Clare Kennedy in front of the original Five Mile Radius workshop
Clare Kennedy is an architect and the founder and director of Five Mile Radius, a design and manufacturing studio based in Meanjin (Brisbane). Five Mile Radius is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s socio-environmental philosophy of regionalism, whereby building materials are sourced within a five mile radius of the building site, and the value of materials reflect the specific environment, landscape and people local to the area. Five Mile Radius creates striking designs from low-carbon bio-based materials and recycled construction scrap that divert waste and utilise pre-existing resources. Their profits assist in their ongoing material research.
Alongside their architecture practice, Five Mile have a succinct product offering exemplifying their design philosophy. Five Mile Radius Telegraph Stools are crafted from decommissioned timber power poles sourced across Australia. Annually, 200,000 poles are replaced because a portion of the poles become waterlogged, and despite the rest being reusable, 80% are scrapped due to a lack of recycling incentive. This is where Clare and her team come in. These stools are handmade by splitting each log section to form two stools, minimising timber waste in production and allowing them to stack as a pair. The surface is then charred, using the Japanese shou sugi ban (焼杉板) technique and finished with a natural hard wax oil for durability.
Two stacked Telegraph Stools
The Waste Terrazzo tables, which have become a staple of Five Mile Radius, are available in brick, tile and stone variations. Waste Terrazzo is handmade from construction waste salvaged from building sites which are mixed and poured into reusable moulds. Upon curing, the concrete is then hand-ground, stripping back a layer to reveal a unique terrazzo finish. The table tops rest on reclaimed blackened steel frames making them suitable for outdoor and indoor use.
The Steel base of the Waste terrazzo and Concrete Overpour tables
We spoke with Clare about her vision for sustainability in the built environment, the story behind the conception of their Waste Terrazzo table and the future of Five Mile Radius.
What does your vision of sustainable architecture and design look like?
It’s about understanding things from a life cycle approach. Where does it come from? How can I honour it through its use? How can I be conscious of what will happen at the end of the building's life? In short, that’s our approach but there are a lot of nuances to that and that’s what we are working through. It’s trying to match the resource to its use so that things are lasting as long as they need to, so they are hard-wearing, durable and also have low embodied energy.
Deemed by architect Frank Loyd Wright in 1927 as a “mongrel material”, concrete, while ubiquitous, still seems like such a polarising material. What first drew you to working with it and led you to developing your staple Waste Terrazzo table design?
I guess he means that it's a mongrel material because you are digging up three different finite resources. It’s so many things at once and they’re all extracted, they’re all mined. The processes involved to make concrete requires huge amounts of energy and resources, so immediately it’s something you identify as a culprit of climate change. When it comes to the built environment, we are cognisant of that, but then on the other hand, there’s nothing like it. It’s incredibly strong, it’s relatively easy to work with, it has good thermal properties, good fire properties, so its performance is really high. We’re aware that there isn’t really a construction industry without it. That's the theoretical basis for Waste Terrazzo but the actual opportunity just came from an art commission where we were asked to make a public artwork. At that point in time we were thinking about concrete and became aware of the sheer volume that was being wasted in the city, every day. And so we just thought this is such a high embodied energy resource, how can we make sure we do use that surplus in a meaningful way? And that’s where Waste Terrazzo was born.
It wasn’t really intended to be something we continued to do, it was just for this one arts project. But it was popular and allowed us to grow our workshop, and continues to allow us to grow our workshop. It has become a mainstay of the practice and kind of what we are known for, but parts of it were slightly accidental. We intended to be an architectural studio and suddenly we’re a concrete supplier but it’s here to stay and we love what it’s done for our studio.
Five Mile Radius's Aesop installation, design and fabrication product display for three Queensland Aesop stores (2021)
Having had a hand in so many varied architectural, interior and installation projects Five Mile Radius’ distinctive style and sleek minimalistic designs crafted from hardy construction waste have such range and translatability. What do you hope for the future of Five Mile Radius?
I think broadly speaking we hope to grow. There will be a big push this year on skilling up and tooling up in our workshop, so we can continue to work with more and more architecture studios to become fabricators for them and design custom pieces for their projects. We are hoping to see ourselves more as a collaborative engine for the design community of Meanjin that can help transform construction waste into all sorts of things for buildings. So we are really hoping to push on at our workshop. We also have a few bigger architecture projects like a pub and a few commercial jobs that should allow people to see our theories tested on a much larger scale, so that’s what people will be seeing from us this year, bigger projects and more prolific making.
Can you share anything that Five Mile Radius is currently working on?
One of our great clients is Matso’s, a large brewing company from Western Australia. We are redoing a heritage-listed pub on the Sunshine Coast and adding a big extension for them out the back. It will all be made out of recycled materials sourced from the demolition we are doing on-site. So that’s an exciting large-scale project that allows us to roll out our theories. We are taking it all the way down to the furniture... redoing all of their furniture in our workshop, re-finishing it and sending it back looking new. We are very excited about that project because it brings us right up to the architectural, almost urban planning scale, and all the way down to the furniture scale. We also have a few new products coming out around the March/April period that have been a long time coming. We are looking forward to showing everyone the materials we are working with, which is awesome. And just looking forward to getting heaps of work done!