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Finding joy in building homes with construction management grad Alberto Amara

7/12/21. By Luisa Mitchell. 10 min read.

Construction Management (2017) graduate Alberto Amara.

Although only graduating with a Curtin bachelor’s degree in construction management in 2017, Alberto Amara already has over 15 years’ experience in the construction industry. As the son of an engineer and the grandson of a boatbuilder, he tells us that building is in his blood – and that his journey in the industry is only just beginning.

Alberto continued his family’s legacy as managing director of the family run and Western Australian owned business Collier Homes, where he most recently worked on the North Perth House with fellow Curtin graduate, architect Nic Brunsdon. Together, their build has won numerous awards and even featured earlier this year on Grand Designs Australia.

Now, Alberto is forging his own path forward as a senior contracts administrator for Multiplex, a prestigious global construction firm. Here are the lessons he learned from his time at Collier Homes, and the ambitions he has for the future.

Behind the scenes of the North Perth House build that Alberto worked on for Collier Homes.

Hi Alberto. What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?

Home means the future. It’s a base for everything to begin and where dreams are made. With a stable home, it’s possible to think beyond the week-to-week and set sight on where you want to go.

What was it like to be the managing director of Collier Homes and what did your role involve?

Collier Homes is a small family-owned and operated business, which during my five year tenure inherently meant that my time was spent across multiple areas of operation. This involved overseeing the progress of construction or administrative workflows and keeping in touch with clients.

As managing director, I worked hard to continue the business’ progressive tradition, which started in 1959. Collier Homes is a special brand and a household name. My vision was to shape it into one that was more design-oriented, thoughtful and inclusive – “good design, made accessible” became our motto. I believe the refreshed branding and projects we took on spoke to that vision.

Alberto Amara with Peter Maddison, the host of Grand Designs Australia.

Where did your interest in building homes begin and how does it spark joy for you today?

Building is in my bloodline. On both sides of my family, my grandfathers were renowned craftsmen and builders. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my mum’s dad at his workshop in North Fremantle. Grandad forged a career in boatbuilding and anchor design. He built the yachts that made legends of solo round-the-world sailors John Sanders, David Dicks, Jessie Martin and Jessica Watson. Grandad’s anchor designs are held in high regard worldwide and he holds a patent for a stacking design that allows easy stowage.

Grandad passed on a foundation of skills to me that are applicable to building anything. He taught me the power of humility and the value of patience and collaboration. Spending time with Grandad was my initiation to building and I attribute my interest and passion for it to him. Immersing myself in complex and technical construction projects keeps me engaged – I love getting my hands dirty.

Alberto’s grandfather was boat builder Harley Swarbrick.

News article on Harley Swarbrick.

What was it like working with your parents who run the company?

We’re a hardworking and passionate family and like other businesses have worked tirelessly in recent times through a tough economic cycle and global pandemic. My time at Collier was challenging but highly rewarding. I was given absolute trust with regards to the vision and direction in which to take the business, which was appreciated.

You decided to step up in your career and pursue a construction management degree at Curtin. What was the course like and how has it informed your career since?

The course was insightful and covered diverse ground. I was fortunate to make some great friends and learn from brilliant teachers. It’s helped me to think creatively and innovatively in a building construction context to solve complex problems. Being invited to do honours in my final year also advanced my ability to research, disseminate and articulate information critically and effectively. My dissertation thesis was later published by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Graduating with honours and as a published author was not a planned outcome, but one I’m grateful for. Importantly, it gave me the confidence not to underestimate my abilities.

Left: Hallway in the North Perth House during construction. Right: Same hallway in the finished build; photo by Ben Hosking.

I’m interested in the kinds of builds that inspire you. Do you have a favourite design?

I’m a massive nerd when it comes to the universe. The concept that it’s infinite in size (and therefore possibility) is both fascinating and terrifying to me.

Because of that, my favourite build would be the iconic Space Needle in Seattle. It was designed and built when the nation was in the middle of the Soviet-US Space Race. I was fortunate to visit it a few years ago with my dad and was amazed by its architectural form. At its base, the connection of steel and concrete is fully exposed it has nuts and bolts anchoring it to the ground that are bigger than my hands. Due to Seattle’s geographical placement along the Ring of Fire, the Space Needle is highly susceptible to natural disasters. As such, it was designed and built to withstand wind gusts of up to 350 kilometres per hour and earthquakes up to 9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale. I have great appreciation for the engineering that goes into making amazing built forms like this come to life and coexist with the forces of nature.

Left: Hallway in the finished North Perth House build; photo by Ben Hosking. Right: Same hallway in the North Perth House during construction.

What can you tell us about our local urban environment in Perth and how that has influenced your construction work?

Transport infrastructure shapes our cities. The past 50 years of urban development in Perth has been focused on building automobile-dependent suburbs on the urban fringe of cities, where three out of five new homes are built. This is known as urban sprawl. Many of these homes are situated far from public transport, which further drives our reliance on cars, and has caused many environmental, sociological and economic problems.

At Collier Homes we recognised a great availability of unused land throughout the inner urban suburbs in Perth. Such land can be developed to realise its latent housing potential and market value, otherwise known as urban infill. We aimed to deliver well designed, quality and sustainable housing to assist in filling this void – humble homes that leave a small footprint.

Aerial view of the North Perth House during construction. Photo by Alberto Amara.

And yet people are still drawn to the sturdy brick home with a large backyard, especially in WA. How did your custom house designs aim to shift this attitude, while also offering more sustainable options?

There’s certainly a tendency in WA to associate heavy and solid materials such as concrete, steel and masonry with quality. The flipside of using such materials is the high carbon footprint associated with their manufacture. There simply needs to be more alternative materials and methods used to build homes. The building science has been done and we have great conditions for alternative solutions in WA. Timber framing immediately comes to mind – being a natural and renewable resource it’s far superior to everything else in terms of sustainability.

You try to incorporate nature into your buildings as much as possible. Does this appeal to most clients?

Aside from being more sustainable, the inclusion of natural materials as well as outlook to our natural environment is proven to have many benefits for occupants’ mental health and wellbeing. That’s what drives us and when people hear of such benefits, they’re always on board.

As you would know all too well, the current housing market isn’t very kind to first home buyers right now. What advice would you give?

Invest in a good architect or designer at the outset. Building a home is a massive investment and it’s crucial to get the design right. In my opinion, good design is efficient, modest, adaptable and authentic. Architecture is more than aesthetics – it ensures the application of fundamental design principals and considers the natural environment to deliver a contextually relevant outcome. Good architecture will change your life for the better. ‘Cookie-cutter’ home designs are just applied to a block without proper consideration of good design fundamentals – this is a massive lost opportunity for clients.

The North Perth House. Photos by Ben Hosking.

What’s your next big career goal?

After five years at Collier Homes, I’ve just made a move over to Multiplex. I’ve always admired and respected their expertise in delivering large scale complex structures, so it’s a dream come true. I’m surrounded by brilliant people.

I’ve gained some diverse experience in my career to date and know what it takes to make a project hum. My next big goal is to move into project management, which to me is the glue that holds everything together. My ultimate choice of construction project would be science or space related for the greater good – maybe an atom smasher or space observatory… or even the colonisation of Mars! I should probably have a chat to our estimating team.

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