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Adopting an Efficiency First Approach to Sustainable Building Design with James Goodlet

Updated: Jul 25, 2021

In Episode 6 of Think Big, I speak to Australian building designer James Goodlet from Altereco in Melbourne, Australia. I'm currently working with him and his team to design, document and execute the landscape design for two of Altereco's projects so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of this and share more with you about what they do.

James founded Altereco Design in 2006 and has grown and led his practice through 12 years of building and design services. In today's episode, I wanted to know from James how he works with the client to educate them and communicate ideas with them about sustainability and what it means to take an 'efficiency first' approach to building design.

We also discuss:

✨ What Passivhaus is and how he uses it as a tool

✨ How he communicates responsible design choices to the client and what's most important

✨ Some of the challenges he faces in his projects

✨ Altereco's design process

✨ The types of materials Altereco uses

✨ Different drawing apps and software programs he uses

At the end of the episode, I also ask James to give his top tips to young architects and designers and he gave some excellent advice about cover letters and applying for practices that share your common values. I think this is particularly relevant when you're applying for a practice like Altereco who have done a lot of work to understand their values and what they stand for.

Altereco Design

Books & Resources

📱iPad apps

Recommended episodes:

Episode 3: How to use storytelling to connect to your clients - Fiona Dunin, FMD Architects

Episode 1: How to Build Your English Confidence: for Architects and Built Design Professionals

✨ Connect with me on LinkedIn Tara Cull

✨ Extended Show Notes and Full Transcript:

Ready to take action to speak up and share your voice?

Ready to start making a BIG impact on your English & building the architecture career you want?

You know it's time to make a change and you've got to start somewhere. In the evaluation and action plan, you will get my best tips so you stop the self-doubt and start taking action now. Take me to the action plan


Table of Contents Books and Resources


Technical vocabulary

Passivhaus - a voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building

thermal bridge - is a place where heat moves through an object

Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation System (MVHR) - energy recovery ventilation system

U - values - the rate of transfer of heat through a structure

underpinning - foundation laid below ground level to support or strengthen a building.


take (something into consideration) - to consider something

to go off on a tangent - consider many options

by and large (it’s important to think about) - on the whole

tipping point - the threshold or the limit

pull in the reins - to begin doing something more carefully

the goalposts are continually moving - the conditions or requirements are changing

keeping up with the Joneses - doing something in order to show that they have as much money as other people, rather than because you really want to do it

You can lead a horse to water (but you can’t make it drink) - (proverb) you can give someone the most effective solution, but you can't make someone do something they don't want to do

Urban design vocabulary

neighbourhood character - he 'look and feel of an area', in particular a residential area.

Important questions or thinking to take away from the episode:

What important environmental factors do you need to take into consideration / consider or when designing houses, spaces, and places for people?

take into consideration = consider

What energy rating tools and models do you know about? How can you find out more?

How might you balance the needs of the client as well as standard requirements while also trying to push the boundaries? push the boundaries = to do things differently



Quick Find Snippets - Take me straight to these sections


Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:00

You're listening to Think Big episode six.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:11

Hello Big Thinkers and welcome to Episode Six of Think Big. I'm your host, Tara Cull, Neurolanguage coach, landscape architect and English teacher. And I'm somebody dedicated to helping people in the built design profession who speak English as a second or third language to build outstanding communication skills. You can learn more about my coaching programmes and courses at

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 00:37

The purpose of the podcast is to share stories from built design professionals and various related disciplines. But it's also about learning more about how we communicate and how we do it better how we can do it better. I've had the absolute pleasure during the last few months of speaking to some inspiring professionals. And after each conversation, I get excited about what we've talked about, and I want to share it with you straight away. But I know that I have to keep telling myself it's a marathon. And it's not a sprint because this is exactly what I tell everyone that I work with. It's a marathon, not a sprint. And I need to practice what I preach right. Now the response to my first five episodes has been overwhelmingly positive. And I wanted to take the chance to say thank you to everyone who sent me a message, who have encouraged me to keep going, it really helps me to feel motivated to keep going. And of course, I just feel like I want to share so much with you. In today's episode, I speak to Australian building designer James goodlett, from Altereco in Melbourne, Australia. I'm currently working with him and his team to design document and execute the landscape design for two of their projects. So I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take advantage of this and share more about what they do, and to share more about his story. So James founded Altereco in 2006. And he has grown his practice through 12 years of building and design services. He comes from four generations of builders, and so he has sound knowledge of construction, and then also understanding traditional and innovative building methods. And one of those innovations in design is his dedication to become passivhaus certified. And he's passionate about creating sustainable homes for his clients. Every one of Altereco's projects is unique and has different opportunities and constraints specific to the site, the location, and the client's needs. I think it's also important to mention at this point, that Passivehaus isn't the only way to achieve optimal star ratings. But it is a tool. Now if you're interested in learning more about how different practices approach energy efficiency and star ratings, I think it's a great conversation starter to ask them about how they do it and what they do.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 01:42

In today's episode, I wanted to know more from James, about how he works with clients to educate them, and to communicate his ideas with them about sustainability, and what that means for their projects. In the interview, we discuss what passivhaus is and how he uses it as a tool, how he communicates responsible design choices to the client, some of the challenges that he faces. And we also talk about different drawing apps and software programmes that he's been trying and using with his clients. At the end of the episode, I also asked James to give his top tips for young architects and designers. And he gave me some great, excellent advice about cover letters and applying for practices that share your common values. And I think it's particularly relevant when you're applying for a practice like Altereco who've done the work to understand their values, and what they stand for. It's really important to do your research to understand where they come from, and what they stand for, so that you know if your values align with theirs. So before we get into the interview today, I wanted to also share more about Passivehaus with you. I discussed Passivhaus briefly with James but I was more interested in diving deeper into how he communicates with the client. So I wanted to give you a bit more background information into the concepts of passivhaus before we get into the interview, importantly, Altereco adopt an efficiency first approach which means they are designing buildings that are highly insulated and airtight. And they rely on very little heating and cooling to make the house comfortable. So they adopt an efficiency first approach. If you'd like to know more about names and his practice, you'll find links to his website and blog as well as all the images that we discussed from the buildings that we discussed (and the transcript) on today's episode page.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 05:11

So, let's jump into the episode. Let's firstly talk about the language of Passivehaus. Now Passive House is not to be confused with passive design or passive solar design. Passivhaus is a building standard that was developed in Germany. And the way that it works is it's an energy efficient, comfortable and affordable way of designing a house. It's a specific way of designing and building a new or renovated home so that it meets certain requirements that lowers energy use, and it improves the health and the well being of the houses occupants. But it's not the only way that you can achieve this. But I wanted to mention this because this is what James and his team adopts as a tool. In 2019, James and his team at Altereco took a stance, they drew a line in the sand, because they wanted to commit their efforts to work with like minded clients and builders so that they could achieve the best possible outcome for their clients. So he also worked towards passivhaus certification. He did a two week intense training course, which was a massive challenge for James but he documented everything that he learned during the training course on his blog. So I'll put a link to this in the show notes, I highly recommend going to have a look at it and to see all the things that he learned during the training course.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 06:40

What is passivhaus in more detail, so let's have a look at the principles behind passivhaus. In essence, it's striving to create a building that is healthy and comfortable. So passivhaus allows for space heating and cooling related energy savings of up to 90% compared with typical existing buildings, and over 75% compared to average new builds, so a Passivhaus will need to consider good insulation. So passivehaus houses are praised for their high level of comfort that they offer the internal surface temperatures very little from indoor air temperatures, and even in the face of extreme outdoor temperatures. They also include no air leakages and no thermal bridges where the warmth can easily travel through the walls to the outside of the building. They also include proper windows with triple pane glass. So triple pane glass windows are the most advanced windows that you can get on the market today. And of course, they're made with three panes of glass. So as with new double pane window installations, each of the three panes has a spacer around the edge to give them a uniform space between the layers. So this extra layer makes it more difficult for heat to escape, and it allows you to maintain the temperature in your home. A Passivhaus we'll also consider proper orientation to make the most of the sun. So passivehauses make efficient use of the sun, internal heat sources and heat recovery, rendering conventional heating systems really unnecessary, even throughout the coldest winters and then during the warmer months. Passive houses make use of passive cooling techniques such as strategic shading, to keep the house comfortable and cool. Passive houses also include a heat recovery ventilation system. So for Altereco, air quality is their highest priority because this is particularly relevant because in Melbourne's inner west where they work and also where I used to live, there are abnormally high cases of asthma and respiratory system disease. So one of the key learnings from James's Passivhaus journey is the ability to take control of the indoor environment regardless of the air quality outdoors. So in return the clients that they work with get to live in a healthy house with healthy air and to be comfortable. So, to achieve that,

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 09:10

they create an environment that is separate from external influences by insulating the shell and then eliminating gaps and drafts for air quality control. They introduced a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system that brings in fresh filtered air free from pollutants, and then it extracts the stale air. So it also contributes to moisture control and a balanced temperature throughout the home. Now these modern automated systems are intelligent pieces of engineering, they run on very little energy. And the heat recovery element ensures that minimal energy or the temperature is lost in the exchange of air a little more about passive houses around the world. So the Passivhaus concept, it remains the same for all of the world's climates as does all the mechanics and the science behind it. But while the principles remain the same across the world, the details have to be adapted to specific climates. So it will change depending on where it has been implemented. So if you want to know more about what Passivhaus is, I've also included a short video in the episode notes about what passive houses. And because I also love to test your vocabulary and help you build it. I've also turned it into an interactive video, if you want to test yourself, I also highly recommend doing your own research about Passivhaus. And what are some of the other sustainability rating tools that other architects use. This is arguably one of the most difficult things for a lot of the clients that I work with, because every country and every state, sometimes in different countries will use different sustainability rating tools. So the best thing that you can do is to if you're working in practice to ask what sort of tools that you use for sustainability ratings? Or to if you're looking for a job, that could be even a question that you could ask in an interview, what sorts of sustainability rating tools do you use? Can you tell me more about how you adopt a sustainable method or sustainable practice? So without further ado, let's get into the interview with James today.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 11:28

Hi, James, nice to have you here. I've been very excited to have this conversation with you today. So we have done some work together before in the past, I've been following your work for quite some time. So for those who don't know much about you and your practice, could you tell us a little bit more about what Altereco means and where it started and where you are now?

James Goodlet 11:51

Yeah, sure. Thanks, Tara. Good to be here. Yeah, it's a Altereco. It all started. I started like most people do as a sole trader going out on their own. Oh, 13 years ago now. So yeah, that was quite easy at the time, like I actually designed a house for my parents. And while I was working at another firm, I, you know, finished that and started building the house with my parents, my, my dad's a builder and, and I've had a lot of family in the building industry. So I was, you know, aiming learning to get some hands on skills and really, yeah, get some more understanding and experiment with a few different things as well. And yeah, that was that was really good. And then just by the end of that sort of build, I was full time on the dining table, just doing you know, mostly it was drafting work, or some design, small design stuff. And then that evolved, and it just built some relationships and got some repeat work. And then I couldn't handle it got, I got the first person on board and, and then it sort of snowballed from there. So yeah, I guess when I started, I, I had the ambitions to be, you know, quite consciously a sustainable designer, but I guess just by word of mouth, and where I got the work from that wasn't really didn't really happen, to be honest, you know, it wasn't really enforced. And I always struggled with the conversation around approaching sustainability and having some kind of a, you know, ethical conscious towards a building's performance and, and even, you know, embodied energy and where our materials come from, and that sort of stuff. So, and it's only really been in the last few years, where I've decided that there's only so much work that we can do, there's a lot of work that's out there, and it's, we're lucky in Australia to have, you know, a consistently booming industry where there's always work that we've decided that we just want to work with, with clients who are motivated to build high performing, you know, sustainable houses, and, you know, were schooled up on that, we love that and we're passionate about it. So we're really trying to find those kinds of clients and align with them. At the end of the day, we're designing the house for them to live in. That's it, that's all we do when we only do residential work we're quite passionate about, about that and working closely with our clients and and as I was saying, you know, once we invest some time into them, and you know, I guess impart some of our knowledge on on sustainability measures and you know, the budget and as well as your interior design and that sort of stuff. Yeah, we just feel we get the most out of out of the project and not having to pitch or sell being a sustainable designer to somebody, they just know that that's what they're getting in for. And, and they're, they're on board with it. I think there's been a change anyway, in the last few years in in general with in the market, there's quite a conscious shift towards people being more motivated towards performance and healthy like we talk a lot about how indoor air quality is, is quite, quite a high priority. And anyone who's actually spent some time in Australia living in a house over here, we probably know that they're not very comfortable. There. You know, you think that we've got a climate that that's quite conducive to living in a tent, but it's not really enjoyable.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 15:28

Do you predominantly work with houses where they're renovated? Or do you work with new builds? Or could you describe the the type of style of architecture that you generally work with?

James Goodlet 15:39

Yeah, it's interesting, I guess, if we, if we have a clean approach, like if we have a clean site, and we're doing a new build, yeah, I guess we're quite, quite modern, in our, in our approach, and I guess, a little bit earthy in our materials. I also just having a background in in construction don't really believe that, we need to make things more complex than they need to be. I think we need the attention to detail. But I just don't think, you know, I'm not trying to create anything particularly outlandish, and challenge a builder too much. Because let's be honest, there's only so much money that that our clients have and can put towards a project. And I prefer to prefer them to spend it in improving the building envelope rather than showing off to their, to their mates and keeping up with the Joneses. If you know what I mean,

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 16:30

I saw a I saw a comment on your Instagram recently about sustainability and how sustainability or greenwashing it's become such a buzz word. And then someone made a comment on there saying instead of calling it sustainable design, we call it responsible design.

James Goodlet 16:48

Yeah, that actually makes a must have gone to bed by then and didn't follow that part of

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 16:55

it was, I thought it was a great example of not using the word sustainability too much.

James Goodlet 17:00

That's true. Yeah, yeah. Well, I'm a member here of the was the BDAV, it's now Design Matters. And it's, but that I guess that's the organisation that I'm affiliated with here. For so long they've been, you know, I guess, not so much banging the drum, but I guess all of the developmental training that they do, it's mainly focused on energy and performance and, and improving the quality of the buildings that we have in Australia. But I think you're right, you know, it's, it's, it's become, yeah, I guess what I was getting to is they have awards every year, and this year, they're finally introducing, it's mandatory to have some kind of sustainable, hopefully, it's not a spin on it. But you know, some sustainable grounds and outcomes, otherwise, you don't qualify to go in the entry. I think that's a really clear step in the right direction that that, yeah, like you said, it's responsible. And it's all of our responsibility to do what we can to improve the industry.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 18:03

So what are some of those responsible things that you would implement into a design?

James Goodlet 18:08

Yeah, I guess, Australia has had some kind of energy mandate on heating and cooling. And it's been around for 12 years, let's say, but they haven't updated it since. And technologies changed and evolve so much. So that's, I think there's a revision of this to do to come out next year. But to be honest, it's quite easy to achieve that. And if you can't even achieve that, there's something wrong, but with with the way you're designing and so forth, but the passivhaus is, is I guess, part of what it's going to be a lot more common in Europe than it is here. And it's, it's growing here, and it's actually very, very applicable in this climate as well. But, but to me, that's just a tool to ensure that when we're designing something that can minimise the overall energy consumption and generate also, you know, the right amount of energy to, to balance that out. And, you know, be Net Zero. So, yeah, I think, to me, when we're signing on clients, we're not necessarily saying, Hey, we're under your Passivhaus, because to me, we probably still going to use it as a tool, but we're going to educate them along the way. And we do have a growing market of products that are here in Australia that are available, well, that we would use, I guess in in the composition of a of a passivhaus. But we are still quite dependent on better technology from Europe as well. And that's just coming at an expense. And at the moment, in this pandemic, it's coming at a delay as well.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 19:49

So it's making sure you're considering all those things in all of your projects, I guess, without saying this is going to be a passivehaus. Yes, that's right.

James Goodlet 19:59

Yeah. So Yeah, so where, let's use glazing as an example, right. So the, the companies that are providing glazing have to, you know, share the information about the performance, like the U values and so forth of the of their components so that you can calculate how well that window performs. And we can compare it against another. And, and finally, we've got on the market here, a couple of brands that are actually bringing out passivhaus certified windows in Australia. So we're able to go Alright, well, I can get these built in 12 weeks, and I can compare it to the ones that I can get from Europe. And you know, it's, it's a factor now. So yeah, that's one of the things but but I think by and large, it's really important just to talk about building quality and longevity. So it probably happens everywhere in the world. But here, there's there's a massive skew from project homes, I'm not sure what what you know, the mass produced kind of homes that are here, and the quality and speed that they are knocked up in, versus something that we would design and detail. And so there's a lot more components and elements into a wall build up, for example, the way we detail certain junctions here, compared to those houses.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 21:21

So when you work on a renovation home, so there's a lot of Victorian style houses in Yarraville and Seddon around where you practice. What are some of the challenges that you come across with having to make sure that you're implementing passivhaus design, but also responsible design as well?

James Goodlet 21:42

Yeah, that's a good question. There is certainly more challenges when renovating.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 21:46

Yeah, I imagine.

James Goodlet 21:49

And especially, I mean, dealing or, you know, around here, we're dealing with quite tight and compact sites for what, what we can compare ourselves within in Australia. And that has its own kind of challenges, especially when we have a building code that's just generalised across the board across the country, we have a lot of challenges. The first part to me is to find out what's, you know, understand what's essential that we need to tap to keep and maintain and, and what can we forego, because mostly buildings will be in some form of decay. And to be honest, a lot of that stuff is better off being replaced. But yeah, I think it's, it's really important to maintain that streetscape and, and, and keep that neighbourhood character fairly consistent, which is quite challenging, because we are seeing a lot more diverse building type ologies, I guess, throughout our suburbs at the moment, but in in Melbourne, where we're doing a lot of the renovations, it's pretty, pretty integral. You know, there's normally heritage overlays that are in in these inner urban pockets. We're doing what we can to restore those parts of the building and seeing what can be removed.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 23:00

Have you got any examples that you can like off the top of your head that you could point people towards? So we give them a link to your website, or there's some examples where you've done the renovation, and they can see some of the challenges that you've come across? And to try and marry the two together? I guess.

James Goodlet 23:17

Yeah, there's a couple that come to mind that we haven't actually photographed yet. I think there's the Mavis House on the website, which is a renovation extension, so is the Chatfield house. But in the scheme of things, they were actually pretty easy because there was good side access and a fair bit of room. The one that's on there, it's called Beavers House. That was quite interesting, because it was it was the single front of brick terrace, it was meant to have a matching pair next to it, but it never happened. So the owners of this house had this long strip of land next to them. So So I guess we we added a couple of pavilions to this and still try to maximise maximise our orientation and, and create a bit of a courtyard space in the middle. So that one was pretty unique. And yeah, a bit of a discovery along the way, once once, once we sunk our teeth into it, a lot of work needed to happen to the original brick workers quite a bit of underpinning required and things like that. So that one was challenging, but nothing compares to the one that I'm working on at the moment, which you've had a hand in, in helping get this one, the one in western street that's had its challenges. It is paired up with another building. And it's challenging site access, very challenging. builded a will work with their, their a larger crew and there's a turnover of staff. So this relearning of the project has been quite painful to be honest. You get that and you can anticipate that. So we work through it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 24:51

yeah, it seems like it's been a long process, but hopefully we're getting towards the end, right. I've seen some photos. It's what you're getting. The landscape has been sending me some photos, so it's looking good. And I've been seeing some of the the house. So I'm excited to see these internal courtyards and the backyard, it's going to be great. So hopefully when you see it, you can send me some photos.

James Goodlet 25:15

Yeah, so um, yeah, so I guess just moving back to the, to the Passivhaus stuff, I still think there's a lot of education within the general population here that they need to understand the differences in, in our approaches to the way we can design and create high performing homes. It's an ongoing, and this is why we do more social media these days, it's just that education around it as well.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 25:41

Yeah, I think that's a big part of it, isn't it? The social media aspect, you were talking about some of the materials that you were using as being earthy? So what are some of the materials that you you would use, I guess timber and more natural colours,

James Goodlet 25:56

I'm really more about that, trying to have our buildings to sit in our environment, and not really stand out too much and be too loud. So yeah, quite conscious of, I guess more about also a representation of who, who our clients are. And, you know, and what, I guess in Australia, there's a bit of a vernacular as well, with the use of, you know, corrugated metal and things like that. So it's not necessarily earthy, but it's quite common in, you know, rural, you know, semi rural kind of setting. And so, emulating some of those materials and forms is quite, quite fun as well.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 26:35

Yeah, I guess it's important to take into consideration, as you say, the vernacular of the, of the context and and understand the architecture of the surrounding area, thinking about the clients to what are some of the things that you find really important when it comes to explaining designs to clients?

James Goodlet 26:55

Yeah, so, look, I really like honesty. And, and a client is not afraid to share their mind, because we definitely don't pitch or trying to sell a concept to to a client. And we start with really limited information. And we're really trying to learn about our clients, our initial brief that we that we request from a client, it's quite detailed, and it forces some thought and on how they live and so forth. So we're really digging into, I guess, the, the socio economics of their family and or if it's family, or how they live, and what are their habits and hobbies and, and some of those things. So yeah, so I guess the design to me really does just quite evolve, you know, it's we don't, you know, we're, we're really loosely starting with those flow diagrams of how things connect, and really trying to get an understanding of that, and then it shapes itself from from that point of view. So to me, they're really seeing that evolution through those sketches as they evolve. And then as it goes into CAD ArchiCAD, we use, and we, we refine that design development. So our first renders are just sort of a clay model, kind of white render. And then, you know, then we start to embellish them with colour, we don't want to give them too much information, because it's always, you know, distractions with some of that sort of stuff. And, you know, why is that brick I didn't want brick there, or whatever it might be. But yeah, we're really trying to take them on that journey. And just keep them focused and keep the blinkers on so that they're, they got their attention on the right part of the project and not and also not getting too excited about other things that it's just not even important right now. Yeah. But the key to it, is their ability to say no, or Yeah, that it's so it's really critical that we just had a meeting yesterday was our first design meeting with his client. And she said, you know, James, I just really don't like that I can't picture that been, you know, on my block of land might call, at least we know, now have a look at this one. What do you think? I guess

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 29:11

it's important to create that space where they can say no, isn't it?

James Goodlet 29:15

Yeah, create the space and then also just dig into it as why as well, like an understanding of that just saved us so much time going off in a tangent in the wrong direction. So

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 29:28

I guess that initial stage two, where you do those flow diagrams are a good sort of bringing the client into the process before they get too carried away. And then the next logical step would be more detail. My next question was going to be about Have you ever introduced an idea where you had to persuade somebody you have given me an example but do you have any other examples where you had this idea that was really good and you had to persuade somebody so it could be the client, the builder, anyone?

James Goodlet 29:57

That can be quite challenging. But at the end of the day, you know, I can only lead a horse to water. So I'm not going to bash my head against the wall one way or another. And yeah, if someone's really resistant to something, they must have a reason for like, there's got to be something underlying there. So to me, trying to find out why that is, and probably educating them around that particular issue is, is as far as I would probably go with it, and if they were still stuck on it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 30:29

Yeah. So you asking them why and why and why so that you understand the deep reason for that problem? Yeah, I like that. I like that process. I've been talking to some of my students recently about using the five why's method, which was developed by a Sakichi Toyoda. So it sounds like you're implementing it.

James Goodlet 30:49

Yeah. I don't know if I've ever gone that far down. But yeah, I know exactly what that is, it really gets to the underlying issue.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 30:59

Going back to speaking to the client, and communication, what do you think is the most important thing, when you're explaining things to clients, I like what you're saying about don't give them too much information because they can get carried away, or

James Goodlet 31:12

I think honesty is the key to it. Once you get to know a client. It's, it's, it's still really important that the dialogue is open and honest, you know, we're all human, something's gonna go wrong. So I just think sharing that that level of honesty then goes both ways. And we'll get that back out of them as well. There's no point doing what we do. And if we don't enjoy it,

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 31:39

I think that's a great, a great piece of advice, to be honest. And I mean, there can be some big tough things that you have to explain to a client like, it's, you know, the tenders have come back, and they're way over budget. And now we have to figure something out. So I think you're right, being honest, and trying to get the best outcome that you can, is super important.

James Goodlet 32:01

Well, there's that other saying, isn't it the best conversations are the toughest ones to have? So sometimes you better off just jump in the deep end and just get on, get on with it. And yeah, don't dance around the topic. Oh, like, okay, the topic of money, budget, or our fees, or whatever it might be, it's not easy talking about money. But at the end of the day, we need to be compensated for what we're doing. So you just have to have that conversation and keep revisiting it, especially if especially if there's scope creep, or we deviate from the initial plan. But then also, our clients, you know, don't have an infinite amount of money for a budget. For a project, they've everybody's got a budget. So I dig really deep early on in a project, I think it's really important to understand what they would like to spend. And then I think it's even more important to know when the tipping point is so. And to me, the gap between those two is quite critical. So if somebody is trying to leverage as much as they can take him right up to that threshold, I'm really nervous, because it's really easy to tip over the top of the tipping point. So I think we need to just pull in the reins a bit. It's also, it's quite challenging for us, because the goalposts are continually moving as material prices are constantly going up right now, there's a timber shortage in Australia. So there's scarcity and price going up as well. There's so many things at play with no inflation, and so forth. And we might be borrowing our knowledge of a project that's already two years out of date by the time it gets built. So that's a challenge. But I think we need to take the money seriously. And yeah, I think that's, that's really important to have those kind of conversations early on.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 33:51

I think it's really important that you're talking about that knowing what their gap is between their budget and the tipping point. And that's something that I often found, working as a landscape architect is you, a client will tell you their budget, but actually they do have the ability to stretch it. And if you don't have that conversation with them in the beginning that like what you're saying about materials, the cost of materials, changing, inflation and scarcity, all those sorts of things can have an impact. And we're not mind reader's, we don't know, although we have an idea of what might come back in the tender we don't actually know because it can change from from year to year. So I think that's such an important aspect of of communication with a client is knowing what the tipping point is, what what kinds of tools and software do you use to document your projects and also communicate it to the client?

James Goodlet 34:46

Yeah, our primary tool is is ARCHICAD. I still think those early stages sketching is the best. I've been using an iPad a lot over the last couple of years. It's been it's, it's actually been quite useful. Especially in the last 12 months, just being you know, we're working remote quite often and, and we actually haven't gone back to a normal office sort of scenario yet. Even though we're able to where we've found that working away from the office, maybe two to three days a week is good to get some deep work going and, and then we all plan to get into the office a couple of days a week and try and overlap that get get a few people together. And that's how you collaborate the best or, or learn some of the, some of the other little bits and pieces that you just wouldn't have if someone just didn't come and pass you and say, Hey, what are you up to and you know, give you a few tips that whether it's aggregate or whatever it might be, I just think those those conversations and and learnings are harder to have when we're totally remote. So at the moment, we're just experimenting a bit our own how, how flexible to be around that everything's obviously changed from, from a communication point of view that we're, we're on line a lot more often. But I'm sketching a lot on the iPad, I've experimented with a lot of different apps on that, at the moment, I'm using one called Concepts the most, because I can underlay can bring in a PDF, multi page or one page or whatever, and, and sketch over it, and I still got layers and stuff like that. So that's pretty good. Yeah, I think and actually like for knocking out quick things, and I like Morpholio's Trace as well, because it is like throwing more and more, you know, butter paper on top.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 36:39

Do you also use 3d models to explain to your client? Or do they see the 3d models? How do they look at the 3d models,

James Goodlet 36:47

we've been using some 3d rendering software lately, that sort of paired up with ArchiCAD, Twin Motion, that's, that can knock out a good realistic kind of render quite quickly. And that always helps. But there's something about flying around the space and you know, just self navigating that they can actually do in their own time and get a good feel for it. There's something about that, that. Yeah, that's quite empowering for the client, I think to really get a good feel for it. Some people can, especially those ones that can't read plans very well. You know, and that's, that's still quite common. So, yeah, they need to really get in there and visualise it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 37:27

Yeah, even myself, I need to see 3D sometimes just to visualise it. It's, I'm sort of in two minds about it. I like the idea of being able to walk around the house and see the different spaces. And also, obviously, for me see how the landscape interacts. But also at the same time, I feel like it takes away that magic of when the house is built. And you start seeing it all coming together. You're really excited, because but you know, if you've got VR, a VR headset, you've already seen it. So like I already done already know what it's going to look like. Yeah.

James Goodlet 38:04

Yeah, we had one client who was like, Oh, my God, I can't believe this house, exactly like you showed me in in the 3d model. So. So she was stoked to that it turned out that way, as long as like. You didn't believe this. But yeah, I know what you mean, there must have been back in the day when somebody would do a hand drawing. There's very limited drawings and very limited changes because they weren't going to scratch it out. Yeah, they'd have to be a lot of a lot of trust that, you know, that that space was gonna turn out. It's interesting. I was doing a bit of research recently, we're about to start building our own house soon. And it's down in Anglesea, which is on the coast. And I was doing a bit of research. You know, we talk about the right kind of building typology. And, and I still, it's, I don't really like much of the new architecture that's, that's around down the coast. I think it's, it's, it's a little bit too flamboyant. And I feel people are trying to show off it too much. And I think by and large, those houses are too big for what they need to be. So I was doing a bit of research into, like the 60s, beach shacks, that is sort of could go and buy off the plan somewhere and have a be able to build them. So I was doing a bit of research into that. And yeah, there's one I just came across this archive sort of website and and they they had the the plans or the ads that were in the newspapers, and it was literally just a plan and an elevation or a plan and a and a 3d sketch. And people would yeah, people buying these houses just on a without much information at all. Yeah, and even just the dot points of what was included. It was just such a simple little brief that people just didn't ask too much that those days.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 39:59

They really trusted

James Goodlet 40:01

Yeah, and then also just won't maybe too fast these days, everybody wants to know the colour of not just the title. But what's the grout in a day? And you know, they're invested in every little surface and, and, and interface. So, yeah, it's different. It's a different set of different rule book.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 40:19

Absolutely. And I guess you as you're going to be your own client, is that right? So you're going to be designing your own house,

James Goodlet 40:26

It's actually been quite enjoyable. I'm actually having a bit of fun with it. So I look forward to seeing it take shape.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 40:34

Are you adopting a different process to what you would with your clients

James Goodlet 40:37

Oh totally, I came up with the first concept. And we were both sort of felt that that didn't really suit the site that Well, once we went back out to the site and sat on there, we just didn't feel right. And we talked about what we wanted. The next concept I did was like, Yeah, that's it. Let's do it. So it's just, it's just gone. I think, yeah, I've sort of overcome that. And then got, you know, more into the detail and into the Yeah, I guess the, the, the fenestrations. And that sort of stuff. And yeah, now we're just about to, we've got it. You're planning so bad to get a building permit? And now I'm trying to chase all the trades and get this thing built?

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 41:19

Have you had people in the practice also involved in the design? Or is it just you and Claire?

James Goodlet 41:24

There has been because we are going to go for Passivhaus certification. So myself and Tanika. She is a passivehaus designer. So I've had her do the comps (computations) on that. Yeah, a couple of others are working on as well. So yeah, it's gonna be it's definitely not all about me. I think we'll have it we'll all have a bit of a bit of a say in it. So yeah.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 41:51

No, it's it's great that you can be able to bring some of these things that you're learning and bring it back to the practice, I guess, with your own project. Yeah, that's right. All right. So I've got one more question for you. Before we finish up today, there's, I guess, it would be more about if you were to give young architects and architects just starting out, or, you know, they've been working for a little bit, and you wanted to give them some advice about something, it could be about communication or explaining things to client, what's one big thing that you've learned that you would like to impart to somebody else?

James Goodlet 42:29

We've interviewed a few people here recently, because we've hired a new interior designer, and a new architect recently, so I guess, my interview questions early on, were just quite basic, and it was very gut feel about that about somebody but but to me, I think at this point in time, I can tell my story about where I am, and and that person that we're hiring needs to be on a similar journey at this kind of point in time, like it means needs to be mutually beneficial in in that kind of regard.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 43:07

I'm really glad that you mentioned that, actually. Because given that we've just been talking so much about your principles and your values around sustainability. And also the ways that you speak to the client and being strong on those values, I think it's important that you obviously have people that are working for you that understand those values. So what sorts of questions are you going to be asking people,

James Goodlet 43:31

I'll be asking questions that are quite particular to the kind of things that, you know, the kind of person that we need within within our team. And you know, from that we'll learn about whether they're a good cultural fit or not, and so forth. But also, I think it's really important for whoever is the job applicant to be able to express themselves in in that way is to actually, I don't know if confidence is the right word, but but be able to express that this is where they think they would like to go or an eight. And maybe nobody knows where they're really going to go long term. But I think at this point in time, there needs to be that magnetic bond, if you know what I mean, that poor don't want to work, rather than just try and try and get the CV out to as many people and see how you go getting a job. To me, the ones that resonate to me are the ones that have approached us more specifically. And there's there's definitely an alignment this Yeah, to me, I think you need to try and find the right kind of place to work in and express that why you're you would be the right kind of fit for that, that kind of place and back yourself on that, you know, and I've just seen a few CVS recently, I would definitely write a personalised cover letter as to why that why that would be the case.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 44:51

I'm so happy that you brought this up because it's something that I have worked a lot with people recently too. It's about Firstly, what do you value You've got to know what you really value so that you can have these conversations with people, and to know how what you value fits with the practice that you're trying to work with. And also, I really also believe in the idea of personalising your cover letters and trying to make sure that what you value fits to the company's values, and that somehow you can add even more value to the company as well. Well, I think we've come to the end of our conversation. So thank you very much, James, for sharing everything, today for talking about your values around sustainability, for sharing a little more about your work with Passive House. And then also talking about how you work with the clients and the things that you value around honesty. And then finally, I really appreciated what you shared at the end about how somebody can improve their job searching and their interview skills. I think a lot of people get a lot of value from this episode. So thank you very much. And I've also learned a lot more about your practice. So thank you.

James Goodlet 46:03

Good to hear. It's more than just pretty pictures.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 46:06

Sure is it's way more than pretty pictures. It's so much more than that. So thank you.

James Goodlet 46:11

Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Tara Cull - ArchiEnglish 46:13

Thanks again to James from Altereco for taking the time to have this interview with me. It was funny when we did the interview. In the background, there were so many noises, so many bird noises and it was making me feel nostalgic for being in Australia. So I really appreciated having that conversation with him. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. If you did, please do me a favour and share it with somebody who you think might enjoy this episode. And if you have any questions or you'd like to ask me anything about what you heard in today's episode, you can send me an email to and I look forward to sharing my next conversation with you very soon.

Images (Altereco)

Images 1 - 3 - Chatfield House

Images 4 - 6 - Mavis House

Images 7 - 9 - Beavers House

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