Eighteen months ago Peter Davidson and his partner Donald Bates started getting invitations to compete for £2-3 million Lottery-funded projects in London, but never won them. 'Ironically, we were told we were too inexperienced,' Davidson says - ironically because a year ago the pair went on to win the competition for Federation Square, in Melbourne, Australia, which at a current value of A$220 million puts those London projects in the shade.
Winning Federation Square has turned the duo's world upside down. They have been in Melbourne since the day after the announcement, not having time even to pack up their office in London. It has also given them the opportunity to put into practice the theoretical ideas they have been developing together. 'Our aim,' says Davidson, 'is to make buildings that are like life, not like an idealisation of life.'
They gave a seminar in Berlin in 1996 called 'Architecture after Geometry,' which led to an edition of ad of the same name. Now they are applying those ideas, working out a seemingly random system of tiling which can be made by an industrial process. 'What we have always been interested in,' Davidson says, 'is how you can use industrialisation to create differentiation. The building industry is undergoing a revolution. Changes in the potential understanding of geometry are facilitated by the use of computers and their connection to cutting technology.'
Davidson and Bates started developing these ideas together in a string of joint competition entries, starting with the Cardiff Bay Opera House in 1994, and including two Australian schemes where they made the final shortlist: a new civic centre in Wagga Wagga and the Future Generations University.
But their association stretches back further, to 1982 when both came to teach at the aa, Davidson from Australia and Bates from the us. Bates stayed until 1988 and then went to France to establish an independent architecture school. Meanwhile, Davidson had moved to the Bartlett in 1985 and 'without intending to' had started a practice. Between 1983 and 1993 he carried out 35-40 small projects. He is unlikely to go back to work on that scale again, but doesn't know what will happen next. He and Bates have been invited to enter other competitions in Australia, but have been too absorbed by Federation Square. But, with all drawings due for completion by the end of this year, 'I hope people don't think we have another two-and-a-half years' work'. We should start hearing from lab again soon.