Peter Martin always liked building cubby houses as a kid, so it wasn’t out of character when he enrolled in the Building (now Property and Construction) course at the University of Melbourne in 1964.
After the first year, he realised that he had enjoyed the architecture component as much as the building and that he had an aptitude for it, so he signed up for the double degree of Bachelor of Building/Bachelor of Architecture.
The Head of Building at that time was Leo Simon, for Peter an inspiring teacher and mentor. He is also grateful to Stan Barker for the opportunity to present his (Stan’s) designs for houses to the Aboriginal people at Watty Creek shortly after they had walked off Wave Hill Station. This kindled an interest which Peter was later to pursue. Walter Mohr, who taught CPM Programming in the building course, offered Peter a position in his company, Neotec, in his second last year and so he began work as a project manager while completing the architecture component of the program. This was the beginning of a long association with the company of which he later became a director.
The company was run by three people, all of whom held double degrees in building and architecture, and everyone who worked there was in their twenties. It was therefore a heady environment to work in, with a dynamic, energetic group, prepared to take on any challenge in design and construction and project management, through three interlinked companies, Neotec, Epac and Multicon. Peter was able to develop his skills in both building and project management. He also put into practice some of the theory of his honours building thesis on project cost control. He had investigated early computerised and manual costing systems and now found himself working on CPM programming with main frame computers, new technology in the early 1970s.
Finishing the architecture component of his course, Peter spent time in Sydney as a consultant programmer for the Merrylands Shopping Centre and the T&G Building in Hyde Park, both fast-track design-construct projects. In 1972, he accepted a position in a Singaporean architectural company, and became the project architect on the Pertamina head office building in Jakarta.
He returned to Melbourne in 1973, married, and rejoined Neotec, where, among other projects, he worked on the High Court of Australia (programming the interface between design and construction, another fast-track design-construct project). He also renovated his own house in Richmond, becoming skilled in a number of the hands-on trades—an invaluable experience!
1973 saw Neotec taking advantage of a residential boom. They had over 500 units on their drawing boards, many of which were being built by the construction arm of the practice. Managing a rapidly expanding practice at this time was immensely challenging, and inevitably it came unstuck. The overheated environment saw inflation rising to 12% and interest rates to 17 to 18%. The construction company, Multicon, caught with fixed price contracts, was unable to fulfil its commitments and fell over. The residential boom ended and within a few months the company went from a staff of 20 to four. Peter learned an invaluable lesson in the realities of the construction industry from the experience. The architectural practice was able to continue and was fortunate to win a major commission to design a staff housing complex for the Austin Hospital, which Peter completed.
Taking leave of absence from Neotec Peter was able to take up a position with the Aboriginal Housing Panel and fulfil a desire, kindled earlier, to work with Aboriginal people and to pursue low cost housing solutions. He and his family relocated to Canberra, where he worked with a Board which included leading Aboriginal identities, anthropologists and members from the Institute of Architects and the Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Nugget Combs was also a member. Its mission was to research ways of solving the Aboriginal housing crisis with appropriately designed housing in remote communities and outstations. For Peter, as one of three on-the-ground graduates, this involved a hands-on, consultative approach. The first step was to understand the relevant social and environmental housing issues for each particular group of people. The next step was to design for the specific circumstances, using simple and appropriate building and construction to involve the people themselves and provide employment. Peter designed and built housing for communities from Mount Margaret in Western Australia, to Arukun in Far North Queensland and Peppimenarti, in the Northern Territory. This challenging and exciting period from 1975 ended in 1979 when the Fraser Government axed the panel in a cost-cutting exercise.
Back in Melbourne in 1980, Peter again took up his position as a director of Neotec where some intensive research and development had been pursued by Walter Mohr (and Peter from a distance) on construction management (CM) a new method of building delivery being pioneered in America. In Peter's absence the Austin Housing project had been successfully constructed by Neotec using an early version of a CM contract adapted for local conditions.
Peter’s experience gave him the confidence to further develop the concept of CM, which he now saw as the way to integrate design and construction as a combined professional service. He saw the logic and challenge of developing an alternative to the traditional relationship between architect and building contractor, which often results in an unproductive and adversarial situation. He wished to develop a professional design and construction practice with an architectural orientation that could deliver high quality architectural design along with a well-managed building process. A number of commissions were undertaken using the new system and the CM contract and procedures were progressively refined.
In 1981 Walter Mohr left the company and Michael Fooks and Peter, being the sole remaining partners, renamed the company Fooks Martin. It was now a small architectural practice with an expanding CM capability. There was enough construction work on the books for them to engage their first full time construction manager.
During the 1980s boom, the company continued to grow, the lessons from the 1970s not forgotten. However, by this time the Master Builders Association had developed and written its own C/M contract (CM1) and construction management had begun to move into the mainstream. This contract became the standard and, together with the RAIA client agreement for architectural services, has provided the contractual basis for the firm's ongoing commissions.
From 1980 CM involved small- to medium-size projects, including educational, municipal and medium density housing. Among the clients were the City of Preston and the Burnley College of Agriculture and Horticulture, both of which commissioned the firm to undertake multiple projects.
The practice continued to progress as CM techniques were refined. The introduction of computers with a clear, concise system for transparent reporting of the financial status of CM projects assisted in the development of a rigorously professional service.
During this period, Peter continued to work on architectural projects. He again found himself in an intensive consultative process (something he enjoys enormously) with the users of Ross House, with the personnel of the Springvale Community Aid and Advice Centre and with many other small to medium buildings. He was instrumental in Fooks Martin being appointed by David Marriner to do the architectural work for Merchant Builders. This was a major architectural commission and they appointed a new partner, Peter Sandow, to head up the Merchant Builders division and the practice became Fooks Martin Sandow (FMS).
The demise of Merchant Builders at the end of the 1980s boom led to the establishment of a project-housing joint venture with Kincaid Builders, which marketed from three display homes designed by FMS and made available by the Merchant Builders' receivers . This helped them survive the 1990 to 1992 building recession.
In 1992 the practice expanded again, with the appointment of another partner, Greg Anson and became known as FMSA. The firm invested in CAD systems and, as a result of the increased output through the progressive computerisation of processes, appointed more staff and consolidated into a busy and efficient practice. The company redefined its committment to 'Total Project Delivery', high quality architectural services linked closely to the CM process. A major project where this was successfully integrated was the redevelopment of Mt Hotham. It was later to be used with the Federation Arch, an example of fast-track project management. FMSA won the design competition and followed through with construction management, with the arch itself in place within four months.
During the 1990s, the practice undertook a diverse range of architectural work including urban design, resort development, high density housing, commercial and municipal projects, educational and sporting buildings. Clients of the practice include the University of Melbourne, McKinsey & Co., NEC, the City of Monash, Australia Post, MLC, Wesley College, the Office of Major Projects, Folkstone Pty Ltd, Weston Bioproducts and many others. Some of these were traditional architectural commissions and many combined both design and C/M delivery. FMSA now employs about 30 people across a range of disciplines from architects to construction site supervisors. The practice secured significant commissions through successful competition entries and has recently received a number of design awards.
Peter’s career has been diverse. He has worked in a number of different environments and undertaken a large number of different projects, often from different standpoints, sometimes as pure architect, sometimes as a builder. However, on closer examination, it is not the diversity which stands out, rather the consistency of approach. The analytical and project management skills gained originally from the building degree have underpinned many aspects of his professional career and provided one of the foundations for the development of a successful and individual practice.