5 minutes with…

Today we spend 5 minutes with the talented architect Polly Harbison Principal and Director of Polly Harbison Design. Since establishing in 2003, Polly Harbison Design has produced an array of highly considered and sophisticated buildings that enhance the way people live and function within a space. The team has received awards and been well published in local and international magazines and websites.

One such project we’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with Polly was Macmasters Beach; a holiday house that responds beautifully to the natural environment and that accommodates bare feet and kids chaos.

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Macmasters Beach House | Photography: Brett Boardman

Polly is passionate about her craft and is highly involved in every aspect of her design process from conception to handing over the keys to the inhabitants. Today, she shares insights into her firm, design philosophy, inspirations and challenges she faces in the industry. She also reveals how she likes to live outdoors and shares her “ridiculous side enterprise” with us…

Can you provide a short introduction to Polly Harbison Design?

Polly Harbison Design is a Sydney based architecture practice. We’re committed to creating simple and elegantly resolved buildings. The practice delights in the entire design process, from initial sketch design through to construction and completion. We work closely with our clients and builders, which helps ensure that all of our buildings respond to its unique site, context and brief.

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Macmasters Beach House | Photography: Brett Boardman

Can you share with us some specifics about your firm, how many projects you work on and what drives you as an architect?

Our firm is small with a limited number of projects at one time so that each building gets the love it deserves!

The part of architecture that I enjoy the most is during the construction stage – collaborating with builders and other design professionals such as Landscape Architects and Interior Designers. Most importantly it is this stage that our client’s see their projects come to life, which is very rewarding to watch. I like to be very hands-on throughout the process to ensure the quality of the building is of a high standard.

Do you have a design philosophy that you apply to your projects or process?

I always search for the simplest solution to complex design problems. I am not particularly interested in design trends or fashions. I like buildings that have considered spaces that connect to outdoors and have great natural light and air. Simple, solid and robust natural materials that get better with a bit of wear and age gracefully.

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‘Balmoral’ in collaboration with Clinton Murray | Photography: Brett Boardman
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‘Balmoral’ in collaboration with Clinton Murray | Photography: Brett Boardman

What are some of your career highlights?

The Balmoral house which was a collaboration with my ‘mentor’ and great architect Clinton Murray was a fantastic project to work on. It received numerous awards and was well published overseas.

I have to say that the best part about residential architecture is getting to know clients well during the whole process (with all its ups and downs!) and then seeing them enjoying living in a space that you have helped them create. That is the biggest thrill of all.

What are some of the challenges of working in your industry?

A lot of the challenges in architecture come from the desire to push beyond the standard response in order to do something extraordinary. I believe there is a growing awareness and appreciation for good design and clients are well educated about good buildings, but there still is often a moment of bravery required for clients (and sometimes builders) to embrace new ideas.

You need to be dedicated and committed to a design vision to persuade all those involved in the process to achieve it and create a great building.

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‘Bungan Beach’ in collaboration with Clinton Murray

What/who/where do you get inspiration from?

There are so many talented Architects in Australia. I constantly get inspiration from friends and colleagues who are also designing for our local conditions.

At the moment, I am collaborating with Arent & Pyke on a project and having so much fun with the layers of rich colour and texture that they bring to the design.

At home, we live very much outdoors and every day I am inspired by the ever-changing colours of the bush and wildlife. Sydney is such a unique city that has these pockets of bush and water so intertwined with urban living.

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‘Kareela’ | Photography: Brett Boardman
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‘Gunyahn’ collaboration with Clinton Murray | Photography: Simon Kenny

What advice would you give an individual starting their career in your industry?

I was privileged to have the very talented Architect Jennifer Macmaster work with me for a while before she started up TRIAS. It is fantastic to see this emerging young firm go from strength to strength. My advice to those starting there career is that there are incredible opportunities out there. In the end, hard work, passion and talent does triumph!

What’s next for Polly Harbison Design?

The ambitions for my career are simple – get good buildings built!

To wrap up…

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Polly Harbison’s side enterprise ‘Ozado Cross‘ | Image: Lennox Hastie from Firedoor Restaurant credit: Nikki To 

Best coffee in Darlinghurst?

Stop Valve Just around the corner from our studio.

All-time favourite building?

Ahhh…too hard! Salk Institute by Louis Khan is a contender.

Dream holiday destination?

Sri Lanka staying at Geoffrey Bawa Designed Hotels

Favourite way to entertain?

We host annual long, long lunch parties where we enjoy a feast and cook up whole pigs and lambs. You could say I have ‘BBQ empress’ ambitions! So much so, we’ve designed and manufactered an Ozado Cross (my side enterprise) to sell to kindred meat-loving spirits.

Reading right now?

Caesar the War Dog to my kids. I’m looking forward to reading time during the holidays.

Your ultimate Sunday looks like?

Eating mangos on our deck while reading with the background noise of happy kids, dog and chooks chasing sprinklers on the lawn (all without the fights and usual chaos).

What does #livelifeoutdoors mean to you?

We shower outside all year round – rain; winter; standing under a big fat shower rose. I get woken up by the racket of birds. I love that I’m aware of where we are in the cycle of the moon because I live so much of my life outdoors. I’m even becoming fond of the giant water dragon lizard that has taken to lying across our front entry, but I still don’t like the snakes!


See more of Polly Harbison Design’s works here.

Follow Polly’s side enterprise of Ozado Cross here.

Photographs: Courtesy of Polly Harbison Design | credits as captioned.