Albert Mo and Eid Goh
From award-winning inner-city collaborations to high-rise residential developments, Architects Eat approaches each project with an open mind and a firm emphasis on context.
EAT Directors Albert Mo and Eid Goh first met while studying Architecture at the University of Melbourne. Shortly after graduation they established a small office off Toorak Road in South Yarra in 2000. Not yet registered, they initially operated as a design firm with Eid specialising in the hospitality sector and Albert pursuing residential work. Fellow University of Melbourne graduate James Coombe, joined the practice in 2005, became an Associate in 2010, and is now an Associate Director.
Architects EAT has grown substantially since those humble beginnings. A renowned design-driven practice, their work is informed by a consistent philosophical approach to producing unique commercial and residential designs which intimately connect with both their function and individual context.
The early days were tough. Like many small practices starting out, much of their work came from family, friends and colleagues.
“Starting from scratch with no contacts at all is quite difficult in Melbourne. You kind of have to rely on your peers and mentors to give you a kick start,” says Eid. Over time, their reputation grew and their work began to attract industry and media exposure, The first big break came for EAT through the publication of Eid’s work on a hospitality fit-out in the Collins Place food court. Inspired by Scandinavian design, his work on Toasted Café was done in collaboration with renowned graphic designer Fabio Ongarato Design. A large graphic mural provided the centrepiece and cast a surreal backdrop for patrons sitting on the undulating hooped pine joinery while they waited for their baguettes to toast. The design featured as the front cover of Artichoke magazine and heralded their arrival on the design scene. “We were all jumping up and down celebrating when it came out. We still retain that project on the website as it was such a keystone in our whole history,” says Albert.
They’ve continued to attract the interest of architecture and design publications, but Eid emphasises that media exposure is never the first intention. “When we do a job, not that we don’t aspire or expect to be in magazines, the key thing is that the client really embraces the product. Whether it’s a hospital, a house or a retail space, it has to work for the user.”
The next commercial milestone project was Eid’s work on the Mall of Asia Bowling Centre. The project saw them design a 32 lane 3000m2 bowling centre with a billiard hall and pro shop, for a mall in the Philippines. Completed in 2007, the design allowed them to explore different materials and features a red sinuous curve ceiling made of laser cut red twin-wall polycarbonate sheeting. The fluid form of the inner structure and graphics by Büro North are intended to evoke the ‘swing’ of the bowler’s arm and the vibrations of the balls smashing the pins. The project was shortlisted for the 2008 Interior Design Awards ‘Colour in Commercial Award’ and published throughout the world. “This job made us realise that simple things and simple materials, treated properly, can give you a maximum outcome,” says Eid. The success of the bowling centre saw them engaged in large-scale design work both locally and internationally.
It was the design of Albert’s own residence, Kelso House, which put the firm on the map in the residential design field. The 170m2 single family house in the densely urbanised suburb of Richmond was completed with a small budget and limited resources. Three long-strip skylights and an unmistakable black and white colour scheme provide the main focal points. The project also allowed Albert an opportunity to explore his interest in the philosophy of phenomenology, an approach that had interested him since his time at University, “It’s about the feeling of space and how lights and shared effects influence architecture. Being my own house, I was able to explore that,” he says.
Albert has applied similar notions and design theories to subsequent EAT projects. Their residential work emphasises a concern for scale and tactility as well as a sensibility for space. In terms of how this plays out in practice, the theory itself isn’t necessarily the focus of client discussions. The conversation instead revolves around architectural and building elements, certain styles, and the client’s response to the materials.
The EAT approach to residential design embraces Gaston Bachelard’s concept of the house as a uniquely personal space. In his 1958 book, Poetics of Space, Bachelard suggested “the house furnishes us with dispersed images and a body of images at the same time... For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it’s our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.” Their work on the design of Elm and Willow House is an example of a highly successful collaboration in this vein. The project entailed a residential extension on a 280m2 single family house in Canterbury, Melbourne. Completed in 2009, it utilised concrete, steel and glass as the primary building envelope. “The client was really happy to run with us on that phenomenological bent, so to speak. This project became about what the spaces would imbue and ignoring the typical things to do, so there’s no television, for example. The environment welcomes you into the house,” says James.
Upon completion, it attracted a great deal of attention, was profiled by international press, has featured in over one hundred blogs and websites and won the acclaimed ‘AIA Victorian Chapter Residential Award’.
The EAT team maintain that the design process for both their residential and commercial projects is driven by a consistent philosophical approach rather than a predetermined style. “None of our projects are really the same, we always try to experiment a little bit and that leads us to doing different things every time and maybe even working something that came prior but in a different fashion,” says James.
Creating uniquely detailed projects and avoiding replicating previous designs is a source of pride. The EAT team believe in the importance of context, both in the physical and human sense. “Certain details can be transferred, however the overall aesthetic cannot,” says Albert.
Capitalising on the success of projects such as Elm and Willow House, EAT continued to deliver private residential projects and small-scale apartments before landing their first high-rise residential development, an engagement to design Pulse apartments. A 9,000m2 medium density residential development in the beachside suburb of Saint Kilda, it comprises more than one hundred fivestar rated units spread across two five-level buildings with five additional ground floor retail and hospitality tenancies. The transition to larger scale development was a steep learning curve; the EAT office had to develop different ways of operating. “The number of people involved in the project obviously increased. We started to learn that architects aren’t necessarily at the top of the hierarchy. We learnt how to fight and when not to fight,” says Albert.
They also quickly learnt the benefits of streamlining options. While the Pulse development consisted of a little more than one hundred apartments, they developed more than 30 different unit types, “I look back and laugh”, says Albert. “Normal developers would have had less than ten.”
After fifteen years in the industry, EAT has come a long way. Eid suggests the ability to manage personal ego has been a crucial element to success, “You can win clients and you can lose them just as easily. You have to have an open mind. At the end of the day it’s about balancing design and business.”