Instinctual Layering – Fearon Hay

Words by Bronwyn Marshall

Inspired by a sensitive engagement with the landscape, the work of Fearon Hay typifies a natural intuition where layered textural elements combine with rigorous details to guide an honest and subtle response to place. Under the leadership of Directors Tim Hay, Jeff Fearon and Olivia Williams, the practice has thoughtfully built a global portfolio of projects united by a delicacy of function that ultimately drives form.

Established in 1998 in Auckland, Fearon Hay was founded by Tim Hay and Jeff Fearon on an acknowledgement of shared purpose. After many years developing a renowned body of iconic residential, hospitality and commercial work, the practice spread its wings northward. In 2018, the Los Angeles office was opened, and Olivia Williams brought her ingrained appreciation for the natural environment together with her design background to sit comfortably at the helm. “The way Fearon Hay creates buildings,” Olivia describes, “and the attention to detail were something I was always drawn to – so cleverly detailed and designed. I felt that it was something that LA was missing out on, that kind of approach to materials and environment.”

“Our projects always have some level of problem solving as a genesis, whether that conflicts within the demands of the brief or a certain tension within the site.” (Tim Hay)

Drawing on the known Kiwi connection to nature, the practice and its continued growth are testament to a proven process and unique way of interpreting opportunity. Whilst many architects look first to the formal outcome, focusing on a sculptural resolve, Fearon Hay hones its drive to the mechanics of the architecture. “Our projects always have some level of problem solving as a genesis, whether that conflicts within the demands of the brief or a certain tension within the site,” explains Tim. “Materiality and coordination of place then develop alongside this, quickly pulling in visual and aesthetic influences as we work to solve the problems presented within the project.” Having navigated varying terrains within both rural and urban settings, there is a consistent honesty to the way Fearon Hay brings elements together on site and how the resulting buildings insert themselves beautifully and seamlessly into the surrounding context.

The ‘unlocking’ of the site and its potential forms a strategy that is the undercurrent of the practice’s work. The role of the architect, Jeff says, “is to orchestrate and work with experience – experience of a place, a landscape – and thinking about how people will interact with each other and their environment.” Jeff speaks to the underlying desire for all architectural works to be polished and beautiful as a given, as well as being functionally seamless and sensitive in its response to the environment. “Once this ‘soul’ is found,” he adds, “all the design decisions are made to reinforce this. This creates a rigour to how you assemble things and how they read, as both individual components and contextually.”

“Once this ‘soul’ is found, all the design decisions are made to reinforce this.” (Jeff Fearon)

As travel has always been a keen source of inspiration for the architects, drawing on a global curiosity, the ability to work across a multitude of projects over varying destinations has served as a strong form of inspiration in itself. Being spread across the globe and working with clients with altering briefs poses its challenges, however, through a tightly collaborative process, Tim explains that the team are “able to push and challenge each other and ensure we do not get settled or complacent in our design. It is a way of holding each other creatively accountable.” Throughout all this work, a clear connection to origins in New Zealand and a deeply seated association with the natural world remain a consistent thread. “We often take influence from landscape in our materiality,” Tim says. “We like a sense of beautiful imperfection. Even in our new architecture, we like an element in the componentry that provides a depth and richness that is raw and not too polished.”

In the near future, the practice is set to continue exploring its interests across a range of projects around the world, with everything from private residential commissions to mixed-use hybrid developments on the horizon. A flurry of residential work in Sydney has the team’s sights set close to home. Further afield, “we have a number of exciting projects on the go in the US, as well as far-flung places like Patagonia and a boutique hotel development in New Mexico,” Tim says. “We are very much looking forward to be able to get over there and visit as the world reopens.”