Soup, a Lunchtime Quiz Session and a Lovely Chat With Amanda Calvert

We sat down for a (virtual) lunch with Amanda Calvert, an architect based in Kyneton. We featured Amanda's own home, a beautiful country town house with the perfect village location and we were keen to hear more about Amanda, how she works and her advice for people who are building or renovating...

Lunch with Amanda Calvert

Brodie: This is, after all, lunch with an architect. So even though things are virtual at the moment, what's your favourite lunch choice?

Amanda: Kyneton's quite cold, so I'm really into soup at the moment. Actually, I eat variety of things for lunch, but I would usually try and have a quiz session at lunchtime just something to break the day up, or a little bit of indoor cycling, just round the block, so to speak. Just something to stop you looking at your screen all day and keep you fresh.

On that note, what's your favourite season?

It's definitely the shoulder seasons up here, probably autumn; the colour is amazing. The light is amazing up here and, being Kiwi (which I am), it's not so hot! It's either really hot or freezing cold up here, that's the way it is. So Autumn is definitely the best.

What drew you (pardon the pun) to architecture?

It's a good mix of technical skills and creative work. I was always really good at art at school. And actually, funny story, I was two-thirds of my way through a BA in Psychology. I met my husband and he was doing drafting and I just loved his homework so much more than mine. Eventually, I shifted and went and did drafting and then my degree [in Architecture]. So I have a very technical background, but I also just love the creative side. I've never found a career that would mix those things quite so well.

What's your favourite thing about residential architecture?

My favourite thing about residential architecture is that it's really important to somebody, it's the most important thing in someone's life. And I think it allows us as architects to make a real connection with what we're doing. So I hold on to that residential arm of the business because that's where you get a lot of satisfaction to know that you've made a difference for somebody that's really important. I think that gives the greatest degree of satisfaction in your career.

What's the first album you ever bought?

See, this is going to be embarrassing. So, I couldn't afford an album... That was when we were buying cassette tapes, back in the day, and I couldn't afford to buy the whole album, so I had to just buy the single on the cassette tape. And I think it was, if I can remember correctly, it was U Can't Touch This by MC Hammer which I still might listen to occasionally. And I think the second one might have been Ice Ice, Baby. So terrible now when I look back!

No, they're absolute classics! Love a bit of '90s hip-hop!

Okay, you're hosting the ultimate dinner party and you can invite anyone you like, who would be your top 4?

I'd love to speak to Noam Chomsky. I don't know if you've listened to his podcast, but he is amazing. I'd like to mix it with Rebel Wilson so you have someone who knows a lot of stuff and someone who can just say it like it is. Then I think Michelle Obama and for the fourth one, Michael Bublé. He's a guy who can walk into a room and smooth things over and be able to speak to anyone. I think that's a fine art, to be able to speak to anybody.

Lunch with Amanda Calvert

Absolutely! And good choices; a great mix!

What's your favourite challenge when it comes to designing houses?

I'm very hands-on, and I love a good set of drawings that are intuitive and beautiful and communicate really well. I see a great set of drawings as just, you know, a pride and joy. I still like to do all of that, really, as much as I can, myself. That's what I love.

Which project are you most proud of and why?

There's a project just around the corner from us that has just been completed. It's a pair of pavilions. It's not dissimilar from our house, but completely unique from our house as well: some similar materials, but very different brief. We went there for dinner the other night. She said to me at the end, I feel like I've commissioned a piece of artwork. And so I'm, I'm just blown away. When someone says something to you like that, that they're so happy with it. So that's probably the one I would say I'm most proud of. We haven't got the photos done for that one yet, but I think we'll have them done in late spring.

Amazing! Can't wait to see the photos!

Which is your preference between new homes or renovations?

This question is quite tricky, but I think new homes. There's a bit more freedom. You never really start completely from scratch, there's always the challenges of the site. But I do like to do a new home in a modern style.

What's something you wish the public knew about architects?

We're here to help. Also, understanding what architects do, that we're actually problem solvers more than anything else. I think that's something that's sometimes not well understood. I've had a lot of phone calls, and they're saying, 'oh, what's the difference between drafties and an architect'. You tell them that we both know all the regulations inside out, we can help you through all those hoops, but it's our job [as architects] to innovate and inspire. And I think that's the real key difference in a successful project. It's not about just drawing someone's ideas and putting them down on paper. It's about then examining them together, and being able to see those opportunities to make it better.

What's some life advice you've heard which you think is helpful to share?

You should be hard on your opinions. I think that's a really good piece of advice. I think it was actually Tim Minchin who gave nine pieces of life advice, but he said, 'You should be hard on your opinions, you should take them out and beat them with a baseball bat'. It stood out to me because you're always learning, you will always be learning and if you're not, then that's when you stagnate. I think that you've always got to be prepared and open to learn.

What's the best piece of advice you would give someone who's thinking about building or renovating?

Get an architect! Even if you think that you can't afford an architect, have an architect look over what you think that you want to do before you go ahead. Even if you've only got an hour, you can take them out to lunch. Just to have someone give you some advice on orientation and all of that sort of thing? Because I think that's where architects can often make some key decisions for you that will make your house so much better. It's about thinking about how things fit on your site and materiality, and what is worth spending your money on and what's not. Yeah. So I think that sometimes those key decisions can take your house from being something quite ordinary to something a little bit more special. I think that's why you go and speak to people now and get them to look over your plans even if you can't afford to employ them.

And finally, what book would you recommend to someone thinking of building or renovating?

That's a tricky one because I don't think there's a book out there that's going to tell you everything. I think if you're building and renovating, you need someone to ask because you want it warts and all, not just the glossy version of it. But I have two suggestions: I do read, but I read to escape. So Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Harari, is a great book because it will put into context why we're so small, I think you should read things that make you feel small sometimes. But also go and get a good landscape book because you should never forget the landscape around your house. That's been a key thing for us is that you must shape the landscape and that's where owners also take more individual pride and they take it over. Even if it's been done by a landscaper, you have to look after it. So I think it's worthwhile going and getting inspired about what goes around your house, and how that fits into the wider context of things as well. But I don't think there's a great book out there that I would say, read this, and then you'll know how to build a house or you'll know what you're going to go through. You need a person for that.

Lunch with Amanda Calvert

Thank you so much for your time, Amanda. It was a pleasure to speak with you and we can't wait to see more of your work on the pages of Lunchbox!

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Lunch with an Architect