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Troppo Architects win nation's highest award

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The South Australian architects preparing to build Adelaide’s first eco-hotel have taken out Australia’s highest honour in architecture, the Gold Medal.

Phil Harris and Adrian Welke, who founded architecture firm Troppo, accepted the award at the Australian Achievement in Architecture Awards in Hobart last night.

Judges commended the pair for their “irreverent but sophisticated” approach to unique Australian architecture.

Harris and Welke have spent the past 34 years delivering on a design concept aimed at making buildings dynamically respond to their location and climate.

“We’re keen to understand the climate and have empathy for place, and respond to it through architecture,” Harris said.

“Every material, every wall element, every floor element is devised to do a job.”

“If we respond in that manner,” said Welke, buildings can emerge as, “beautiful objects, which have a sense that they belong, responding to where they are.”

“It’s what you need to do in those places to maximise the pleasure of living there.”

The award is the latest for the duo, whose firm has won dozens of local, national and international awards, including the Global Sustainable Architecture Award in 2010.

Harris and Welke met as students at the University of Adelaide.

“We drank and partied together, that’s right,” said Harris.

During their studies, the duo set out on a tour of Australia to pen the country’s first historical investigation its regional architecture, Influences in Regional Architecture.

From these seminal beginnings, the successes started to pile up.

Taking their inspiration from British-born architectural visionary, Glenn Murcutt, the pair moved to Darwin, where they launched Troppo.

The aim was to create humble but elegant buildings that ‘touch the earth lightly’.

As the firm grew, it undertook some of its proudest work contributing to housing projects and cultural centres for Northern Territory Indigenous communities.

Harris and Welke now design projects across the country, the latest of which is a nine-storey eco-hotel in Adelaide’s Whitmore Square.

Troppo secured development approval for the building in late January despite concerns raised by Adelaide City Council about two heritage-listed buildings which would have to be demolished to make way for the development.

The council’s 2013 submission to the Development Assessment Commission labeled plans for the hotel “inappropriate” and inconsistent with the intent of the city frame zone.

Nevertheless, Harris now hopes to have the hotel built by 2016 – in time for the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Conference.

“We’re working through the trickier questions of construction and finance now,” he said.

“It’s not the kind of thing you deliver in a cold, commercial way… We want this to be done with the maximum of love.”

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