Who are you?
An architect, business owner, director, maker, craft fan, grower + food lover, rescue greyhound parent, designer + dweller of our own off-grid home, and about to face a new adventure later this year.
What do you do?
I run a small architecture practice called Kalliopi Vakras Architects (KVA).
I am a part-time city dweller and weekend country dweller, where we have been building our own off-grid small footprint home. In the winter of 2020, we started planting a fruit tree a week before the 5km Covid travel restrictions came in place and we were no longer allowed to travel from our Melbourne residence to our farm. We will start again in May this year and continue with our fruit tree planting adventures.
What has been the scariest/courageous thing you’ve ever done?
The most courageous career decision I made, was to leave my stable and safe job during the GFC to start my own business. Everybody thought I was crazy at the time but I had a private alterations and additions project to begin with and a mix of teaching on the side and a small craft business. I had also been active in a pro bono architecture organisation and was able to bring real-life pro bono and social projects into the design studios that I taught. It was a rewarding and exciting time doing everything that I loved. After putting it out there that this is what I was doing I got my second project within a month. The same process followed me through my business where many of my projects came through word of mouth or repeat clientele. It has almost become a standing joke in the practice that most of our clients have come through or are somehow connected to another client in some way or we are doing a second project for them. In a way, this has meant we haven't been great at marketing the practice and getting our work out there.
From a personal point of view, the scariest thing I have ever done was climb the High Tatra mountains in Slovakia to overcome my fear of heights. I was living in Vienna at the time and traveled there with a Slovakian friend and friends from her family's village. I could only communicate with my friend in German (my slightly rusty third language) and everybody else spoke Slovakian. When we reached the peak, I looked down at the steep descent and panicked about descending and one of the guys on our trip (who had been drinking Slivovice during the entire 5 hour walk) said "Trust me". Still slightly panicked the only Slovakian words I could put together that were appropriate for the situation were "Prosim Helicopter" - meaning helicopter please! I did make it down safely and am reasonably less scared of heights these days, but still not a huge fan of climbing onto roofs on building sites!
Who do you admire and why?
Professionally, I admire Maya Lin and the fact that she won her first public design competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the age of 21 while she was still an undergraduate. Her design was initially considered controversial as it was an untraditional design, there was some awful commentary about her Asian ethnicity at the time and her lack of professional experience was questioned. In the end, her design was a beautiful and powerful architectural contribution. Like most female architects I also admire Zaha Hadid. One of my biggest life regrets was being in the same room as her at two separate events when I was living in Vienna but being too scared to approach her to talk to her.
But female architects aside the person I admire the most in life was my grandma - my all-time favourite human (other than my husband) who we sadly lost last year at the very young age of 91.5. She spent my entire life tending to her amazing colourful and abundant garden which continues to thrive without her.
Yiayia had the world's most stylish best dress collection all still in immaculate condition. She got her kitchen renovated whilst in her late 80's but kept her original oven, proving that you are never to old for a new kitchen. She proudly came to select stone and laminate colours from my office, excitedly, selecting a stone called Athena which she thought was the best because in her mind it came from Athens.
She faced many hardships in life but always smiled, laughed, gave the best hugs to absolutely everyone she met, and remained positive no matter what life threw at her.
Those hardships included her mum leaving her at the age of 9 where she was bought up by her dad and not being able to finish school. Followed by selling a fur coat that was gifted to her to pay for the ship fare to come to Australia in the 1950's and then ending up alone with my baby uncle at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre while my grandfather was sent to QLD to work on the sugar canes. Unable to speak English she left Bonegilla to find my grandfather and lived in a packing shed with many other Greeks and Italians. This was followed by a move to Mullumbimby to run a banana plantation and after facing floods and bad weather they moved to Melbourne, back to Greece again and then back to Melbourne where she stayed.
In all of this she remained positive and strong. I asked my dad why he thought she was always positive and happy and he said she just always believed that everything would be better the next day so she never worried about anything.
What is it about ArchiTeam that made you want to get involved?
The sense of community, support for small practices and the sharing of stories. I actually deactivated my facebook account for over a year in 2019/ 2020 and only came back because I missed the Architeam forum and sharing of advice!
I love that ArchiTeam acts as a way to bring smaller practices together to address and act as a resource for those who may face difficult circumstances or decisions in practice. ArchiTeam is also a source of support and advocacy for both its direct members and the profession as a whole. We can gain as well as contribute knowledge within the organisation.