Mark Simpson – DesignOffice
Mark Simpson is the Joint Creative Director of DesignOffice; a role shared with co-Director Damien Mulvihill. After graduating from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture in Scotland he worked in the London office of workplace and strategy specialists DEGW before going on to join Allies and Morrison Architects.
In 2002 he joined Universal Design Studio and worked alongside Damien in the multi-disciplinary practice. In the role of Senior Designer, Mark designed and delivered projects that include London's award-winning Canteen restaurants and the British Red Cross.
Mark moved to Melbourne in 2006 and worked at Carr Design Group for two years. He established the Australian office of Universal Design Studio and re-united with Damien to run the practice, leading onto the formation of DesignOffice.
DesignOffice is a Melbourne-based architectural and interior design practice working across a range of scales and sectors to deliver lucid and authentic design responses to client needs and briefs.
You're sitting in my comfy chair what is your favorite chair?
A slightly ridiculous, yet continually rewarding conversation pit we built into our home. Its about 2m x 3m and sits below floor level with upholstery on every side.
What is your favorite drink and why?
Something at the discretion of a good bartender! After a day of too many decisions I love to defer responsibility to someone else with food and drink.
Did you always want to design?
I went through a reasonably prolonged period of wanting to be a newsreader but I went off it after a realised that you actually had to be a journalist first! In hindsight the actual progression from childhood to architecture was probably more connected to an early-founded and long-held love of Lego.
How did you start in architecture and design?
I studied an undergraduate in Interior Architecture followed by a postgraduate in Advanced Architectural Studies at the Scott Sutherland School in Aberdeen in the UK. I didn't want to make a choice between studying interior design or architecture and this course blurred the boundaries offering a full architecture degree with interior focused briefs. The projects often required us to develop design responses for buildings working from the inside out, responding to the immediacy of people's requirements, emotional desires and the way they interact with their spaces. It's remained at the core of my design approach to this day. I was also very fortunate to be in the second year of the course's existence which meant that there was only 15 of us with almost as many tutors.
You come from England. How did you find your way to Australia?
I knew a good number of wonderful Australians in London and just followed them home! I don't remember thinking about it that much at the time but somehow bought myself a one way ticket, packed my bags and made Melbourne my home.
Why do you like designing in Australia and how is it different to Europe?
I don't really think they are two separate processes. The best design is responsive to brief and I just think of Australia and Europe as having different briefs; not just in terms of climate also in scale, lifestyle and location.
How is DesignOffice different to other practices?
Damien, the other Creative Director of DesignOffice, and I are really interested in the process of tailoring both lucid and authentic responses to different briefs regardless of sector or typology. Whether it is a new build house, an office for a law firm, a remodelling of an existing building, development of brand architecture or the design of a restaurant or shop, we aim to receive and challenge briefs and then respond to them with a design solution which is cohesive and holistic. We don't separate the disciplines of architecture, interior design and strategy and I think this is at the crux of what we do. The studio's lineage with Universal Design Studio and Barber Osgerby in London has also definitely informed themes of craft, colour and materiality which are recurrent in our work. The other influence from this period is our continued belief in exploring and testing design through physical model making. It takes up a lot of space but its worth it.
Do you have a favorite project and why?
Probably the staircase for the Corporate Culture showroom in Melbourne. We received a brief to design a staircase within a three storey warehouse that would showcase the brand portfolio and make customers go upstairs. As a project it brought together all of the things that excite us; a spatial problem, an existing building, strategy, sculpture, craft and engineering. Its also the project which first introduced us to some wonderful contractors and craftspeople who we have continued to work with subsequently.
Are you a city slicker or country gentleman? Explain.
Can I be a city gentleman and a country slicker? I spend half of my week in the Goldfields region of Victoria and the other half in Melbourne's Collingwood. It all gets a bit mixed up between rural and urban.
What’s the next big thing on your work schedule?
We have quite a few things on site at the moment. The Park & Raphael development in Abbotsford and ABaker in Canberra are both about to launch in the coming weeks. We're currently designing a boutique for an independent retailer on the northern shores of Sydney which is due to open before the end of year.
Mark Simpson, DesignOffice
I first met Mark through good friends who had been raving about 'this wonderful guy who had come from England and worked at Barber Osgerby'. We would bump into each other at events and he became my hero when on one particular occasion he stayed to keep me company as he knew I couldn't leave. He knows when that was and I will be forever grateful to him for his gallantry! Since then we see each other from time to time and his boundless enthusiasm and passion for design always inspires me.