Humans of Aura
Jon Voller: An architect who steers towards adventure
The five key tenets of my life have been family, friends, architecture, motor cars and travel. Much of my enjoyment has been gained from the serendipitous mix of these: clients becoming friends and vice versa; travel with family and friends; the friendships made through cars. I regard my wife Lyndal as my best mate - we’ve been married nearly 54 years. My next best friends are our three boys, whenever I think of one of the boys I usually ring him right then to say ‘g’day I was thinking about you’. We also have seven grandchildren who are all pretty special.
My father was an architect and in some ways that must have influenced me to study architecture. It wasn’t something I really thought I wanted to do but when I got into it and started working, I never looked back. I just loved it. Now at 77 I’m still working but not full-time.
Although I worked together with my Dad, I avoided working on projects he was involved in. At the time he wasn’t as old as I am now but I thought he was a bit past it! He would go onto a construction site where he was supervising in a three-piece suit and beautifully attired with a hat and tie and introduce himself as Mr Voller, whereas I would go on site not particularly well dressed and call myself ‘Jon’ and be one of the boys. It was just the difference of the eras.
Architecture is a fairly consuming profession but I think I’ve been reasonably successful. I helped develop a business that employed 45-50 people in Brisbane and became a partner in 1974 along with the son of the founder. I was a part of BVN, with the V being Voller, for 30 years and I enjoyed the freedom of being my own boss for all that time. There’s a high level of pride in that the practice is still going strong and with over 300 staff. I retreated from the practice – I like to think I retreated not retired – when I turned 60. My retreat was to make room for some younger partners. At that time the practice had grown to 180 staff with offices in four states.
The practice I work with now is Marchese Partners. I’ve been with them for 10 years. I admit that being an employee is a hell of lot less stressful than being an employer. Marchese has become well known for seniors’ living and aged-care projects so most of my work over the past 10 years has been involved in the sector. That meant I knew exactly what I was looking for when I came here (Aura Holdings' village, The Atrium Lutwyche).
I am the same age as the father of my current boss, Frank Ehrenberg. I treat everyone at Marchese as equals and they treat me the same way even though they’re mostly 50 years younger. It’s just really nice to be in that environment. They do seek advice and I’m happy about that. It’s good for my body and soul to feel part of a young team, not some wizened old fogey in the corner.
Through my profession I’ve been able to work all over the world. That brings in the travel that has been another important part of my life. Being an architect took me to lots of places particularly in South-East Asia and other parts of Australia. I was in Melbourne for five years where BVN was given the job to design the Docklands Stadium (now called Marvel) because we were doing the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. Work also took us to Canada, South Africa via South America, Perth and China.
The project I am most proud of – while not the biggest – was the domestic terminal at Brisbane Airport. That was a job I won for the practice when I was around 40. I was pretty pleased with the outcome but perhaps not so happy with what the foreign owners have done with it over recent years. The completed terminal was awarded the Sir Zelman Cowen Award in 1988, the highest design accolade in Australia. I was also very much involved in winning the international terminal for our practice but it wasn’t quite so personal for me. Around the same time, we also won the new Police HQ in Brisbane which was an interesting experience dealing with Joh Bjelke-Petersen and others at that time.
I was lucky enough to be involved in a few large jobs – I call myself “a big job junkie’’. I still like the big jobs and am currently involved in retirement village projects, including one for Lendlease with 300-odd apartments in three stages.
One of the things I value about myself and my work is being able to look at myself in the mirror every morning and not be ashamed and wished I had done things differently or have regrets. I don’t believe I have any enemies out there.
Motor cars have been another thread, if you like, of my life. Fortunately, Lyndal has tolerated my love of motor cars from day one. The Morgan that’s down in the garage was our first ‘new’ car and I’ve had it nearly 46 years. It’s been my love affair. And Lyndal loves it too. I now have a Triumph Stag too that’s the same age.
I blame my father for my love of cars and possibly my grandfather who was an engineer working on maritime engines so perhaps my interest in the mechanical side of things comes through them. My father owned and restored a lot of English vintage motorcars so I grew up watching his frustration that he couldn’t afford to buy what he really wanted, hence the series of Rolls-Royces we ended up buying together in a joint venture after my mother died suddenly.
I even raced a Rolls-Royce we had bought at the Lakeside race track. I was playing with it really and doing what’s called lap dashing where you race against the clock rather than other cars on the circuit but you are allowed to overtake. I fitted it with a very loud exhaust that came out underneath the passenger’s door, put the electric shock absorbers on hard and Lyndal made a blindfold for the “Flying Lady’’ on the front so she couldn’t see what was going on. It wasn’t about winning, just having fun. The Rolls handled quite well actually and went pretty damn hard around the corners. I was surprised how nicely it handled but not as well as the Morgan or the Talbot, an old vintage car that I also ran at Lakeside.
Dad and I owned three Rolls-Royces and a Bentley as well – but I got over them, they were really for my old man. I have owned 45 cars in my life but the only car I regard as a keeper is the Morgan. It’s an English car made by the Morgan family who’ve been making cars since 1909 in Worcestershire; they’re handmade. The Morgan has a powerful Rover V8 engine in a very light car, a steel chassis and timber frame body with disc front brakes. I guess that’s what it excited me about it. It was made like the vintage cars I love and in an era of motorcars that I love but it went like the new cars. It was as quick as anything on the road at the time when I bought it. I’ve been using it lately and was having trouble getting in and out of it but now I’ve had a hip replacement it has become easier. It’s been a very faithful and enjoyable car and holds a lot of memories for me and my family.
I still have a race car, a Fleming Special, that was built in Melbourne in 1958 and is based on a 1931 Austin 7. I’ve raced it wherever they would have me - the Leyburn Sprints, Lakeside, Melbourne, Mt Coot-tha Hill Climb and the Noosa Hill Climb. I still have the Austin but I should sell it. I really have a lot of trouble disentangling myself from motorcars.
I have been lucky enough to do some interesting rallies and did one from Paris to Marrakesh celebrating my 50th birthday in a Ford Zephyr. I was about to go to Adelaide on another rally as an official but it was cancelled because of Covid. I’m still involved in motorsports and motorclubs and am a member of quite a few car clubs.
I’ve enjoyed many interesting motoring experiences and I hope there are still more to come! It’s been my big hobby outside architecture. I recently bought a number plate in the middle of the Nullarbor at a stop in a rally “Adventure Before Dementia’’ ... I am living that dream.
Published with kind permission of Jon Voller in memory of Lyndal who passed away peacefully on November 26, 2020. Lyndal will be missed by her friends at The Atrium Lutwyche.