How did you get your start in the industry? How and when did you realise your passion for design and architecture?
Growing up in an architectural family I have always had a passion for architecture and design. My dad was an architect, and he was part of the practice I am now in. He was always a very passionate architect and held very strong views on architecture, and so inevitably as a child, Architecture was a daily experience. An example of this was every family holiday we could not go anywhere without driving past projects along the way.
My early architectural training was through a part-time course at QUT. As a 16-year-old, I finished school and I started at what is now BVN Architecture. Starting there I worked under the leaders of Graham Bly and John Voller, which was a wonderful experience with both Graham and John being profound mentors during my career.
I then transferred to work for my father at Fulton Trotter, which is something I thought I would never do. I worked at Fulton Trotter for three years, I learned different things from my father and his co-directors. My experience ignited my passion. It has been a slow burn. In my final year of university studies, I completed training in the office, and this was very powerful for my career. This then led to my final year where I completed my thesis focusing upon the use of light in architecture. After completing my thesis, I knew I finally understood and embraced the meaning of architecture.
When did you begin your career with Fulton Trotter?
I first joined this office, in 1978 42 years ago. I started a new branch office in 1982 as a 23-year-old in Tweed Heads and was given three years by my father’s director to make it work… and I did. In 1988 I became the director of the practice and have been for almost 30 years. In 1998 I established our office in Sydney.
How would you describe the ethos of Fulton Trotter?
The ethos of Fulton Trotter has three facets. The practice is very family-friendly with a strong team culture that embraces the training of young architects. We have a very strong emphasis on research and a strong emphasis on competence. Above and beyond anything else, it is an ethical practice that believes in the profession of architecture and our architects. The work we produce is aimed at community architecture; it’s all about buildings that make a difference. This includes hospitals, schools, and aged care. Our architecture is all about climatic and place-based design by reflecting the narrative of the place.
You are the Chief Investigator in The Grand schools Project is this correct? Would you be able to tell me a bit more about this?
Funded by The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, this project included a $1.1 million grant that we received to study the health impact of de-siloing of our education and senior living environments. By placing these two together in one site we solve the problems or try to find solutions to the problems of and isolation in the elderly and for young people elders. It acts as a catalyst for youth to teach our elders and elders to teach youth, all while improving the mental and physical health of both groups. We are now one year into five years of work. I will be one of the leaders of this project. It was my initiative to apply for this project after realising the social disconnection between these groups.
How did Fulton Trotter become involved in the Grand school’s project? What inspired the firm to become a part of this?
Because we have done a lot of aged care and school-based architecture, it occurred to me that these two groups have similar and complementary problems to solve. Through recognising this, I knew if we drew the two groups together they could do things that they could not do apart. In partnership with QUT, I knew we could do further research into this concept. With QUT’s support and encouragement, we put forward the application. We have had an enormously positive response so far.
Has Covid-19 impacted the way you and your team design and work?
We were working from home a couple of weeks before lockdown. Once the situation escalated we very quickly moved to work from home. We have always been a very flexible employer, and this demonstrated the flexibility of both our staff and the business. Another interesting aspect of this change was that as humans we were all forced to do something that was never done and there is strong humanity to that. In Australia, I have realised there has been a common and underlying understanding to solve this and become more flexible. I have found that our creativity sessions have been very different, and since the relaxing of measures, people have enjoyed coming back into the office to do this together. It is something more valued because we know it as a shared experience. 2020 made the government and our country recognise the value of how businesses operate and the importance of staff commitment during this time I believe this will continue to be prevalent beyond the pandemic.
What is the best part of your job?
Like any architect, seeing buildings at the end of their construction occupied by people, emerging from hand sketches and ideas, seeing the sketches in reality, in light, and with people walking through them is always remarkable. Being an older architect and having worked with so many of our young people coming through the practice, and seeing so many of them emerge as competent architects gives me joy and pride.
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