Bower Construction: All in the family
By Nicholas Paul Griffin
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Bower Construction & Design is an Adelaide based construction company synonymous with quality and renowned for bringing architectural vision to life through excellent workmanship and use of the finest materials. A family company through and through, Bower Construction was founded by Robbie Bower in the 1970s, representing a groundbreaking move for women in the construction industry in Adelaide.
Bower Construction specialises in high end residential and commercial construction, embracing an awareness of the needs of top tier residential builders to supplement their portfolio with commercial construction and development
projects in order to thrive. Adelaide has seen a recent increase in the acceptance of high-rise and high-density living, with inner city apartment construction exploding, as well as high-density developments close to town.
Local business has not been helped by the increase in recent requirements for workplace health and safety, which are not relevant to contractors experienced in the residential renovation and extension projects. The requirements of these standards are too onerous from a cost perspective for contractors to undertake these projects. As it is, individual renovations are amounting to individual contract values close to $3 million. These burdens are forcing good trades from the industry, meaning some contractors are taking full time positions, as salaries are equal to the income gained from running a team of contractors.
Nevertheless, Bower Construction continues to thrive in the area. In recent years, the company has been the recipient of several major awards, including the two highest gongs for residential renovations in the 2014 Master Builders awards—the 2014 Renovation under $1 Million for the Medindie Project, and the 2014 renovation over $1 Million for the Hawthorn Project.
One of the people now in charge of the company is Mrs. Bower’s son, Managing Director Piers Bower. Mr. Bower studied at St Peters College before moving on to a Building Engineering course at the University of South Australia. After a move to Sydney, a secondment in Darwin soon followed, which saw him working for St Hilliers Construction, honing his skills on commercial projects of up to $50 million. Prior to his time in Sydney, he was an employee of the family business at a site level, during his school and University years, learning the business from the inside. In 2000, Mr. Bower returned from Sydney to rejoin the family business, and has since been joined by brother Josh who is now also a director.
Mr. Bower’s role includes the overseeing of project management and site supervision on many of the company’s ongoing projects. In addition, he is responsible for accounts, estimations and cost reporting, as well as ensuring that the projects meet the required performance standards and comply with contract specifications. The mainstay of the company’s operation remains working on high-end residential projects with Adelaide’s top architects, a list that includes Williams Burton Architects, as well as maintaining an in-house design service. In addition, the company stays committed to dealing with just a select group of suppliers and contractors, in order that the highest standard of materials and workmanship are consistently maintained.
Over the last decade, the company has grown significantly in both scope and size, with turnover rising from around $2 million to a projected turnover approaching $10 million. In that same period, the company’s modest workforce has grown significantly to reflect the developing needs of the business, with the company now employing a dozen employers.
Master Builders Award
In the last half decade, the company has twice received the Master Builders Award at the prestigious National Excellence in Building and Construction Awards. The first came in 2012, for the Crawford Residence in North Adelaide. When the company approached the project it was somewhat stuck in a time warp, with the terrace upon which it sat still reflecting the original ‘70s design. Good bones and great views were clearly in evidence, but bulky brick stairs cut the living areas in half and the cellular rooms didn’t inspire. Once removed, with little more than the shell and floor plate to remain, it was essential that whilst a sense of the original remained, new moves were not only evident but also celebrated.
By working through the clients’ existing and future needs, the horizontal zoning over three levels was improved. The clawing back of floor space previously given over to indents and light wells helped expand the property’s functional space. Moving the stairs to a single run of suspended treads opened the front to the back, but resulted in structural gymnastics that impacted on the interior space. Addressing this is a ceiling that folds up and down, defining the functional spaces of dining, living, kitchen and circulation, and concealing new plant and new structure. Lighting recesses and LED strips reinforce these spaces, with a dramatic flair achieved by the plunging pendants over the stair landing.
The Achilles heel of the original building was its low ceilings and lack of flexibility; the ceilings have since been manipulated and the level of flexibility increased, achieved by introducing bold structural changes that have all but removed them from the consciousness of the owners and visitors. Whilst virtually every external opening has been altered, the essence of this transformation from a tired but interesting 1970s time warp to a contemporary expression of 21st century urban ‘retirement living’, lives and breathes on its interior resolution, and refined execution of the external changes, a hard fought battle with a militant Strata Corporation.
The second award win came in 2014, for the Fennell Residence in Hawthorn. This already substantial, multi-level villa house had served its purpose for the previous owner, but for the new owner it had become outdated and undersized, both for the changing residential expectations and the open plan living now so common for a modern growing family. The decision was made to give over most of the existing house to the adults and guest wing and, in so doing, making substantial internal alterations to insert bathrooms and bedrooms into previous family zones and creating a new second storey zone dedicated to the owner’s young children.
The kitchen and the double height void is the hub of the house, and the focal point of the plan, with the dining to the north and living to the south, and outdoor entertaining immediately in front, all overlooking the beautiful western vista of the tennis court and pool. These rooms embrace the potential of the orientation, enabling activities to be separate or conjoined. The structural steel stair has been lovingly wrapped in engineered oak boards and abuts a seven-meter limestone tiled wall. The external columns have been clad sympathetically in veneered sandstone, which blends seamlessly with the existing sandstone structure.
Every available piece of roof space has been utilised to accommodate the electrical solar panels, solar hot water system and solar pool heater. Blinds are also being installed between the external columns to minimise the Western Sun. Whilst conceived as a major renovation, the complete redefinition of the spatial flow of the house means the impact and functional transformation reflects that of a new dwelling.
With a large portfolio of clients, Bower Construction is involved in many major residential projects throughout the region. Another of the company’s key designs and builds was undertaken at the Horbelt Residence in Aldgate. The Adelaide hills throw up such wonderful and surprising vistas, it’s a wonder so few houses seem to take up the opportunity to embrace them. This already substantial, single storey conventional house paid little heed to views down or up the valley, and was dislocated from the western garden, infinity edge pool and new tennis court that had been constructed a few years earlier. It also made very little of its northern orientation.
The problem was how to address these inadequacies without completely overpowering the old house, which although hardly inspiring, was nevertheless solid. The majority of the existing house was converted into a wing for the children and guests, creating further room for the insertion of bathrooms and bedrooms. A new two storey living and ‘parents’ pavilion was then constructed, incorporating a first floor Master suite, retreat and enviable north facing study. A new entry lobby became the central horizontal and vertical circulation core, and physical junction between old and new.
The entry sequence remains an underplayed stroll through a courtyard, which then opens up upon entering a 1½ storey entry void, to the pool and valley beyond. A full height timber wall and cantilevered stair provide a fitting sculptural backdrop to a semi-formal dining area, which via the lower ceiling remains a human scaled area. With the kitchen and double height void once more representing the hub of the house, the northern light is invited in, creating a sense of space and connecting the kitchen with the adult retreat upstairs.
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The entire ground floor is designed to capture flow to outdoor areas and frame the valley vistas both to the east and west, whilst the upper level floor allows the previously unrealized garden along the southern escapement to be drawn into the house. Existing storm water discharge to the dam and subsequent re-use in irrigation has been upgraded. New evacuated tube gas boosted solar hot water has been added for the entire house. Expansion of the existing hydronic heater panel system, and inclusion of new electric under tile and in slab heating provides the best heating compromise. The existing HVAC system was extended to the lower levels and a new system installed for upstairs, which along with plentiful cross ventilation allows targeted cooling only when necessary.
Residential design trends have been making their way into commercial spaces for good reason, since half our waking lives are spent at the workplace. Making tenants, employees and customers comfortable can have a demonstrable impact on a company’s bottom line. The recent expansion into the commercial sector has seen Bower Construction move into the medical and wine industries, with its strong reputation proving enough to encourage referrals and approaches from commercial organisations looking for great design and execution for their projects.
Having now completed offices in Kent town for Aerotech Pty Ltd, a doctor’s surgery in North Adelaide and a cellar door in the Adelaide Hills for the Nepenthe winery, Bower Construction is quickly building the same reputation for itself in the commercial construction sector as it has long been famous for in the residential circle. The company’s commitment for the future is to continue to expand on the commercial and development sides of the business, whilst maintaining the core business of residential which has brought them so much success over the last few decades.
With its commitment to quality and use of the finest materials, Bower Construction is a company building upon a rich history of serving the Adelaide area, offering an excellent service and working with some the biggest names in Australian architecture. It is clear the company sees plenty of further opportunities for growth in Adelaide, a region it has no plans to expand outside. This is a testament to the work it has already done in the city, and the reputation it has forged for providing high quality builds. Bower Construction’s wonderful attention to the detail of design, coupled with a substantial client list that is continuing to grow, suggests that, to add to its history, it is also a company with a bright future ahead.
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