EQ: You are one of the world’s leading architects of large-scale equestrian venues. Do you have a design philosophy?
COURT: We take great pride in the planning and aesthetics of our designs. We believe, because of their inherent large size and scale, that they should be sculptures in a functional and efficiently planned natural landscape.
How did you get into this business?
My involvement started in 1983 when I was asked to redesign the original venue for the Inglis Thoroughbred Selling Center in Sydney. Then, I met my wife, who was a dressage rider and worked in an equine hospital that I designed.
This eventually led to us purchasing a large equestrian center just outside Sydney, which we ran for 27 years. It gave me hands-on experience and a deep understanding of horsemanship and the functional challenges of running a profitable equine facility. During this time I also ran my architectural firm, which focused on large equine venues, from equestrian to horse racing. The business grew rapidly after we won the contract for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Equestrian Venue.
Was there one “breakthrough” project in your growth?
Probably the Sydney 2000 Olympics gave us the global exposure and reputation that made us well known. Next, working on a proposal for the Athens Olympic Equestrian, and finally being engaged as the head designer for the Beijing Olympics extended our reputation.
Do you ride? I ride socially but I don’t compete. One rider in the family is enough. I had a go at polo, but I just ran out of time and commitment.
There must be many obstacles and issues working with the bureaucracy of governments. How do you deal with them?
We have a policy of working with a local architect when we work overseas. We do the design, and they deal with the authorities and construction documentation. Then we provide a checking process to ensure the integrity of the design intent and follow up with periodic inspections through construction to ensure equine safety.
Do you have any interesting stories about this?
Well, in Hong Kong, I was given the job of convincing the Hong Kong Golf Club that I wanted to run the Olympic cross country event through the middle of their golf course. I’m sure you can imagine the response I got in the beginning.
Are there cultural differences required to build successful projects in Korea, China, and Australia?
Definitely, in Asia there is no understanding of the space requirements for an equestrian center or the need for horses to get out of their stable and into day paddocks, or the benefits of letting horses just relax on a trail. This always takes a lot of convincing. Here in Australia, it is different because most people have an understanding from our rural roots and the rich traditions of horsemanship, and of course land is more available.
How do you consider the welfare of the horses in your designs?
Allowing the horses to have a relaxed life is the most important. Even race horses need to get out of their stables and experience a natural environment. In Hong Kong we built a bridal trail in the middle of the racetrack, and the horses use this after every training session before they return to their stables. The results have been very positive in the lack of boredom antics back in the stables.
Do you also work on smaller residential equestrian projects?
Not really, we mostly work on large-scale, broad-acre projects, especially overseas, where we can be involved in the master planning as well as the facility design. This way we can ensure that the overall functional layout works, and by doing so, save the client money in both the short term through using natural contours of the site and reducing siteworks and in the long term minimizing operational costs.
Recently we have noticed that there is a growing demand for the integration of equestrian pursuits in high-end resort design. Our recent work in hospitality means we have a good understanding of the intricacies of achieving this while still providing a safe and healthy environment for both humans and horses.