Meet the Designers of Maraboo Island
In this interview series, Q&A with the Architects, Kris and Steeg take us on a behind-the-scenes journey sharing their unique stories, insights and philosophies that have developed from their early and ongoing experiences traveling around the world and working internationally.
The architects reflect on their similarities and different design styles and backgrounds, embodied in their first official joint project, Maraboo Island.
Click to read：Q&A WITH THE ARCHITECTS: Introduction
#1: Meet the Designers of Maraboo Island
It was sunny at 20 Clive Street, west of the Perth CBD, the day we visited.
Here it is full of delicate weeping willows and wild eucalyptus trees, sheltering a small green park often warmed by the sun, adjacent to “Cafeina On Murray”, a cafe on the side of the road for convenient in-between-work grabs.
Opposite the cafe, there is a stylish office building, half shadowed by two Tipuana trees. The minimalist and crisp white main body is in stark contrast to the green, translucent glass on the front facade. The contrast is not intrusive, however, as the green glass blends with the tree leaves swaying in the wind.
The view is reminiscent of an ancient Chinese poem “Pi Pa Xing”, in which the poet finds a beautiful lute player appear on the stage, with half of her face hidden behind the instrument. It is a kind of beauty that is both reserved and inviting at the same time.
The two architects we would interview, Steeg and Kris, co-work together in this building with their shared team of five members, along with a third interior design partner’s team. Each of the two architects owns a brand tied to their family names: Kris’s Maine Architecture and Steeg’s BANHAM architects.
It is not unusual for two independent architects to form an irreconcilable competition with each other, but not the case for Kris and Steeg. For many years they have shared the same office space and jointly managed a small team, in addition to always complementing each other in ideas and resources. Most of the time the two directors focus on their own independent projects, but when necessary, they join forces to design larger or more complex projects.
The synergy between the two, however, is beyond a professional collaboration. What have enabled their co-working model to function effectively is a solid friendship formed over the course of twenty years, and a relaxed personality trait both of them naturally share. Much like a smart device with light weight but high efficiency, one that can stretch or shrink depending on the circumstance, Steeg and Kris’s organically-formed co-working model have allowed each of them to work well individually, and sometimes better together.
Perth, Western Australia. The geographic location often gives an impression that is distant and enclosed, but that doesn’t stop it from absorbing advanced ideas and methods.
Perhaps it is because of the relative isolation that people here are particularly curious about the outside world. The youth especially, takes their time to explore the world. Some young people pack up and go to see the world for two years or more, and come home with new ideas and the drive to create. The young city provides a blank canvas, and the abundance of natural resources provide an excellent platform for creativity.
Both Steeg and Kris were once one of those people. Both architects went to Europe to further develop in their twenties, and made some achievements at the cutting edge of the industry, but they chose to return to their hometown and build their own practices.
The small green park across the office building is often warmed by the sun, with plenty of trees sheltering the resting people on the grass. It was on this grass where Kris and Steeg sat cross-legged and shared their experiences and insights with us.
Q: What led each of you to becoming an architect?
“I’ve always wanted to become an architect since I was 4 or 5. My uncle was a plumber, so I used to go to building sites with him. I asked my uncle one day: “ who’s the boss of the buildings? ” And he told me it was the architect.
So I decided I was gonna be an architect. I was really into drawing, legos and all these creative things as a kid. Once I figure out what I wanted to do, it never changed. Now when I see friends and family who haven’t seen me for 30 years, they would be surprised to see that I really did end up becoming an architect.
When I finished high school, I went into architecture school here in Perth. It was pretty unusual at first for me. I realized a lot of the students had studied art and created things in high school, and I hadn’t. I did more math and science. So the first year was a bit of a struggle. I was considering to switch to engineering. After around 6 months, it just clicked. I started getting really good grades- I sort of understood how creativity worked.
I studied here in Perth for three years, then I went to Holland and studied there for a couple of years. For architecture, I think Holland is one of the top bases in the world. And the school I went to specifically is top 5 in the world. And that was really amazing because it was a total different approach with top professionalism.
While I was studying there, all the international students formed a little bit of a click, and I became good friends with architects from Spain, Russia, Italy, Denmark etc. So I’ve got a really good sense of European architecture and the cool things happening there.
Then I came back to Perth. Graduated here and worked here for a few years. And then I just wanted to go back to Europe as soon as possible. So I went back to the UK, worked there for 10 years, and worked my way up through different architecture firms until I got into one of the top firms, which is an American firm SOM. They did Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is the tallest tower, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, and the new World Trade Center. So eventually I got to work for them and I was working on projects in Switzerland, Russia, Holland and a bit of the London Olympics.
That was amazing. But eventually I wanted to come back, since Perth is such a good place to live in. So I did, and worked for a local architecture firm for a few years until I started my own practice.”
“It was planned very early on that I was going to be an architect. My father is an architect. He was always drawing and designing, so I really became interested in what he was doing.
My mother is an interior designer who has worked with my father for many years. Under their influence, naturally I began to follow their foot steps.
Apart from drawing and architecture design, I have a strong interest in the design of any item, including furniture, cars, and yachts. Apart from what they look like, what interests me is the way they are put together. The factors that make me fall in love with creating things that are beautiful and practical, and can bring joy to people’s lives.
After completing the architecture education in Perth, I couldn’t wait to explore this big world and see many of the beautiful cities and buildings out there. So I took off to Europe and traveled though Spain, Italy, Denmark and so on. I have a part of Scandinavian descent, and its design style and philosophy are also very inspiring to me, and have similarities with Japanese Zen. Minimalist, refined, subtle details, I tried to bring these elements to my work.
These experiences of seeing the world are indeed like the continuation of my studies. Then I had the privilege of staying in London and working for a few years.
London at the time was coming out of the economic recession and some exciting construction projects were taking place. For example, I participated in the design of a medium-density apartment in the city of London. This was very novel for me, because it was more common in Western Australia to have a large and scattered houses. When I returned to Perth, I built one of the first medium-density townhouses in the city, which was influenced by the London lifestyle. Today, such residential homes are becoming very popular.
Later, I went to work in Melbourne for another year. Similarly, the Melbourne city at the time was just taking off, a very exciting time. Eventually my father said to me: “Well, it’s time to come back to join the family business and work with me!”
Based on solid personal friendship and professional compatibility, how did Kris and Steeg incorporate their different styles, experiences and design concepts into the recently designed Maraboo Island?
Click here to read Q&A with the Architects #2: The Inspirations Behind Maraboo Island