MORE than a decade after cementing its Hunter design reputation in beachside homes, Webber Architects is eyeing the burgeoning Sydney apartment market.
Director Jon Webber has enlisted associate Kieran Brooks to set up digs in McMahons Point, from where he will lead a project team and manage the firm’s documentation technologies.
A University of Newcastle graduate, Mr Brooks returns to the Webber fold after a two-year stint at Smart Design Studio in Surry Hills, where he worked on residential and apartment projects.
With the Sydney market running hot, Webber Architects hopes to claw out new territory.
“We’re looking at a broad range of project types using our existing experience with the current market, which is now strong in the multi-residential [apartment] sector,” Mr Webber said.
‘‘We are on a lot of the State Government’s design panels and so they now know we are in Sydney and will be asking us to put in proposals on projects.”
The son of a bricklayer, 41-year-old Mr Webber became accustomed to building sites as a boy, when he still recalls appreciating ‘‘well-planned, clean and efficient’’ design.
‘‘The biggest thing for me now is learning how clients use spaces, but back then it was just the pure aesthetic,’’ he says.
Winning a place to study architecture at the University of Newcastle, Mr Webber’s evidently proud father John was quick with a quip: ‘‘He said ‘oh, you didn’t get enough marks to be a bricklayer, ’’ recalls Webber with a smile.
After his studies and professional registration, Mr Webber worked in Sydney with Stephen Buzacott before heading to London.
Employed by prestigious firms MacCormac Jamieson Prichard and Tate Hindle Design, clients included the University of Cambridge and the Greater London Magistrates’ Courts Authority.
The British sojourn was cut short when Mr Webber’s father fell ill and passed away.
Soonafter, in 2003, Mr Webber set up his own practice in Newcastle, operating from the garage of his parents’ home.
‘‘I got offers to work for others but ... many were on large unit developments that I didn’t think took into account the design aspects I thought needed to be considered,’’ he said.
‘‘I thought there needed to be more rigour in the process and I like to work on projects in the traditional sense – being involved from the start to finish.’’
A member of the Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club, Webber rapidly discovered his coastal network was good for business.
‘‘It was almost as if as soon as I put my name tag out there work started coming in, all of which lead to more referrals,’’ he says.
The company’s core philosophy is providing innovative, quality design solutions while considering market trends.
‘‘It’s about knowing what is happening in real estate and construction, knowing the market price for things as you compile a project, so not just the design,’’ Mr Webber says.
Transparency is also a priority: ‘‘We’ve probably lost projects because I’ve told clients their brief and budget won’t match.’’
Webber Architects works in the residential market across Newcastle as well as commercial projects, with the Catholic Schools Office and University of Newcastle among clients.
Current projects include the Cooks Hill Commercial Centre revamp and the Bathers Residences apartment project at Merewether.
‘‘I’ve always kept the residential component because I like that area, it’s less rewarding financially but it’s enjoyable,’’ says Mr Webber.
He says there is a lot of caution in the market at present, with many inquiries from potential clients that have not come to fruition.
‘‘I’ve had so much inquiry from people wanting to know on a larger scale what they could do but it just hasn’t pulled through,’’ he says.
‘‘I think we are on a plateau at the moment.’’
Webber Architects has 14 staff and its Hunter Street, Civic office which is midway between the new legal precinct and new university campus.
The team is, says Mr Webber, “strong on technology” including Building Information Modelling (BIM) and CAD software.
In fact, the firm used the two technology strands to compile the documentation of 55 schools within the Catholic Schools Office into PDF plans the client could use as a building management tool.
Mr Webber says his love for the job comes from the diversity of projects and reiterates that for him both honesty and innovation are king.
‘‘Being involved at the start means understanding what the client wants, and without knocking other architects I think often they are not driven enough to keep going through the process ... you need to investigate alternative options and come up with unique solutions,’’ he says.
‘‘I don’t want to be an architect that pushes a certain aesthetic or in a certain direction.
‘‘It’s about guiding people so they understand what they are getting themselves into.
‘‘People can say ‘I love this idea’ and I say ‘no you don’t, go away for a week and think about how you are going to live in that space, or how you will operate’.