retail & mixed use and Simon in education planning?

Jordan Curran: Les was a bit of a mentor for both Dean Landy and myself. His legacy in the retail, community sector will always be the idea that his work was always based around the end user and developing a real sense of community with his work.

I'm still involved with most of the retail and mixed-use, urban planning and design projects in the office and my role has now evolved with one of collaborating with Les for the least 7 years to taking on his work and adopting his ideas moving forward and exploring greater possibilities through innovation.

Simon LeNepveu: I would echo similar thoughts to Jordan. When Les founded ClarkeHopkinsClarke almost 60 years ago, it was founded as a practice that did a lot of work in education, which is what I specialize in.

I see my role now as taking Les' legacy - and we have been very fortunate to have him - and now stepping into the position of partner it's really about looking to take the work to the next level and pushing the boundaries with regard to what a school is and how that fits into the community and its role as both a community and city resource.

UM: How do you see those sectors evolving in the future? And what possibilities exist for innovation? Particularly with the move towards a vertical model of education.

SL: In terms of education there are some really exciting things happening both within Australia and here in Victoria. It's really starting to push boundaries about what a school is and re-imagine the traditional idea of a school as a 9 to 3:30 place but being a real active part of the community.

And as you mentioned there's been a recent shift towards a vertical model with quite a few in Melbourne in the works, one of which we're involved in and they're all looking at really inner city, dense sites and exploring how they might fit in within the urban fabric.

In a lot of ways it's very similar to the work Jordan does in retail and mixed-use and the idea of creating vibrant communities.

JC: With education we see that as an integral part of most of our town centres. We're currently working on about 3-4 town centres at the moment, new growth centres that would have community facilities, apartments, residential and we try to push education into that as a core part element and one which helps to activate other elements such as the retail - we want everyone spilling into the main street of town.

But what it means is that because there's not many community buildings being built at the moment, that's why from an education point of view we see that as an area in which to invest money from a community point of view - it's building a school.

UM: What sort of challenges do you think your respective sectors face with regard to issues such as population growth, for example, amongst others and what do you need to do as a practice to respond to these?

JC: For me the biggest challenge is keeping up with rapid growth and we want to be careful particularly in growth corridors where there's so much happening. And that's why important in the work we do; the community, mixed-use, education that it all comes together to form these vibrant communities.

What we don't want to be involved in is areas of rapid growth and they essentially become dormitory suburbs.

We actually want to bring all the work at CHC across all the sectors and bring it in to really create these active community hubs and great places where people want to be. That's part of our greater focus and we focus on key sectors which we always try to bring as many as we can to the table in the first stage.

So we try and masterplan and bring as many of these key pieces - medical, education, retail, townhouses, SOHO type townhouses etc - into stage one to create that buzz.

With retail another key challenge is online shopping so the focus becomes about creating a sense of place; somewhere you actually want to be and interact with others. A lot of that comes down to food and beverage, children's play areas and the use of fine grain materials such as timbers, bricks and different types of textures.

UM: Does CHC harbour ambitions to expand the Melbourne office in size and beyond that into other markets both in Australia or internationally?

SL: That's part of the discussion we've been having in the office and we've been invited to do a some projects in South Australia, Queensland where we are looking at some aged care projects and we've even designed a school in Indonesia, in addition to a few in New Zealand as well. Up until now it hasn't really been a core focus outside of Victoria but that's definitely an area of opportunity in the future.

How any interstate or international expansion will most likely manifest is with a Melbourne base and then satellite offices. Part of that ties into the research that we do and not just having the best research of the projects we're doing in Victoria but if we want to be considered leaders then we need to be analysing projects nationwide and globally.

So we want to be in those markets testing things out.

Soho Village Point Cook is a pending ClarkeHopkinsClarke project

UM: And lastly can you speak a bit about some of the projects that you're both working on in the office?

JC: In terms of the retail mixed-use, SOHO Village in Point Cook is one that we're working on and that's a bit of a test case for Wyndham City Council and UDIA. What we have tried to do is create an urban precinct in Point Cook which is very much car-centric.

We were able to get them to rebrand the IGA as the Village Pantry, we've got a boutique grocer, specialty shops, medical centre, yoga studio, apartments, townhouses, there's a church that also functions with childcare and conference facilities and then an office building which has some flexible desks you can actually rent out.

So the idea of this urban precinct is that you can live there and have everything at your doorstep. The apartments are the first in Point Cook and have all sold off the plan - it's been incredibly successful. Almost everything we try to push in terms of mixed-use developments we've put every piece of the puzzle into it and people have really bought into the idea of living in an urban village.

A lot of developers are taking notice of the project and we're looking at replicating the model in a lot of greenfield suburbs - looking at a bit of SOHO in every greenfield site we're working on in Victoria. The project is around 90% complete with completion expected in the next 3 months.

SL: One of the vertical schools we're working on is the new Beaumaris Secondary College on an existing school site and it's a very exciting project actually. It's different to some of the other vertical schools in the sense that you don't really think of Beaumaris in an urban context and even though it's quite a big site and one of the things that has made it interesting is some of the partnerships that are involved.

The school is a joint venture between The Department of Education and the Melbourne Cricket Club with the MCC developing a high performance training centre on the site as part of the JV and providing sports facilities and because they require so much space it has necessitated that the school be a multi-level school.

The project is about creating interaction between the wider urban precinct and it's an interesting area down with the site being formerly a part of Sandringham College which is a multi-campus school with two other campuses. This particular campus really struggled in the Beaumaris community and lacked its own real sense of identity and competing with private schools nearby so the Department is using this as a flagship case along with the other vertical schools.

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