Family bonds

Often used in commercial buildings, precast concrete panels became the main building fabric in a daring new home in North Perth.

Photos: Ben Hosking

Author

Kerryn Ramsey

Running a family-owned and operated business has many pros and cons – there’s a strong familial bond, but potential clashes of personality. This became apparent when a North Perth home was built on an empty block of land in 2019. Not only was the project managed by Alberto Amara, one of four sons of the couple who own Collier Homes, but the project’s client was one of their other sons.

Does this sound like a disaster just waiting to happen? According to Alberto, the 12-month build was not all smooth sailing. Family tensions and the complexity of the build pushed everyone to their absolute limits. But looking back, the daring concrete, arch-shaped house is one of the family’s most dramatic and satisfying projects.

Dario Amara, a veteran construction and engineering executive, and his wife Susan, who specialises in finance and development, acquired Collier Homes in late 2016. Their son Alberto, a construction management expert, joined the business in the same year as managing director. Collier Homes’ value proposition, ‘for family, by family’, was fully embraced when the company signed up their new clients, Angelo and his wife Kasiani, in 2017.

 

Angelo, head of commercial property and asset management at JLL in WA, was happy to keep the project in the family and understood there could be some friction at times with his brother Alberto. As Alberto says, ‘There are no boundaries when the client is your brother.’ 

Nic Brunsdon was chosen as the architect to design this two-storey three-bedroom dwelling that would blend rawness and refinement. According to Alberto, he knew the project would never be a nine-to-five scenario. ‘Angelo and I would frequently call each other after work until late into the night. We would usually be stressing about the budget and how to get things moving on site.’

There were many complexities when working on this tight 227-square-metre lot. ‘I tried to tell my brother to remove certain work packages to stay on budget,’ Alberto recalls. ‘Towards the end of the job, I told him not to complete the roof terrace as it included approximately $40,000 worth of fit-out. He was adamant that everything should be completed as per the initial brief, so we invariably went over budget.’

Nic Brunsdon really pushed the envelope in terms of design. The decision was made to use precast concrete panels, which is rarely seen in residential homes. There were 12 precast concrete panels in total arranged in a grid-like formation. The panels were deployed as both the finished material and the building structure. By using this commercial construction system as the main conceptual organising principle, the project met the deadline in construction, while maintaining design integrity and innovative form, Alberto says.

 

Before joining Collier Homes, which has a history spanning more than 60 years, Alberto spent a decade working with major commercial contracting entities, administering or managing large building projects, some of which similarly adopted heavy use of precast concrete, structural steel, and masonry brickwork. ‘The process of constructing Angelo and Kasiani’s house was quite familiar to me, so I guided it from initial costing and value engineering through to shop detailing coordination, material and labour procurement and onsite delivery. I trained and mentored our construction manager, Alex Ingram, in safety and project management,’ he continues. ‘Alex and I went through a lot together on the project. We got our hands dirty and are like brothers now. Just getting the panels onto their street involved extensive safety management, crane lift studies, traffic control, council approvals, letterbox drops and road closures.

In addition, producing different panel forms affected both time and cost. If you’re building a multi-storey building, the precast panel forms can be repeated in order to gain efficiencies in this regard. With the North Perth home, all the precast panels were different; there were arches that required various forms and complicated structural connections. In other words, everything was unique.

During the build, the fabricator had to precast the panels, store them, and have them ready for delivery. Then, when delivering the panels, a large 220t crane (affectionately named ‘Urbanator’) occupied the entire street. Despite all the complexities, the precast panels were assembled quickly, being erected in a mere two days.

 

Alberto admits it was a stressful time, particularly during the panel erection. ‘I had some moments when I came close to a complete meltdown,’ he recalls. The structural connections that held the building together were comprised of intricate cast-in elements. ‘We had instances where these elements were misaligned or in the wrong position. We had to make decisions on the fly in concert with the structural engineer. I’m proud of our team of consultants, subcontractors and suppliers assembled for the project.’ 

During this project, Alberto and the team turned to Anthony Ivanhoe of Urban Cranes. ‘During the extremely testing moments, he always had my back,’ he says.
The material palette introduces different textures ranging from raw concrete for the structural panels and flooring to tactile timber for arches, kitchen joinery and curvaceous balustrades. The insulated polycarbonate sheeting brings soft light to the interior spaces.

During the build, the construction was managed by Alberto, with their four employees – the construction manager, contract administrator, estimator and in-house architect. From here, the firm brought in a raft of specialist trade contractors and suppliers.

‘Our concretors, carpenters, plumbers and electricians and other finishing trades were our tried-and-tested teams. They rose to the challenge and were awesome,’ Alberto says. ‘Whenever we had an issue, they worked with us to quickly overcome it. I take my hat off to them because it was a really challenging build.’

One of these difficulties was installing a triple-glazed motorised roof hatch from Gorter Hatches in Germany. It allows for safe access to the rooftop terrace and reveals a spectacular view of the Perth skyline.

Owners Angelo and Kasiani, together with their three-year-old son Dario, are now well settled in their home. Meanwhile, Alberto is looking forward to taking on the next special project. ‘I dealt with massive amounts of stress during the project but willingly took it on. I thrive on the challenge of complex construction. I love collaborating with architects and engineers to solve difficult problems and discover new ways of doing things. We want to challenge the status quo and hope to be the changemakers in our industry.’

 

North Perth House at a glance

Builder: Collier Homes

Architect: Nic Brunsdon

Location: North Perth

Materials:

  • Exterior: Precast concrete panels
  • Interior: Polycarbonate sheeting
  • Flooring: Polished concrete
  • Cabinetry: American black walnut veneer; 2-pak cabinetry
  • Bathroom tiles: Myaree Ceramics; Franke tapware and sink
  • Kitchen: Miele appliances
  • Roof hatch: Gorter Hatches roof hatch.
 

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