The recipient of some of the country’s most prestigious architectural awards, Nest Architects has spent the past decade creating spaces that encourage interaction without intrusion. Since launching in 2006, Nest has amassed an impressive client list that includes City of Melbourne, Gorman, Sony, Readings Bookstore and Ormond College, as well as a host of happy residential property owners.
Leading the team is founder and director, Emilio Fuscaldo, the son of a restaurateur, who turned to architecture after initially studying philosophy.
Emilio recently spoke with Fiona Killackey about the importance of client stories, challenging budgets, and the delights of finding unexpected rock pools kilometres from the city centre.
‘All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them.’ These words, while attributed to Italian natural philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei, could just as easily be applied to the practice of Nest Architects, a company founded by Emilio Fuscaldo back in 2006.
While the practice has won numerous awards, including the 2016 AIA Victorian Award for Residential Architecture and the 2013 Kevin Boreland Award for Small Project Architecture, much of their reputation lies in Nest’s unique ability to uncover the truth at the core of each project – or, more specifically, the reason a client wants something created or altered in the first place. It is the client’s story that provides Emilio and his team their greatest inspiration.
The search for a greater understanding of people and places is something Emilio has possessed since his childhood, which was peppered with family relocations to different cities along the East Coast of Australia. The son of a restaurateur, Emilio was an early observer of the way people interacted with one another and the physical space around them. Delving into how people live led Emilio to complete an honours degree in philosophy before realising his true passion lay in designing places that could nurture genuine connection.
After completing his architecture degree in Melbourne, Emilio began working with and learning from recognised architect firms including Perkins Architects and de Campo Architects, before making the leap to create his own practice.
Tell us a little about your background. What did you study and what led you to what you are doing today?
I went to half a dozen schools when I was kid, moving up and down the east coast with my family, so I rarely got the chance to shed that ‘new kid’ feeling, let alone the ‘new wog kid who had baby octopus in his lunchbox’ feeling. But there were a few years in Sydney when I was a teenager that felt like I belonged. I mooched around the city on my skateboard and played arcade games and made fun of the tourists.
Sydney had a profound impact on me. It felt like a huge international city and I got a sense of opportunity and escape. The best thing about any city is how it effects its inhabitants and visitors, and I wonder if my teenage love of Sydney is what led me to eventually study architecture (after an impractical degree in philosophy), in that it seemed like a tangible way to try and create meaningful experiences.
How did Nest Architects come about, and how has the business changed over the decade?
Working initially under Ian Perkins at Perkins Architects – who I cannot thank enough, and I still seek out for advice from time to time – and then Chris and Genevieve de Campo of de Campo Architects inspired me to seek out my own practice. Both firms had taught me a great deal and gave me confidence in my abilities. It is possible that being the son of a restaurateur also gave me the audacity to think that I could set up a practice. Since the inception of Nest ten years ago, it’s undergone growth and recently some contraction. I think I’ve finally identified the sweet spot for how many staff makes a great team. My role has changed from doing absolutely everything to trusting a wonderful group of staff to guide our projects – though my eye is always on the detail.
There’s been so much instability for architects since the GFC. How did Nest work through the peaks and troughs of the economic climate?
The thing that’s helped the most is having lots of different types of work on our books. Our projects range from houses, to retail shops, to hospitality, to education. This range means we can turn to one sector when others might slow down. Retail seems to come and go in spits and spurts, whereas clients such as Ormond College are far more assured and constant.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your subject matter?
Our work is humble and responsive. We just want to create the perfect background to everyday life. – Emilio Fuscaldo
I don’t want our work to intrude on the conversation you are having with a friend, whether that be at a cafe or at a dinner party. An important influence on our practice is our client’s stories and experiences. We want our projects to reflect the client, and in some cases, help our clients make profound changes to those stories.
What have been the biggest obstacles or challenges you have had to overcome in order to create a successful business? What advice would you give to others?
Creating a great team can sometimes be a challenge, but when you do pull it off, do everything you can to keep them! It has as much to do with an individual staff member’s skills as it does with how they contribute to the culture of the practice and office life. When you’ve got a great team looking out for each other, you can navigate just about any obstacle. Sometimes those obstacles are managing a client’s expectations and other times it’s having enough cashflow to pay the ATO. But the biggest challenge is never assuming someone else has double-checked every detail. An architect plays many roles and coordinates a lot of information – it’s important not to lose sight of the finer points. In this sense, ensuring your team has a good sense of ownership in each project is important.
How would you describe your creative process?
I take inspiration from the everyday. Understanding the way people move in a space and how it affects their behaviour is a great way to identify the subtle details that play a huge part in how we feel about place. Another huge creative drive is collaboration – it’s so satisfying to work with people who have different backgrounds and views.
What does a typical day at work for you / the team at Nest involve?
Coffee. Morning tea is very important too. But these priorities aside, my day is largely about coordination. Making sure my team has a clear path to go on with their projects, that there is enough work in the pipeline to keep us above water, and spending time with my kids and my partner. I like to have one-on-one time with my staff, have a chat and listen. Friday night beers are also on the agenda, though I have to clear that with the boss at home.
Who are three other Australian designers, artists or creatives that you are loving at the moment?
Nick Selenitsch – Melbourne Artist whose work is playful, considered and avoids irony.
Steven Amsterdam – Whose first two books Thing’s We Didn’t See Coming and What the Family Needed had a profound influence on me and whose latest book The Easy Way Out is on my bedside table waiting to be devoured.
I also can’t go past the work of Fiona Hall. An amazing artist who seems to be able to work with any medium.
Where do you turn when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
World of Interiors magazine – a timeless publication that seems to transcend all manner of design trends.
New Yorker Magazine – Yes, the architecture and design critics are great, but more importantly is the diversity of their stories. One minute you’re reading about Syria and then next you’re reading about a review of the latest TV show.
Anything that Jeremy Till writes or points to on twitter. The insights and viewpoints of this British architect and educator are refreshing.
Snooping through my peers’ Instagram feeds and seeing what they’ve been up to.
What has been your proudest career achievement to date and why?
One of our projects, 7th Heaven at Ormond College, was awarded the Kevin Boreland award for small projects in the 2013 Victorian chapter of the Australian Institute of Architecture awards. It went on to win an award at that year’s national award program. Having been a judge for the state award program, I know the rigour peers apply to the projects they are judging. So to have a project that my peers, many of whom I look up to, considered award-worthy was inspiring.
What is the one thing people often forget to consider when coming to you to help them design their dream space?
Clients often forget their budgets. Sometimes I think there needs to be a universal change to how we view budgets – not as limiting but challenging and a creative prompt. Clients also need to understand that a project will change and evolve – that the brief is not static, it needs to be flexible to their location, budget, council guidelines and so on. Many residential projects need to still be relevant in 5, 10 or 20 years time. A home will often need to accommodate and adapt to many domestic changes. Some of these changes can be foreseen, others entirely unexpected – and it helps to keep an open mind.
Is there one home or building that always ignites your inspiration?
Melbourne Terraces apartments, Franklin St Melbourne by Nonda Katsalidis. Built in 1994 as one of the first residential developments in the CBD, this building was transformative. It marked the beginning of the re-birth of Melbourne as a vibrant city and did so with a real regard for the street it belongs to and the occupants of the building itself. Not only are the apartments generous and filled with light, but the building tells a story, unlike many of the new residential towers going up at the moment. Alongside one of the new building sites in Franklin Street, there were three beautiful gum trees that could have and should have been incorporated into the new towers. They were chopped down.
What are you most looking forward to?
Summer! This crazy Melbourne weather – it’s windy! It’s hot! Is that hail? – is such a downer. I cannot wait for long days on the beach where your thorniest question is whether it is too early to go and grab an ice-cream.
What is your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Having recently moved west, I’d have to say Yarraville. The residents, shopkeepers and the local council have done a great job in creating a vibrant and warm community.
Where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne and what did you have?
I’ve had two great meals recently. The first is a spectacular helping of fish and chips on Williamtown Beach. Kiosk d’Asporto on the western edge of the beach have perfected their fish and chips recipe, great on a warm summer evening. But for those colder nights, which there are many, I recently took the office out to dinner at Supernormal on Flinders Lane in Melbourne. The New England Lobster Roll was divine, but the ‘Two Rims Make Aright’ cocktail was inspired.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
I have a 4 year old (Rocco) and a 2 and three-quarters year old (Valentino) which means most Saturday mornings are either at the local pool for swimming lessons or at Williamstown Beach chasing crabs and building sandcastles. On the odd occasion I get a morning to myself I like to take our dog (Mowgli) for a walk along the banks of the shipping lanes under the Westgate Bridge. I still get a kick out of watching those enormous container ships making their way to the docks.
What’s Melbourne’s best-kept secret?
The Crystals, a rock wall that slides into the water just next to Williamstown beach. When the water is clear, you can snorkel in the bay and see all manner of sea creatures… and you are just a few kilometres from the city.