Sustainability was not yet a key consideration for Theodore Kerlidis’ clients when he and Co-Founder, Anthony Uahwatanasakul, established their practice, k20 Architecture, in Melbourne in 2002. “It was still perceived as an add-on or a choice at that time.”
The reality, Theo says, is that sustainability practices yield reduced operational and maintenance costs, greater longevity and better design. Over the last two decades, sustainability— economic, social and environmental – has become an integral part of the design process for Theo and the k20 Architecture team. “In our view, sustainability is a way of life which is firmly embedded into all our practices, so as architects we leave each place better than we found it. Our belief is that true sustainability is achieved through prolonged life-cycles and minimising human impact on the environment through eco-centric design, with the user experience and the surrounding environment being the key drivers for the built space.”
k20 Architecture is now one of Melbourne’s leading design-based studios specialising in sustainable community projects for government. In his role as Director of Design, Theo spearheads the studio’s design process to take clients through a collaborative exploration and create places of meaning with carefully considered, individual design responses. “My approach to projects is total immersion, with outcomes and harmonious relationships carefully balanced. I believe in architecture that communicates, inspires, expresses identity and encourages social interaction.”
A recent example of k20 Architecture’s eco-centric architecture is the multi-award-winning Knox Children and Family Centre, Bayswater. Positioned at the centre of the community, this project brings together early learning spaces, maternal healthcare, allied health, and community rooms. This fully self-sufficient building has been designed to achieve a 100+ year life-cycle, twice as long as is typical for most commercial buildings. The application of passive design principles, access to natural light for internal spaces, and solar control means there is reduced reliance on artificial lighting and cooling. Key design innovations include an air-sealed envelope, locally sourced and recycled materials, natural and low toxicity materials, a solar array, battery storage, rainwater harvesting and native plantings.
Photography by Peter Bennetts
Another recent project of note for k20 Architecture is Eternity Life, a socially inclusive, 71% carbon neutral building made from Simple Laminated Timber (SLT). Situated adjacent to Stoney Creek, an active waterway leading to Maribyrnong River, Eternity Life draws inspiration from remnant buildings within the site’s proximity, a nod to the industrial past of Footscray. This idea drove the form and shape of the building, with the gable roof forms and timber cladding. “Our desire was to create a place which captures past, present and future,” Theo says. “We aimed to design a space that both enhances the connection of residents to the local environment and extends beyond the boundaries of the site to offer a high level of social equity, and also to provide a sanctuary for people in the centre of an urban environment.”
Mobility consciousness is central to Eternal Life, with 15 of its 61 apartments having been designed specifically to accommodate people living with a disability. “The space is universally accessible. Its provision of kitchens and cabinetry designed for wheelchair access, electronic connectivity for hospital-grade care devices and an overall consideration for universal access to all common areas are some of the initiatives to help residents enjoy independent living. From an environmental perspective, the land on Eternity Life’s southern side has been granted to council as a community reserve alongside a gift of $50,000 to complete the approved landscaping scheme. On completion, the site is to be recognised as ‘Land for Wildlife Approved’.”
As a young student at Wesley College, Theo found it empowering to look back at the history of architecture; how architects and designers have both influenced and responded to the historical contexts in which they were living. “I was most influenced by [Swiss-French architect] Le Corbusier and [German-American architect] Mies van der Rohe, both pioneers of the modernist movement. Creating housing for the people – that appealed and resonated with me.”
Photography by Peter Bennetts
In the years since, Theo says he has become most passionate about how people use the buildings he creates and how that makes them feel. “Buildings shape us. It is through the culture of place, clients and projects that we create a spirit of place. We embed that meaning and spirit into our buildings, framed by the context and history of the site.” Through sustainable architecture within the public realm, Theo is committed to shaping communities with the design of accessible buildings which are capable of long-term resilience, and are significant architectural features of their surrounding environment.
Looking ahead, Theo is excited to see Melbourne’s post-COVID future. “After the last two years of lockdown, and the incredible pressure that placed on all of us, I see 2022 as a year of rebalancing, settling and refocusing. Then, in 2023, we will move forward with real purpose as we look towards expansion to new markets. I am excited at the prospect that new opportunities will present, both to me, personally, and the practice.”
To connect with Theo and learn more about his work, visit https://www.k20architecture.com/ and follow k20 Architecture on LinkedIn and Instagram.