For this week’s Meet the Architect I spoke to Neil Cownie, an award-winning Western Australian architect and a finalist in last year’s World Architecture Awards.
It was Mr Cownie’s father, an artist and a maker, who inspired him to become an architect.
“My father built our family home in 1950. It was post-war, there were austerity measures and building materials were hard to find,” Mr Cownie said. “He designed the house himself – handmade all of the bricks with a mould and built it himself.”
Mr Cownie recalled helping his father build a below-ground pool.
“We were just sitting around in the backyard one day and decided to build a pool,” he said. “We dug the hole ourselves with shovels and carted the sand away with a wheelbarrow.”
As much as Mr Cownie admired his father’s ingenuity, it seems he wasn’t as impressed with his design skills.
“As a child, I remember our house being very hot in summer and cold in winter. It was most likely because it wasn’t correctly oriented and the openings were in all the wrong places,” Mr Cownie said.
“I remember thinking about how it could be done better and the importance of the design, not just the build.”
After completing his architecture studies, Mr Cownie worked in London for five years before returning to Perth. It was during his time working at Overman & Zuideveld, a Perth architecture practice well known for its residential work, that Mr Cownie honed his skills on home design – including luxury homes and project homes.
“It was through this broad work experience that I learnt how to bring together luxury and affordability,” he said.
In addition to his training and work experience, Mr Cownie believes life experience is also important when it comes to designing a home – to be able to understand his clients and to design sensitively to their needs.
“What I am interested in is the quality of the environment I am creating in the home and the joy it can bring to people in their everyday lives,” he said.
In terms of design aesthetic, Mr Cownie believes in timeless design, with his aim being to create value in the design so that the investment his clients make will hold its value in the long term. However, this does not mean that all of Mr Cownie’s projects look the same.
Each house Mr Cownie designs looks unique because it is a direct response to the personality of the client, the site and the suburb.
“I love finding something special about my clients to celebrate in the design,” he said.
While Mr Cownie has always been passionate about sustainability, he has become even more so in recent times. In particular, at the World Architecture Festival last year, he took the opportunity to research the world’s best practice in timber and met with various experts in the United Kingdom.
“It was a steep learning curve, but I really wanted to just step into the deep end and educate myself on how to deliver this,” Mr Cownie said.
He is currently working on four residential projects and a five-storey office building, which will all be timber construction.