Stuart [Vokes] started a practice with Paul Owen in 2003 and I was their first employee. I worked for Owen and Vokes for three or four years before departing to work overseas. Later I was invited to return as a partner and we formed Owen and Vokes and Peters. When Paul left to start his own practice Stuart and I decided to form Vokes and Peters.
Another way of answering would be to say that we formed a practice because we wanted to make buildings. Architecture is exciting and we’re passionate about design and construction. We got our start by seeing opportunities in overlooked projects. The mid 2000's were a time of immense productivity for Brisbane architects and that led to a lot of smaller projects falling through the cracks. We survived by taking on the jobs that other more established practices didn’t have the time or inclination to undertake. That was our foothold.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
I don’t know that I would have described my ideal vocation as a ‘designer’ – I was interested in making ‘stuff’ and that was a good fit for my personality type. I think an understanding of what a designer might be came a lot later, but in retrospect, it seems inevitable that I’d find my way into a design field.
Where are you most inspired?
We undertake a lot of private residential commissions which I enjoy. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of ‘home’. It started out with tree houses I built as a child, now I fantasise about buying run-down properties and transforming them.
I suppose we approach our clients' projects with a similar sense of youthful exuberance. We listen to their stories and observe the potential for joy and comfort. Each different personality brings a new accent to what we’ve done previously and each new site demands a unique solution. We sustain our passion for building by encountering new situations, people and ideas.
What are the essential ingredients to one of your designs?
We begin with a narrative. The site always has a story, particularly if there is an existing building that we are going to be working with. We also ask our clients to provide us with stories about how they live or might hope to occupy their building. Fitting our design to these narratives is the essential ingredient.
Obviously, there are commonalities between people and places, so we do see a number of themes repeated in the work. Connecting to nature (a garden, a view) is one such theme that we recognise in our work. The presence of nature is invigorating and we try to make these connections central to the planning of a building and incidental to daily life. Whether it be allowing kids to run out into the backyard, placing a window to frame a mature tree canopy or bringing natural light down through a skylight to diffract in the running water of a bathroom shower, nature is a key component of our architectural work.
Which of your projects has been the most fun to work on?
We’re fortunate that most of our projects are great fun to work on. Once we’ve reached the point in the project where all parties agree that we’ve found the right solution, it’s really exciting to see those ideas get enriched and embellished as we move through the design and documentation process (plus, getting to see them built is even more amazing!).
Which of your projects has been the most challenging to work on?
All of our projects are fun, and all have their challenges too. Managing a range of architectural projects is always going to keep you on your feet. You can never predict where the next challenge is likely to emerge, but often it’s in the challenges and constraints of a project that the inspiration emerges.
What’s next for Vokes and Peters?
We’ve got half a dozen buildings on site at the moment, from an impressively scaled renovation to a grand Queenslander to a modest interior reconfiguration of a bay side cottage. We’re very much looking forward to seeing a veterinary hospital in North Lakes completed and we’ve got a new house starting on site in Perth.
Our hope is that we can continue to work on a broad spectrum of boutique projects but keep our focus on engaging directly with passionate clients.
Tell us a bit more about Brisbane:
Best place to shop design... An old client of ours, Lijean, has a wonderful little shop, One Girl Studio, in Sherwood.
Best place to eat… Sitting on the grass at the West End Markets
Best place to drink… Maker in Fish Lane, South Brisbane
Best place to stay… Our client Caroline has recently converted her West End Cottage home into holiday accommodation so you can spend the night!
Best place to be… I love watching my son playing on the grass in the garden behind our apartment building, Torbreck. That’s hard to beat.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Alicia Taylor & Jon Linkins & Christopher Frederick Jones via Vokes and Peters