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Five Mins With… Nest Architecture’s Emilio Fuscaldo

Sure, making grand architectural statements is great, but for Nest Architecture’s Emilio Fuscaldo the transformative power of design lies in small gestures that come from asking revealing questions.

  • Nest Architecture’s Emilio Fuscaldo. Photography by James Geer

Skateboarding around sprawling, anonymous urban plazas like Sydney’s Circular Quay as a teenager fuelled Emilio Fuscaldo’s love of philosophy and big, international cities. A shy kid whose family moved 11 times before he finished high school, Fuscaldo spent his early years people watching or with his nose in a book. He developed a head full of questions, and a fascination with the way urban environments influenced human behaviour. Sydney’s city-fringe beaches were a case in point. “You’re taking your clothes off and swimming in the water, but if you walk two metres away from that edge suddenly you’ve got all your clothes on again,” he says.

Fuscaldo studied philosophy at uni and travelled widely before settling on architecture as a “robust … concrete” way to try to influence people’s behaviour for the better. Sustainability was a core value from the start. “It’s intrinsic to who we are,” he says.

Early jobs with architects like Ian Perkins and Chris de Campo showed him the power of even very modest gestures in changing the way humans feel and act. How to make backpackers feel instantly at ease in a new place? Place a vast image of the world, illuminated at night, behind the reception desk as part of a re-fit. “It breaks the ice,” Fuscaldo explains. “You’re part of something. You’re not isolated. And wherever you’ve come from is somewhat closer to where you are now.”

Ten years ago Fuscaldo started Nest Architecture, joined a year later by Imogen Pullar, now senior architect on a deliberately small team. Fashion designer Lisa Gorman was an early client and has become an ongoing collaborator on more than dozen store fitouts and concessions across the country, and a widely lauded container ship pop up conceived as much as “a talking point about sustainability” as a retail outlet. A Walkerville beach house is in the works. She’s taught him plenty about interior detailing, particularly colour, composition and working with fabrics. He’s given her space that powerfully reflects her talents. “I went to one of her stores in Brisbane and didn’t really get a great sense of (her),” Fuscaldo recalls. “I knew how good a person she was, and I knew how good her design was, and her product, but her store was lacking. So I said to her ‘Look, why don’t you give us a go? We’ll do it together, you and me. We can do a better job… and it’ll be fun.”

Another ongoing collaboration – with the around 400 students and staff at Melbourne University’s prestigious residential hall Ormond College – has shown Fuscaldo the power of contemporary design to democratise a conservative, hierarchical institution one gesture at a time.

Through six projects over seven years, College Master Rufus Black – a philosopher himself, amongst many other things – has empowered Nest to work directly with students, staff and College alumni to create more inclusive spaces promoting less cliquey behaviour. From major redesigns of sleeping quarters to subtle recalibrations of common rooms and offices, humble details like small, handheld whiteboards (less intimidating for brainstorming than enormous A-frames) are getting the job done.

Fuscaldo says he’s indebted to Black for his patronage, amazed by the openness and engagement of students, and philosophical about the resistance of some staff. “In any institution there’s a hierarchy,” he says. “If you change something, are you changing their status? That’s massive. That’s why it’s so much fun to be an architect. These are huge philosophical questions.”


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