Evolva Architects

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Architecture for life

Evolva Architects, based in Melbourne, is a design-focused practice with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and creating truly individual homes. Their goal is to form close and personal relationships with every one of their clients, as they believe that the only way to achieve great design is through collaboration. To that end, they listen closely to every client’s brief and then provide them with a uniquely tailored solution.

“We do things differently,” says Peter Sofarnos, a founder and partner of the firm. “We never go into a design with a preconceived notion of what the house is going to look like. We look at all the individual parameters – the site constraints, the budget restraints, the client’s brief, and the neighborhood character – and we let the design evolve organically.”

Peter formed Evolva Architects alongside his business partner Matthew Scully. The two studied together at Melbourne University in the 1980s, where they became good friends, bonding over their shared love of both music and architecture. About a decade into their careers, they reconnected as musicians first, forming a band together called Evolva. In 2010, they expanded their collaboration to architecture, and formed a practice with the same name.

In the almost-10-years since, Evolva Architects’ business has been “pretty steady,” Peter says. They formed the practice with the goal of designing custom homes and alterations and additions for clients who shared their values. That’s exactly what they have done, from then to today. The size and scope of their projects has slightly evolved over time, but Peter and Matthew’s ethos has always remained the same.

“Almost all the work is still done by Matt and myself,” Peter says. “That allows us to maintain quality control, and allows us to build really personal relationships with our clients.”

Those personal connections are vital, he explains, because Evolva is a “very relationship-based business.”

“We like to be involved in a project from go to whoa. So it’s important that we get to know our clients, and that we understand what drives them and what matters to them.”

“On our side, it’s also important that we instill in them an enthusiasm for creative architecture and sustainable design. We know we can only do that by working closely together and providing a really personalised service.”

Over the years, Evolva’s personalised service has resulted in many strong and trusted relationships with clients. Those relationships, in turn, have resulted in positive word of mouth, referrals, and repeat – which is how the company has generated almost all of their projects, historically.

Peter credits that loyalty to the personal attention he and Matthew provide to everyone they work with. They purposely keep the volume of their work low, so that they both can be at every meeting and be continuously aware of any issues or concerns the client might have. By setting that standard for themselves, they believe they ensure that at no time does the client feel neglected.

“We offer personalised dedication,” he says. “And we really try to empower our clients. We really involve them and make them realize that they can make decisions that will really shape the design. We pull it all together for them, but they really help us, and they really put themselves into the design.”

“People are hopefully going to live in their houses for the next 40 years,” he continues. “We think it’s really important to include them in their design, and make them feel like they were a key part of it.”

Evolva also forms good relationships with their building partners. They recognise that those partners are essential to creating beautifully resolved buildings, and they seek to collaborate with them openly, just like they do their clients.

A prime example is the partnership they enjoy with Transform Building & Construction, a reliable and well-respected building company that specialises in custom and architect-designed new homes, large-scale extensions, and renovations. They are a company as passionate about building as Evolva is about design. Evolva has worked closely with them to deliver several exceptional projects.

“We have found Transform Building & Construction to be a great building company to work with,” wrote Matthew, in a testimonial for the company. “They tick all the boxes for us – personable, honest and reliable. During construction they are always happy to collaborate, which means we can deliver our project with the best possible details.”

Peter believes that Evolva is able to form strong relationships with builders like Transform because of his and Matthew’s personalities.

“I think we’re both peaceful individuals,” he says. “Neither of us are hotheads, and neither of us like conflict. We want to be friends with our builders. We want to find solutions that work for everyone. We don’t want an adversarial scenario.”

“And we’ve both been in the industry for a while,” he adds. “So we’ve established some good relationships with some builders we trust.”

Most of the time, those are the builders Evolva works with. They’ll put them forward to clients early on in the process, because they know they can have a “harmonious building site, where everyone knows what to expect, where everyone trusts each other.”

According to Peter, building that kind of trust has been a key to Evolva’s success.

Making a mark

When Evolva is paired with likeminded and passionate partners – both clients and builders – they can achieve some truly stunning results. A recent example would be ‘The Arc,’ a contemporary home they designed in Melbourne.

“That project worked on a number of levels,” Peter says. “The relationships were just brilliant – truly remarkable.”

Peter and Matthew had first met the client’s years earlier at the Grand Designs Live home show. They approached Evolva’s small booth, and according to Peter, “we just immediately clicked.”

“They happened to have land near my childhood home, just around the corner from where I grew up,” he says. “So there was a connection there. That’s where it started.”

The land the clients’ had was extremely steep, and their existing home – built in the 1980s – was not particularly well thought out. On the higher side of the site, at the rear, the clients “just looked out onto a huge bank.” And on the front, they “just looked out onto the parking are of the house.”

“They had this beautiful piece of land, but the house didn’t engage with it at all,” Peter says. “The house didn’t connect with it in any meaningful way.”

Forging that connection was one of Evolva’s key objectives for the design of the new home. Evolva designed the overall structure to be arc-shaped, hence the name. This shape had a double function, Peter explains – it “connects the building with the land, and pulls it towards the sun.”

 Another objective was the prominent use of stone. The client had a love of mid-century modern design, but they didn’t want a replica of an old house, they just wanted to borrow certain elements – including stone in particular.

To achieve those objectives, Evolva called for demolishing the previous home and starting over. They used the existing bench, but as a base to build the platform of the new house. They raised the main living area three-and-a-half metres above the old floor level, so that their recreational space in their backyard was now directly connected to their living space.

In the front, they used the bench to provide an “easily accessible, level entrance.” In that entrance, the main stairs wrap around a stone shard. That gave a “maximum hit of the client’s favorite material, right when they enter the house,” Peter says.

Constructing such a home was challenging, but Peter says the working relationship with the builders was also excellent.

“There are always problems when you build,” he says. “But the way they got resolved, the way us three parties – client, builder, and architect – worked together, it was just brilliant.”

“Everyone was very satisfied at the end of the day,” he adds. “We are grateful that we had the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Peter was also grateful to be a part of a project several years ago called the ‘Mexican Contemporary House.’ They designed that in collaboration with well-known Mexican architect Andrés Casillas, and they achieved a similarly happy outcome in the eyes of all stakeholders.

That project – which has since been featured on ‘Australia’s Amazing Homes,’ and was voted Victoria’s Best Architectural Statement on Channel Ten’s “Australia By Design”– was inspired by the art and culture of Mexico. It was built for a client who spent a lot of time there, and who was very passionate and particular about recreating the same feel in Melbourne.

Evolva’s website describes the finished product as “monumental and understated.” It says the home “embodies the quintessence of the enigmatic façade,” and “evokes beauty in its visual economy.”

“Based on a centuries-old Spanish quadrangular plan, where rooms open off one central space, a soaring clerestory window throws dramatic north light deep inside, casting shadows onto towering internal walls. Outside, an oasis of garden and pool, surrounded by high walls, conveys a monastic sense of tranquillity,” the description reads.

The walls of that home were ultimately constructed from blank off-form concrete. Originally, the design called for white-painted, roughcast rendered masonry – but due to cost, Peter and Matthew persuaded the client and Casillas to change to concrete late in the process. They cited the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando, which helped convinced them it was the right choice. The decision paid off, as the concrete walls proved to be a highlight of the finished product.

Peter is proud of that contribution – and he’s proud of the Mexican Contemporary House in general. He says it is different to anything else has been designed and built in Melbourne, and anything else Evolva has done before or since. He compares it to The Arc, for example – he says the Mexican house is “off-form, austere, high and spacious,” while The Arc “hugs the earth; it’s dark timber, black steel and stone.”

“The houses are quite different,” he says. “But the process is similar. It’s about working closely with the client and the builder, providing a lot of attention to detail, and making sure we get a high quality finish.”

Moving forward, Peter says Evolva Architects will continue their process, but allow it to evolve so that there are positive outcomes for everyone involved. He doesn’t see the business changing in that respect, nor does he ever see them getting out of the luxury home sector, where they have built such a strong and trusted reputation.

He does see them expanding that reputation to other sectors, however:

“We are interested in many art forms,” he says. “We’ve done a bit of set design, for example. We’re also interested in social housing, and we’ve developed some models that we are developing. We would like to be able to enhance lives through architecture in the mass housing sector.”

“We want to make a mark,” he concludes. “We’d like to have an influence where we can. We’d like to increase living standards and improve the quality of life for all people through architecture.”

For more on Evolva Architects and their past projects – and to get in touch with Peter and Matthew – visit http://evolva.com.au/