In A Room with Dan Hill



In A Room with Dan Hill | Nation

In a Room is a conversation series where we ask our friends to share their favourite domestic spaces. This week we’re joined by Professor Dan Hill, Director of Melbourne School of Design.

Professor Dan Hill is Director of Melbourne School of Design, the graduate school in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne. A recognised designer and urbanist, Dan has previously held design leadership positions at various organizations, including the Swedish government’s innovation agency Vinnova in Stockholm, Arup in both London and Sydney, Fabrica in Treviso, the Finnish Innovation Fund SITRA in Helsinki, and the UK’s Future Cities Catapult and BBC in London.

Dan is also a Visiting Professor at UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Practice and a founder member of the Council on Urban Initiatives, a joint venture between UN HABITAT, LSE and UCL. Dan was one of the inaugural Design Advocates for the Mayor of London and a Trustee of Participatory City Foundation. Dan is the author of the books ‘Dark Matter & Trojan horses: A strategic design playbook’ (Strelka Press, 2012) and ‘Designing missions: Mission-oriented innovation in Sweden (Vinnova, 2022).

Dan Hill (Courtesy of Collingwood Yards)

Which room are you in today? 

In our living room, at home — which is also the kitchen. And also sort of flows out onto a little terrace out the front, with a small kitchen garden, and then the shared garden beyond. We're in a townhouse in an early Assemble Communities development in Clifton Hill, Melbourne.

Which room is the most active in your house?

Probably this one, overall. It's where we, as a family, cook, eat, watch telly, and hang out. My son plays video games here. I work here at night, usually watching the football from England.

Which room gets the least amount of use?

Hmm, not many! It's a compact house — just the right size for us as a family of four — so all the spaces are fairly well-used. Probably the rooftop garden, if that counts as a room? It's got a great view of the city, and the Merri Creek on the other side, plus a barbeque, pizza oven, and plants. It's lovely to watch the thousands of bats fly overhead at dusk, but it can be too hot on a summer day, too chilly on a winter day.

Which is your work-from-home room of choice?

Probably in the little study area on the ground floor, but I do most work here in the living room, late at night when everyone else has gone to bed! It's not the most productive time, but that's where and when it happens. Needs must.

What for you defines a great room?

Well, there are "great rooms", like the Reading Room at the British Library, or many equivalents elsewhere. They have greatness bestowed upon them, or are great in some other way, usually through their stature. But if it's more of a personal I think I'd probably define a great room — for me, and my needs and desires — in more humble terms. It is a great room where one feels entirely comfortable, where the space and materiality embodies a discreet care and attention, which is enriched by the surroundings and draws them into the space, or the room leads out into it. Where it works well in entirely solitary mode, or with a couple of people in it, or with a group of friends. It should flex to different occasions or activities, and be reconfigurable and adaptable accordingly, yet always feel coherent, calm, stimulating.

What is your personal favourite type of room, and why?

A studio-like space, which is also a living room space, and which leads out into a natural environment — and back in again. Can be used for working, playing, eating, or simply being.

Tell us about your all-time favourite room. 

Right now I'm thinking of a very particular type of space. A contemporary Finnish or Swedish house, largely made in wood, in the forests, looking over a lake or archipelago. In particular, Alvar and Aino Aalto's house and studio is what I really mean. That has many great rooms in it — and produced greatness too — yet still has that humble, careful, quiet quality, and integrated into nature and vice versa.

Ralph Erskine's house in Stockholm — The Box — is another that springs to mind.

Dan Hill House