Given the many constraints, it’s amazing that any original architecture ever gets built. But a young Sydney industrial design outfit has re-written the rules and at the same time become an international Australian success story.
How to make shells? That was the great challenge that threatened to stop the Sydney Opera House in its tracks. And it’s the kind of challenge that continues to inhibit architectural creativity. Industrial designer, Tim Phillips quickly lists the things that limit architectural freedom: traditional construction methodology and what builders will do; materials and manufacturing knowledge; design limitation such as understanding of mechanical; structural and electrical design; and of course – inexperience.
It is just precisely issues which Phillips’ company, TILT, addresses as part of its package to provide customised industrial design solutions to architectural problems. “The message I put to architects,” says Phillips, “is that there is no need to compromise on your architectural intent because of traditional construction methodologies. There is so much material and technology available to you and we have the benefit of knowing about it and its capabilities because of our industrial design background.”
What makes TILT special is that it takes responsibility, delivers the product and provides after-sales maintenance. So there is no risk to the builder or the architect. “There’s an interface between our product and the building – we can make something fit and accommodate the building tolerances.”
Phillips studied industrial design at Newcastle University where he was able to indulge his passion for making things. After graduation he stayed on at Newcastle where he began a Masters degree, tutored and started up his own consultancy, giving him early commercial experience. Eventually, he moved to Sydeny to work with product design and engineering firm, Kennovations.
“It was a little different to other traditional design consultancies,” he explains, “because we weren’t creating mass-produced consumer goods – large, one-off engineering projects were our forte.”
They got their hands on some architectural projects and “for me that stirred a bit of a passion to do something beautiful as well as mechanical.” While making sliding rooves and sculptural pieces, they also developed helostats for the concentrated solar thermal market, which led to an approach from the Frasers Group to do a feasibility study for heliostats for One Central Park in Sydney.
They won the job – their first design and construct project and an eye-opener because Phillips could see a new business model, one which would not just make money, but also offer creative satisfaction to both himself (now general manager) and his team.
He then acquired the architectural side of Kennovations, re-branding it as TILT (“a playful name implying some functionality and a different perspective”), downsizing significantly, retaining some product design clients, building up the R&D side and spending a lot of time quoting on projects, many of which are now coming to fruition as the strong interest in sliding rooves, skylights and heliostats starts to get traction.
These days a third of TILT’s business is off-short, with projects in the U.S. and China – though everything is designed and manufactured in Australia.
Basically, TILT gives architects a licence to push the envelope and design something which has never been tried before. If it costs more, Phillips points out the commercial benefits. With operable elements, he says, “you get buildings that transform – they’re dynamic and multi-functional, and that’s really exciting for the architect and really exciting for the client.”
Article originally written by Paul McGillick for Indesign magazine.