From New York to Melbourne, Architect Antony Martin reveals what he has learned from his variety of residential projects | Characteristics
Antoine Martin. Photo by Tatjana Plitt.
After working in New York for several years, Antony Martin decided to move to Australia and start his own business. Since its foundation, MRTN Architects has grown into one of Melbourne’s top residential architects, their work balancing meeting the needs of their clients with finding what works best for a specific site.
For this week Studio snapshot, Martin talks about what he learned while building his large and diverse portfolio of residential designs.
How many people are in your practice?
There are five of us, but we have someone on maternity leave.
What was the motivation for starting your own business?
It’s quite interesting, I never thought I would start my own practice. Originally from New Zealand, moved to Australia, then living in New York City for eight years, I didn’t have what I thought was an established clientele. But, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of doing my own projects and my own work – actually, I just thought: I should try, I can always go back to practice. It was something I really wanted to try.
What companies did you work for in New York?
In New York, when I moved there, I was working for Davis brody bond and did college projects for them. But, after a little while, I moved to David Howell Conception, who was another New Zealander living in New York City. He had an office in Union Square. I had a great time working for him making apartments and working within a five block radius of Union Square – it was fantastic.
What was your first project?
I was actually quite lucky, my first project was a new house and it was a Venus Bay Bach, so this is a vacation home, on a beachfront location in Venus Bay, Victoria. The clients had three children and were looking for a place to relax on weekends and holidays. It was a typical first project where the budget was very tight, the brief was very demanding and it was a steep and difficult job. The town planning was really difficult and it was difficult to find a builder, but in the end, it is a project of which I am extremely proud. It has a really interesting and dynamic design – managed to get four bedrooms over 120 square meters. And the family, who are now good friends of ours and we visit the house all the time, they really love it and it is always a joy to go around and visit them.
How have things changed over the years since this first project?
I think what has always been interesting in practice, and it struck me after this project, is the variety of residential projects that we have done. We have not been cataloged or limited to making changes and additions to Melbourne. We’ve actually done a nice variety of residential projects ranging from a few country houses and heritage buildings to very narrow Victorian terraced houses. And also a few houses in the suburbs. The evolution of the experiences we have had in these different housing typologies has been interesting.
What are the differences between working in New York and Australia, and because you’ve done a lot of residencies in both, how do you think this is reflected in the different lifestyles between the two?
The biggest difference is the personality type I would say. Your New York customer is quite different from your Australian customer. The clients tended to be very Type A personalities and quite demanding for what they did, which was good – that’s what you expect when working there. And it has helped me to develop my relationships with clients and how I can communicate and how I have met very high level expectations. This also meant, another difference was that I never did any waterproofing detail, no gutters or roofing. It was basically stripping the apartments in a white box, then finishing, carpentry and furniture. It was really a good experience on this side of the job. What I’m pretty proud of is the level at which we pay attention to our interiors as well as the outer shell.
How do you integrate sustainability into your designs?
When it comes to sustainable design and lifestyles, there is no one answer. We like to tackle a whole range of issues with our approach to design. From the size of the accommodation – how big are these houses – to the orientation – what is the best orientation for its location – then we get into the more technical parts, the types of insulation and windows and the elements entering in the building. We try to use only renewable energy in the house, we usually go to 100% electric houses so there is no gas. These are all kinds of nuts and bolts inherent in the project, but we also like to imbue the projects with a tactile sensitivity that is also linked to our approach to sustainable design in terms of selecting materials – where they come from. of, how they are finished and whether they contribute to the well-being of the house. It’s also important, you can have a very isolated house but you don’t want to have a sterile environment either.
The Fairfield Hacienda project was a suburban home for a family. This project touched on what I raised earlier, in that the clients had originally gone to a design / build company. They had a project prepared by them and were about to start construction and the house was 320 square meters, had a double garage facing the street to the north. When they came to see us, they wondered if this was the right direction. We managed to convince them to reduce the size of the house by a third and reduce it to 200 square meters and orient the living spaces towards the street and the north.
Why did you think it was important to get your customers to go in this direction?
Its double: first, we just felt that the house was too big. We analyzed each part: what would be their size and what should be their size. And it was a long process. So A. it was about downsizing which increases the outdoors on the site so you get more garden space which is good. But, there is also the very pragmatic part which is if you look at the cost per square meter, were able to build a 200 square meter house at the same cost as their 300 square meter house, but it had a much more comfortable character, had a better finish, had an outdoor living space and overall a much better result.
On the other hand, another project that is often associated with us is the Trentham Long House. It’s a very different type of housing — it’s a country house and they were very interested in a barn or a rural type building and keeping a very simple construction technique. They were a retired couple moving to the countryside and they wanted it to be comfortable for their grown children and grandchildren. It’s pretty cold up there – it snows sometimes in that area, so it had to be thermally efficient. They needed a shelter to park their car, and also a carpentry workshop. Our important design decision was to combine all of these requirements under a single gable roof.
What were the biggest obstacles?
The nature of the architecture is its own obstacle, the project time is long. From the time people come into the office to chat until we work from the design to the construction phase and then people move in, it’s a long period of time. You need to have a high level of faith and trust in your architect and also a good relationship with your client to make sure they survive this period of time. It’s an important part of what we do. And then, like a kind of obstacle, when you invest all your time and energy in projects and for some reason their paths don’t move forward, it can be frustrating.