Reaching full potential
McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) is an award-winning architecture practice guided by a single passion –providing exceptional design for clients. Since forming more than 20 years ago, they have steadily developed an unassailable reputation for delivering innovative design solutions on all projects in nearly all sectors.
“No matter what we’re doing, our goal is to realise the client’s vision and make the most of every project,” says Debbie Ryan, a founder and owner of the firm. “We always try to optimise what a project can be.”
Debbie and her partner Robert McBride first joined forces in 1988. Prior to that, they had both studied at Monash University and RMIT, and had each carved out successful careers in the industry. Soon after forming MCR, they were faced with an economic recession – but together they “toughed it out,” and before long they had earned a good name in the market for the quality of their designs.
MCR’s passion for excellence has been repeatedly recognised by the design industry. Over the years, the company has earneda long list of accolades from industry bodies such as the Dulux Colour Awards, the IDEA Interior Design Excellence Awards, and the Australian Institute of Architects. In the last decade, they have won awards for virtually all types of design work – from residential homes, to multi-residential apartments, commercial projects, educational projects, public spaces, and more.
In 2005, for example, the company was awarded the highest design honour in Victoria – the Victorian Architecture Medal. In 2009, they one-upped even that, when they received the World Architecture Festival award in the ‘Best House’ category.
“That’s really important,” says Debbie. “There’s nothing better than recognition from your peers, because they know how it works and they know what kind of challenges a project faces. If they’ve chosen your project, with all of that knowledge in mind, then it means something.”
“And it confirms to clients that you know what you’re doing,” she adds. “If a client sees you’ve won an award, it gives them more confidence in you.”
Most recently, MCR was recognised at the 2014 Property Council of Australia Innovation & Excellence Awards, where they earned a nomination for the Woods BagotAward for Best Public Building. That nomination was earned on behalf of ‘The Infinity Centre’ – a new senior school for the Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School in Melbourne.
According to Debbie, MCR was the smallest firm on the school’s “short-list” of potential architects. She says they ultimately won the project, however, because they “listened.”
“We listened to the sort of things they wanted instead of telling them what they should have,” she explains.
“And the design was pretty exciting,” she adds. “When you look at it from far away, you can tell it’s an infinity symbol. That represents the concept of ‘infinite learning,’ which is what the campus is all about.”
Also, the Infinity Centre is a co-educational facility for students of Penleigh, which is a girl’s school, and Essendon Grammar, which is a boy’s school. So the project is literally a “coming together” of two schools, and the infinity symbol’s two circles meeting in the middle represents that.
“There are a lot of things that resonate,” Debbie says.
Practically, the Infinity Centre sits on an ‘L’-shaped site wrapped around a hockey field. The interior includes structured areas for arts, sciences, mathematics, and languages – as well as a formal lecture theatre, administration and staff facilities, and a library positioned in the middle of the site where the two loops of the infinity symbol meet. Overall, the building accommodates more than 600 students.
Another unique aspect of the project is the gloss-black and silver-banded brickwork, which create the feeling of a “medieval walled city.” That feeling of protection is important, because the campus is located at the top of a hill, at a site that’s well known for the extremity of its climate – where it’s intensely hot in the summer, and intensely cold in the winter. The infinity symbol design, however, meant there were two protected courtyards where students could be sheltered from the weather.
According to Debbie, all those factors add up to a “pretty exceptional project.” She says the award recognition comes from those things, as well as from the strong relationship they had with the client.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team effort,” she says. “It helps when you have a great client, and I think that’s what we had. They were very clear about what they wanted, and they had done the research. They had firm ideas about certain things, like the size of the classrooms, but let us come to them with our ideas for the rest of it.”
“They also responded very quickly,” she adds. “Whenever we had a meeting, the right people were there to make decisions, and if any decision needed to be withheld, they would get to us very promptly. So the project kept moving very smoothly.”
Of course, Debbie says that none of that would matter if they hadn’t come up with a strong idea in the first place.
“Those don’t always happen straight away,” she says. “But on this project we came up with an exciting idea that resonated on a lot of different levels. So the stars were aligning.”
“But it also has to do with our history and the effort we’ve put into our practice,” she adds. “We’ve always worked hard, no matter what the economic conditions are, and we’ve always made the most of every opportunity we’ve had. This project was another example of that.”