Coffs Coast Focus  magazine April 2011


Speaking with Richard Eastman, you realize there is a whole language that you have yet to explore. It is the language of architecture. And Richard speaks it with such fluency & grace; you are left with no doubt that this is a man following his passion.  Richard heads up aura design office. “It is a big name for a small & emerging design practice, where the underlying message is a philosophy of context.  The context is our landscape and not just urban, natural or physical, but also our social and traditional fabrics.   We design with a mixture of wonder & responsibility.”


Relocating here just 5 years ago, Richard’s study and practical exploration of the field of architecture has taken him to remote & intriguing parts of the world. Richard enrolled at Leuven University in Belgium to study post graduate Heritage restoration & Conservation after completing his studies at RMIT in Melbourne.  The Belgium course of study was not undertaken lightly, with Richard having to learn French to complete. This was followed by seven years of personal post graduate ‘homework’ and another language: Dutch.  “I wanted to be able to immerse myself in what I had learned. I began small with a total restoration of a house in Utrecht and quickly followed it up with a heritage-listed farm in the south of the Netherlands. Apart from the benefits of the spectacular physical space, it had it’s intangible rewards too” says Richard.  “This became an ideal learning process in balancing the sensitivities of heritage fabric with the pragmatics of modern living – all in buildings built 250 years ago to house cows, pigs, straw and potatoes.”


At the other end of the spectrum, Richard has been intimately involved with large-scale complex commercial developments such as shopping centres, hotels, offices & restaurants, often posed in heritage settings. “At this same time sustainability was in it’s infant phase and began in the form of improved technologies, high quality relevant, contemporary solutions, with a timeless quality. Built environment surviving through time was the sustainable paradigm. In the 90’s, thriving economies and changing attitudes of initiators/developers, had, in this period witnessed and delivered an exponential growth of higher quality projects. But, sustainability is now an infinitely broader field and the goal posts have shifted”


Speaking with Richard, you can only begin to glimpse the depth of knowledge this field requires. Whilst there is a lot of media attention dedicated to practices of sustainability, there is much more to sustainable design, than meets the eye.


“Buildings need now to give back to the environment: to accumulate water, solar energy and biodiversity and be carbon neutral.  It’s an unusual challenge because we are asking buildings, to perform a function that trees already fulfill.  It also challenges clients to re-evaluate their lifestyle”


“There are so many ways to incorporate nature and energy into a building and site.  The opportunities and developments need to be continually re-evaluated and appropriately put into practice.”  This passion for re-invention and pragmatism is echoed throughout his entire life, no doubt inspired by his vast travels. “Coming from Australia originally, & travelling extensively, for me there have been sea changes & tree changes, but more relevant than a physical location is the ‘be change’. In everything we do, the world is challenging us to ‘be the change’, to adapt and improvise and to change our being.  It’s a challenge enough to find that essence individually, let alone collectively.”


Being the change is the all-pervading essence of aura design office. And what better place than the Coffs Coast to bring about change, one project at a time.


The move back to Australia unlocked a new cycle of adventure.  They departed in a 1950’s model French Citroen campervan, driving through Europe and North Africa before shipping to Australia. This unconventional mode of transport opened hearts and minds, while crossing borders.


Falling in love with this region meant a permanent relocation to Bellingen for his family, including Dutch wife Anke & their 3 children. “The landscape here provides a new array of phenomenon for my work. One of our current projects is a modern interpretation of the Australian verandah pavilion evolved out of a site with multiple constraints.  With a steep slope to the east, panoramic views to the south and a high fire danger to the west, the design was an exercise in deflection of constraints into benefits”.

With a series of bridges connecting three volumes; carport, single level living pavilion and two level dormitory pavilion, the views, solar gain, ventilation and ‘nestling’ in the slope backdrop were maximized. The house is served by a grey water reed bed system that irrigates newly planted orchards, solar hot water, solar PV, and permaculture veggie gardens. The result of a passionate design speaks for itself.


In all the work he undertakes, Richard speaks of bringing the life & soul of a home to the fore. “Our living spaces should be more than a window dressing showcase motivated by a re-sale value at the end.  As a society the pervading trend   tends towards minimalism, to be a haven of Zen in our busy lives. But I sense an underlying yearning for more emotional depth, and it is this depth which is fundamental to all new design work I do.”


“I like to design spaces that are a fusion of natural materials, craftsmanship and a contemporary edge.  It’s a soothing way of balancing our yearnings for the natural with the needs of modern amenity.”


After completing over 40 projects (commissioned and freelance) in the last four years including a palette of medium to high end residential projects locally, as well as government, residential and commercial projects locally and internationally, his commitment to his vision of unique & conscientious design is clear.  Ask him where he sees the future of the industry, and his optimistic response is typical of the entire conversation.  “Wherever it heads, it will be led by a need, a condition, a shortcoming and an outcome of wonder and fulfillment.”  aura design office is building design with empathy for the environment, urban landscape & culture.  “Despite all the changes, these principles are something steady, in a world of change.”


See article under project: Villa Karkelbond