John Percudani is Managing Director of Realmark, one of the most progressive and awarded firms in Australian real estate. In this interview John discusses two projects, one commercial and one residential, where Neil has been the lead architect.

You’ve worked on a couple of projects with Neil. Could you please tell me about them?

I’ve been involved with Neil for over a decade. We’ve worked on two major projects. So there’s been an ongoing association. There’s been some other projects we looked at during that time. The first project we worked on was a mixed use development in Leederville. It involved a very difficult site. There were a lot of environmental and design considerations because of the location of the property. It involved a combination of residential, general commercial and restaurant type uses on a very tight and difficult site.

The other project has been the crafting of a residential project in the Mandurah Marina area. It is also on an unusual site, a very small site with three sides overlooking both the ocean and the marina. There’s a real environmental aspect we’re trying to capture there.

How did you come to choose Neil as your architect?

The Leederville project was a unique site, a landmark site in the Leederville commercial precinct. We wanted to create something that was iconic and would create a landmark because of its location. We felt that if we hooked into that theme, the council would in-turn be supportive and we’d end up with a better and more expansive project.

The mixture of residential and commercial is common now but it wasn’t so favoured when we planned and built it. We felt that somebody with the credibility in the residential arena, that Neil’s practice had at that time, would help us greatly. So that’s how we came to meet Neil (and his partner) and work with him on that project. It was his residential expertise that impressed us, hid credibility helped us win the approval for the development.

We liked the design themes that were coming out of that practice. We were concerned that the residential aspect worked well because effectively it was asking for more than the site would normally have provided for. We felt if we could get a good design concept done not only would it achieve our goals, in terms of creating something iconic and valuable over time, but it also would inspire the Council to support our project.

Having worked with Neil over ten years, how is Neil is different from other architects?

Neil has a sense of empathy that comes through very strongly. He has a real desire to be empathetic regarding the site and context, and truly wishes to understand what it is that you want to achieve either from a commercial point of view or from a design point of view. He’s very considerate in the way he takes your aspirations onboard, and then looks to translate those in terms of his design concepts.

He’s also very mindful in terms of the commercial reality of things. Whether it’s the cost of building a house or the returns that you require on an investment, when you’re working with Neil it’s a very intimate working relationship and a very positive one. You’re not having a style or design direction imposed on you. Form truly is following function in that regard.

A lot of architects can be very consumed by the tangibles in a project, the physicality of a project. Neil has a real consideration for the intangibles. That’s what often creates a unique project rather, not a cookie cutter approach. If you can get into the intangibles of what’s driving a project – the context, the goals, the aspirations, the emotional drives – that’s what creates the real soul of a project. Neil’s very good at connecting with that.

How does the design process work? Could you explain a little bit about that?

Because my background is in the town planning arena, I’m very sensitive to the urban context of any project. What are the local authorities trying to achieve? What’s the urban context in which this thing is going to sit? How do we sit well in that environment? Also at the same time how do we create something that is truly iconic, not just reflective of the context but actually complements the experience of being in that environment?

I’m not just excited inwardly on a project that I’m doing, but I’m always reflective of where it sits externally. That’s why quite often the projects that we’ve done have been quite successful because it extends the project beyond that. I found that Neil also thinks in that way. Whether it’s the surrounding materials, the surrounding landscape, the urban framework, the built environment, he equally is not just about imposing something into the environment but creating something that elevates that environment. His approach is very good in giving that consideration.

Neil is also very considerate in terms of understanding you on a very personal level. Right down to personalities and reflecting that in terms of the project. This consideration is unusual, as is Neil’s sensitive towards the broader context of a project. He’s very considerate in terms of coming up with concepts that align to those aspirations, even to the point of materials that convey that.

The Design Journey

People who aren’t involved directly in design sometimes find these concepts difficult to understand. Neil has an ability to give good examples of where he’s taking his inspiration from helps you to understand what is being achieved there. Quite often that can be challenging but when you understand the rationale behind it, and you understand the inspiration behind it, it takes you on a journey that’s going beyond what you might have considered yourself.

That ultimately is the reason why you get a great designer. It’s about taking you beyond the normal, beyond the your own extensions or abilities. It’s about stretching your goals or stretching your aspirations, stretching your dream to something that is better than what you could have created yourself or what might be readily available.

To me, Neil is all about the added value he brings.  What unique idea will he  bring to the project? What is it that he is going to create in this home that is going to inspire people everyday?

Either as somebody who owns it as an investment or somebody who owns the space.

During the construction phase of this multi-use project, can you describe a little about what that was like for you?

As I mentioned, it ended up being a very difficult site. It’s a very small site, a former service station site. So we encountered a lot of physical restrictions – a very small site in the heart of a very intense urban area. We hit pollution issues. We hit water problems. There were a lot of challenges throughout the process. Neil was always there to help and counsel and to guide throughout the process. It was very much a working relationship right through to the end of the project.

Like many of these projects sometimes the challenges also come from the builder. In that case the builder certainly was keen to complete the project and try to economise on the way. I felt as though Neil had our back all the way through that project in terms of protecting out interest and making sure it delivered on what we expected and what was contracted to be done.

How do you feel about that project now it’s realised?

We’re very proud of that building. It’s a building that sits well in the urban context – and the urban context has changed quite dramatically around it over time. It still stands out there as a piece of great design. Because of its rounded shape, things that have actually happened around there in response to it. The council have built a little plaza in front of it and put in some art and sculpture in there. The building has gone on to influence the development of the precinct. Which I think is a great thing.

It works well from a tenants point of view. So from a commercial point of view it’s been a great result. It stands as not just a building, a piece of art, a piece of sculpture in the landscape. We are very proud to be the ongoing owners or custodians of that piece of design that Neil created.

What do people say to you about it?

Certainly at the time that we completed that project there was a lot of positive reaction to it because it was of a level of design and construction that wasn’t commonplace. It would have been easier to build a more standard building. We chose not to do that.

We said to Neil that we wanted something that was very three-dimensional in its presence and provided a landmark statement that wasn’t just a box on a block. I remember at the time when it was completed, in the shapes, the colours, the design, in some respects it was confronting at the time. A lot of buildings were being painted cream or white, and our building was being painted bright orange. It certainly made a statement! It was well received and many years later I still hear people comment about that building as a beautiful piece of creation.

Great design is all about it’s testimony over time. That’s one of the things about Neil’s design work, it’s not just on trend at the time. True design, when translated well, really has it’s place – it stands as a testament to itself over time. It hasn’t got anything to do with that particular style or particular direction. There is a level of detail and consideration that Neil puts into every one of his buildings. They have true soul, true meaning, true relevance, and that carries with them forever more.

How do you explain Neil to other people who are looking for an architect?

I’ve always described him as somebody who is highly skilled in terms of his design abilities.

If you’re looking to create something that’s unique or iconic, then he has the ability to deliver. If you’re looking for something that is quality in the detail, he certainly will deliver that. Most importantly, I’d say to them he’s somebody that’s going to connect with you, communicate with you, and consider you.

So, those three C’s are really important when it comes down to who Neil is as a person. Not just who Neil is as an architect.

The word sensitivity comes out. Neil’s sensitive to what your aspirations are. He’s sensitive to your budget. He’s sensitive to the urban context that he’s putting your building in. He’s sensitive to trends in terms of materials. He just has a degree of sensitivity. You know that if you engage with Neil, you’re going to end up with a better building. There are lots of designs you can put on a site. For example, if we take our project in the Mandurah Marina. We had two other designs done for that and they’re fine designs in their own right. But there is nothing that has really given us that sense that we’re going to visit that site and be uplifted every time we go there.

As soon as Neil’s initial concept came through (and he’s developed and refined it over time), there was an anticipation. You can’t wait for the building to be finished, to be occupied – it’s going to compliment the life of people who live there, it’s going to uplift them. To me, that’s true design. That’s what great designs are about. Whether it’s industrial engineering, or a car, or a building, great design is always great design. There’s a human desire to be associated with great design, in all of those sorts of things. Neil certainly achieves that.

What do you say when you recommend Neil to others?

The one thing that I’ve always liked about Neil, in terms of recommending to others, is that he has the ability to look at something with fresh eyes and with a degree of lateral thinking. Whether it’s a project development with a client, or that mixed use development, or a development. He just brings that fresh perspective to everything and he’s not constrained by stereotypes.  He has a true openness to consider what are the other ways of translating those things.

How would you sum up the experience of working with Neil on your current project, the marina?

It’s been a very symbiotic sort of relationship. He’s really understood, not only what we’re trying to achieve there, its obviously got a lot of aspirations, but he’s also been very understanding around how we make sure the project actually becomes real. It’s not just about design it’s about actually getting something built, and it’s also about the economics of something as well. I felt as though there’s been a genuine design to understand and solve problems for us. Be it design problems, or even construction problems, or budgetary problems.

It’s been a very understanding process, a true partnership. Neil’s shown a real desire to make it happen. I remember hearing him say a few times, “I’m working hard to make this come to reality for you.” I think that’s a great, great thing because you felt as though you really got that person that’s working with you. You can really trust him, there’s a real degree of sincerity in that.