It was late last year that Zoë Geyer realised she had too much work to do it all alone. Having started her architecture practice in 2009, her portfolio was rapidly increasing and she was starting to be recognised on a national platform, winning the Heritage award at the 2013 Houses Awards and being shortlisted for residential design in the 2013 Australian Interior Design Awards.
So, she took the plunge and got herself a team of two, and since then she’s never looked back. “Their individual skills have brought more diversity and strength to the studio,” says Zoë. “I can clearly see the benefits of our combined skills and experiences. The workplace is a fairly light-hearted environment and much more stimulating with the insights of three architects.”
Working primarily in residential, the Melbourne-based firm Zoë Geyer Architect (known as zga) aim to create spaces unique to the individual and the environment they live in. “There is such richness to the connection between people, their private world, and the site, landscape or urban neighbourhood that they live within,” explains Zoë. “I am so inspired by how we as individuals, families and groups choose to live and what we seek from our environments.”
This notion is particularly evident in one of Zoë’s favourite projects, the East Melbourne House, which as a National Trust listed home, prohibited external changes to the building. “I see design as a comprehensive approach,” says Zoë. “As a type of problem-solving, and with this project our limitations ended up being the strength of our solution. The alterations responded to the cues and narrative of the existing building, embracing the honesty of a modern approach to interventions, while avoiding nostalgia or imitation.”
Going on to win her first award (in the Houses Awards) for the East Melbourne House, it was also the first project that Zoë saw through from beginning to end and as a result was a pivotal moment of “validation and recognition as an emerging design practice.” Moreover, it was a chance to truly realise the goal for her firm, to approach designing holistically, working across the entirety of a project.
Currently zga are working on a house for fashion designers in Melbourne’s East, a young family’s coastal-inspired house in Hampton and a sustainable green-roof project in Fitzroy. They have also recently completed their own studio and in keeping with their style, worked with the space rather than against it. “It’s in a Collingwood warehouse, hidden behind an old roller door,” says Zoë. “We’ve kept the crumbling brick walls and soaring trusses in original condition, and inserted a simple, clean plywood plinth and walls to provide a no-fuss framework for our studio.”
Five years on from zga’s launch, Zoë can still remember the original hurdles that she had to overcome. But she still has no regrets about leaving a large company to start out on her own: “While I was competent in the role of architect, starting my own studio required a whole range of other skills and business strategies, so it’s been a steep learning curve. However, there’s an excitement and freedom in designing under my own guidance. I find it very fulfilling, and have no regrets.”