Designing for humans
Philip Stejskal Architecture is an award-winning practice based in Fremantle, Western Australia, with a focus on creating spaces that are both “uplifting and pragmatic.” They specialise in residential projects, though their “small yet versatile” team – handpicked and led by Philip himself – is backed by decades of experience in the commercial, institutional and not-for-profit sectors.
Since forming in 2011, Philip and his team have delivered a number of highly acclaimed and publicised projects. Their work has been has been repeatedly recognised at both local and national levels, with a number of projects receiving awards and commendations. Most recently, at the 2019 WA AIA Architecture Awards, their Forrest Street house in Fremantle won the ‘Peter Overman Award for Residential Architect – Houses (Alterations and Additions).’
“That means a lot to us,” Philip says of that recognition. “It builds credibility. It gives our clients confidence that they’ve chosen the right architect.”
“And it gives us confidence, too,” he adds. “I think architecture is a field where there’s a lot of self-criticism. It’s easy to start doubting yourself. Getting an award reminds us that we’re doing the right thing, that we have something to offer.”
Over the course of his architectural career, Philip has become well acquainted with that sort of acclaim. Since graduating from the University of Western Australia in 2001, he’s been involved in a number of high profile and award-winning projects. His first role in the industry was with a large firm in Perth, his second was for the same firm in Darwin, and then he travelled overseas before returning to Western Australia and joining a boutique architectural practice called CODA Studio.
Philip’s bosses at CODA knew he wanted to go out on his own and not only encouraged him, but allowed him to go part-time in order to make it possible. Once his private jobs morphed into a fledgling practice, he officially formed his own studio in 2011. His first project under his own banner – the Bellevue Terrace Alterations and Additions – won a national Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) Award.
Today, Philip’s work is mostly comprised of new homes, alterations, additions, and extensions, with the occasional foray into design competitions for public projects. They work out of their newly-renovated studio in the heart of Fremantle, as well as from a satellite office they share in Melbourne.
According to Philip, one way his practice stands out in in both cities is their depth of service. They provide “a full architectural scope,” he says, starting from the initial briefing and ending with the rectification of builders defects. They manage everything from the design, through to statutory approvals, tender and contract award processes, and they can act as the client’s agent during the construction phase.
Philip Stejskal Architecture is also set apart, Philip adds, by their overriding focus on meeting their client’s needs – and not just their physical needs, such as their thermal comfort, but their “spiritual and psychological needs” as well.
“When we design a house, it’s all about the family we’re accommodating,” Philip says. “It’s about making sure they have everything they think they need, as well as everything they don’t think about.”
“It’s about making sure they have the right amount of light, making sure they feel secure, making sure they have the ability to interact with their surroundings and with others,” he adds. “We work all of those things into our houses.”
As a result of that diligence, Philip Stejskal Architecture has formed extremely strong relationships with their past and present clients. The majority of their work has come from referrals and word of mouth, and Philip says when they hear from people who have been living in their homes for a long time, the feedback is almost always “very positive.”
Philip credits that reception to his and his team’s collaborative nature.
“We’re not the sort of practice that imposes our agenda on clients,” he explains. “We’re assertive when we think we have a good idea, or when there’s a really good reason behind something we’re doing, but if the client pushes back we’ll find another solution.”
“I can think of a couple of times when we’ve come up with a design that we thought was a really good response to the client’s needs, but the client’s weren’t happy with one aspect of it, and we figured out a way to make it work for everyone,” he adds.
As an example, he cites a past design that didn’t have a pitched roof, for a client who really wanted one. At that point, he remembers having a choice.
“We could have parted ways or we could have come to terms with the idea of a pitched roof and tried to make it work – and that’s what we did in the end,” he recalls. “We looked at what a pitched roof meant and how it could be done in an interesting way, and we came up with a result that the client was really ecstatic about.”
Philip Stejskal Architecture delivered that particular project a little over two years ago. By chance, Philip bumped into those clients more recently, and he says they made a point of telling him how well the building has performed ever since, and how happy they are living there.
“They talked about how the building really fits their lives,” Philip says. “For us, that’s what it’s all about. That is why we do what we do. We’re devastated when a client’s unhappy, and we do whatever we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Artfulness and craft
The story of Philip Stejskal Architecture’s most recently acclaimed project – the Forrest Street house in Fremantle – began when the client approached their studio specifically and gave them a simple brief, with a lot of freedom to experiment. Philip and his team gave them a few options, had them priced, the clients chose what fit them best, and the project proceeded typically from there.
Ultimately, the job involved the overhaul and extension of a Fremantle cottage. The client’s brief called for “open, light-filled spaces that connected strongly to the existing back garden,” and for “well-integrated, fluid spaces” that at the same time allowed for other important aspects, such as “acoustic separation and the need for individual as well as collective space.” With their modified floor plan, Philip and his team met all those requirements.
In addition, the design was also driven by the client’s desire to capture the northern light, prevailing breezes, and views of the sky. Philip and his team realized they could not pull all that off with a mono-pitched roof, so they came up with a twisted roof form that ticked all the boxes – while still remaining within the client’s budget.
“When we came up with the idea for the roof, we went about testing it quite quickly,” Philip says. “We worked closely with the builder and the structural engineer to see whether it would be financially viable.”
“On the surface, it seemed expensive, because it was an unusual shape,” he adds. “But we managed to find a way to construct it in a really conventional, and therefore cost-effective, way.”
In their comments, the AIA judges commended the project for its “artfulness and craft,” which they called “rare in an industry typology that is typically limited by necessities of cost and scale.”
“The architect is commended for exploring an innovative and ingenious solution to a range of site conditions,” the judges added. “The need to accept natural ventilation from the south west is married with access and control of natural light.”
Philip partly credits the award success to the relationships they built with the other members of the project team, including builder Zazen Building & Design. He says they got them involved as soon as they received the development approval, and they “played a huge role” in making everything work.
Philip also credits the result to the client and their willingness to collaborate. He adds that they were “thrilled with the finished product,” which is even more satisfying to him and his team than the award win.
Moving forward, Philip Stejskal Architecture will continue chasing that satisfaction – in both the residential space, and eventually, the public sector as well. Philip is personally passionate about community projects, and when he finds the time, he’d love to design something like a regional community centre or library.
“I love the country, I love small towns, and I’d love to spend more time on projects that have a community focus,” he says. “Eventually, I believe we’ll get there.”
“In the meantime, we’ll keep collaborating with our residential clients and doing everything we can to make them happy,” he concludes.For more on Philip Stejskal Architecture, their services, past projects, and awards – and to get in touch with Philip and his team – visit https://www.architectureps.com/