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When A Skateboarding Obsession Leads To A Career In Architecture And Teaching

23 Oct 2017


Skateboarding is a pretty abstract pathway into architecture, but that’s exactly what inspired our Head of Program for the Bachelor of Built Environment to become an architect.

“There is creativity in skateboarding,” says Jean-Paul Rollo. “I think it's about being creative through the environment you are in.” “Skateboarding led me to interact with spaces, from car parks to St Kilda Rd, whether they were public spaces or otherwise. It was kind of beginning for me in architecture.” Jean-Paul says it might not have been a direct influence, but when you are constantly reading the terrain, its textures, its benches, stairs and rails as you skate, you are gaining spatial awareness and an understanding of how a city or suburb works. So, from the mean streets of Melbourne, Jean-Paul graduated with 1st class Honours in Architecture in 2002. From there he cut his teeth at some big local firms, including Lyons, Bruce Henderson Architects and Elenberg Fraser. Then, perhaps driven by his desire to be as free as a street skater, he started his own practice, Jean-Paul Rollo Architects, in 2007.

Award winning success

This is when he started racking up the awards, including a win at the ArchiTeam Awards for a studio he designed in a Middle Park laneway. It is one of his favourite designs: “It was a quite compact space above an existing garage. It had a steel frame that went up really quickly and I had to deal with all these inner city restraints like a skinny block, and in Middle Park the value of a property is pretty high, so everything was quite important in terms of space.” From the street the studio looks as if it’s split over two levels, but when you go inside you discover it’s one room. “The split starts to create things like an inset for shelves and a nook for a desk and all these sorts of things, so it is just a simple Idea that operates with a bit more complexity than it looks.” Jean-Paul says architects need to respond to the site they are working with: “The nature of architecture is every site is different, every client is different, and generally involves so many consultants and parties that are producing one thing.”

Theory is great, but you can't beat practice

This is why he says it’s critical that students studying architecture are exposed to the practical, not just the theory. “If it's not real experience or lived experience of project work it becomes too academic.” He says, of course the academic side is really important for students and that any course should not be entirely about real world experiences. But, being able to learn from real practitioners who have worked with many clients, on large scale and small scale projects is important for students. “Just being exposed to practice is a good thing,” says Jean-Paul. As the Head of Program for the Bachelor of the Built Environment at Melbourne Polytechnic, Jean-Paul loves that he can bring his more than a decade of industry practice and experience to the classroom. And, making it even better, is that with this program he has helped build, he and the other teachers can give students more individual attention than many of the big schools in and around Melbourne can’t offer. Our Bachelor of Built Environment course is designed to provide you with world class knowledge and techniques to succeed in the field of architecture. Click here to learn more about the course. #DiscoverDifferent Frans