In a new series of blogs titled ‘In Depth with a Director’, we interview our directors and find out more about how they started their career and where they see the future of our industry.
Next in the series is Design Director Peter Stephens.
When did you know you wanted to be an Architect?
Not until relatively late after I had started a law and philosophy degree and embarked on an around the world journey. I was in my mid-twenties when I finally found my vocation but had spent my teens making boats and buildings.
What did you do before becoming an Architect?
I grew up in Australia living a very outdoor life in quite remote locations. Anything to do with water was my obsession and that has continued with my love of wild swimming and sailing.
I think my many times in the Australian bush instilled my Epicurean sensibility towards the earthly elements. I spent 5 years as an assistant to an Italian architect renovating an old Tuscan farmhouse and re-building an earthquake destroyed town in Southern Italy.
This was the beginning of my vocation as an architect and I was strongly influenced by my Italian mentor who in turn was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West students.
When did you first start at Noviun and what was your role?
January 2000 working as a project architect. I was already a qualified architect with experience in most sectors.
What was your first project you had a design lead on?
Our practice then had a term contract with West Sussex County Council so it was inevitable that my first projects would be schools.
I inherited a new primary school project which unusually for a school at the time had a timber frame and cedar shingle roof designed on a continuous arc. Fortunately, I had a good knowledge of timber frame structures and the particulars of shingle roof detailing for there is much that can go wrong for the unwary.
Did you learn anything from that experience?
Good and correct detailing – I continue to anticipate the likely technical challenges that particular design choices on different projects may present. I pass on the advice that architects must fully understand the consequences of their design decisions and it is not for others to pick up the tab.
Maintaining professionalism at all times – a precious and what should be a highly valued commodity!
How has your role developed over the years?
My role has developed with the increasing size and complexity of our projects and the increased level of responsibility leading multi–discipline design teams. That has led to a bigger client facing role where communication and the ability to facilitate brief development becomes critical.
As Design Director I enjoy ensuring that design quality is at the core of what our practice produces. As an educational role it is so rewarding to see our staff rising to the challenge and creating wonderful projects.
What would you say are key drivers for good design?
The brief and what is wanted by the client, opportunities and added benefits, the social and site context of your project and impact on the built environment or landscape.
Spatial organisation and addressing the functional requirements.
Technical strategies for meeting environmental needs and the appropriate use of materials.
Achieving synthesis of multiple design requirements.
Who inspires you and your work?
The Italian architect I first worked for, who after the teachings of his own mentor rejected the application of style and sought honesty in architecture. In a time where fakery is a common accusation, it is apt to reflect on ‘fake architecture’.
Bruno Zevi who amongst many significant books wrote ‘Architecture as Space’ which takes on more and more meaning in my work.
The great Australian architect Glenn Murcutt who combined a mastery of sense of place, environmental essentials, use of materials and spatial control to produce the most poetic places for living.
Two thousand years ago the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius wrote, ‘Firmness, Commodity and Delight’ to describe his recipe for good architecture – I have tried to implement these three words throughout my career.
Where do you see the industry as a whole in 5 years?
The role of architects has evolved to service the needs a changing construction industry. There will likely be another need to change to reflect the current climate emergency and now the public health crisis.
The need for a sustainable built environment that meets human needs will remain a central driver. At a national scale the welfare of society and the greater good will return to the forefront as it is increasingly seen that our very survival depends on it. Whether it is Government or commercial enterprise driving development, all parties will be expected to look beyond short term self-interest towards the greater benefits of development.
The industry must accept the challenge and architects should recognise that they are uniquely well qualified to remain key protagonists.
Thank you to Peter for taking the time to answer our questions and check back soon to read more In Depth with a Director blogs about our other Directors at the practice.