The Sydney Morning Herald: Career ceiling pushed building fan into architecture

The Sydney Morning Herald: Career ceiling pushed building fan into architecture

After working in building conservation, Thomas Trudeau developed an interest in creating sustainable architecture.

The first of his four university degrees was in art history, setting him up for a career in some of the world’s best-known galleries, including the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. His second degree in building conservation led to him working for 10 years as a conservation consultant in Sydney.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Bachelor of Design in Architecture and the UTS Master of Architecture paved the way for the third act in his career: founding Studio Trudeau, a sustainable architectural practice operating in Sydney and Barcelona, with an eye to the UK.

Thomas Trudeau is conscious of the concept of embodied energy.

Trudeau came to architecture after reaching what he saw as a ceiling in his conservation career.

“I felt there was a limit in terms of what I could achieve, such as my ability to influence projects, have input into them, without being an architect or an engineer,” he says. “So after a few years, I thought, okay, time to get my architecture degree.”

He was in his late 20s when he started his bachelor’s degree, and in his early 30s when he followed up with the master’s, which he completed in 2015. Coming back to full-time study as a mature-age student was a challenge, he says, but by the time he started his postgraduate studies, everything was falling into place.

“I wanted something that would take me firmly out of the heritage sphere and help me build a complementary skillset,” he says.

Fast-forward five years and Trudeau is now at the helm of Studio Trudeau, an architectural practice with a focus on re-use and retro-fitting of existing buildings and the delivery of more sustainable solutions in new builds.

Here, Trudeau combined his heritage and architectural expertise, honed in practices such as BDP in the UK, where he worked on high-profile projects like the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall, London.

His recent projects at Studio Trudeau — refurbishing and extending a 19th century terrace house in Sydney and building a new timber home in the scrublands outside Armidale that responds to the landscape — are examples of the studio’s focus on sustainable design.

One of Trudeau’s key concerns is around the concept of embodied energy — that is, the amount of energy that goes into the manufacture of building materials and the construction process.

While green star ratings and energy efficiency standards are now considered critical components of new builds, Trudeau believes the conversation doesn’t account for the fact that the construction of a building can produce significant carbon emissions that aren’t offset by the building’s energy efficiency.

“There’s an ever-increasing urgency to reusing and adapting existing buildings, because they have so much embodied energy in them,” he says.

As well as delivering sustainable architectural solutions in Sydney and Barcelona, Studio Trudeau has a fledgling research arm that aims to drive new innovations in sustainable design, as well as within the broader built environment sector.

Research to date has focused on improving efficiencies in information-handling procedures on construction projects, developing more streamlined workflows around construction and building contracts and exploring new opportunities for sustainable building materials, with an emphasis on timber.

Sustainable materials remain an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to Trudeau’s architectural practice, but he says there are bigger questions around creative and efficient re-use in the built environment that will ultimately set his practice apart.

Trudeau says he wants to provide sustainable new architecture “that’s as beautiful as it is efficient, whether it’s a house, garage or gallery, particularly in Australia, where these conversations are gathering pace”.