Ceremony: 13 October 2017, 2.00pm
Today for you it is a life-changing moment. Imagine, say, 20 years into the future, you could have a surrogate just like in the 2008 movie starring Bruce Willis. There will be days when you don’t want to get out of bed, you don’t want to face the world, and you simply decide to send your surrogate out there for you. Today is not that day. Today’s the day that you guys and your families, particularly your families, received your degree – the degree that you poured energy and time into and you survived. Well done to everyone here today. I think it’s very special.
This is a life marker, what I call a sliding-door moment, a day that you should never forget, and you truly deserve to enjoy it. My story goes like this: Last year, I had a similar experience when, in this very room, I was awarded the 2016 Alumni Award for Excellence in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building. I had thought up until then that winning some architecture awards and being one of the six architects designing the athlete’s village for the Olympics in 2000 was a hard act to follow, but last year was a special occasion. But my story begins in a very quiet suburban street in Yagoona. The only claim to fame about Yagoona was that the first McDonald’s store in Australia was built at the top of our street. Paul Keating, Australia’s best, in my view, and 24th prime minister, was also born around the corner in Bankstown. Not very many people travelled from Yagoona to university back then, especially the daughter of a concreter and a dressmaker.
As a child, I was ensconced making concrete footpaths and visiting building sites with my dad, where he built most of Harry Seidler’s fabulous concrete buildings and that started my illustrious career in architecture and building. My Italian-born parents, who are now in their 90s and living in adjacent rooms in a retirement village that I designed, thankfully believed in education, and they scrimped and saved to send myself and my older brother, who’s a builder and a businessman, and my sister, who’s a fashion designer – there’s a link there – to good schools. When we were at school, we watched Armstrong land on the moon on a little black and white TV on a stage similar to this. It was a long way away from today’s Elon Musk trying to work out how to get us from Sydney to London in rockets under one hour.
When I graduated from this veritable establishment, it was in the mid-80s when the music was all punk and we saved up our money to buy vinyl records shipped straight out of London. There was no internet, everything was a bit slower, but we felt we were at the forefront of being worldly and knowledgeable. Every generation, and yours will too, thinks it’s the smartest one, and years ago we tested this at my nonna’s 92nd birthday. We asked everyone what the best thing was invented in their lifetime. At that time, Uber, Go Get, O Bikes, Facebook, Instagram weren’t even in the lexicon, but all of us contributed and came up with these ideas: washing machines, microwaves, TVs, dishwashers, mobile phones, fax machines, internet. And when we got to ask nonna, we thought we’d exhausted every invention, and she said electricity, without which none of the other stuff would be possible.
About six weeks after graduating, which is where you guys are today, I set up my architectural practice in a lovely art deco building in Macquarie Street in Parramatta. I was totally scared out of my wits, I didn’t know what an overdraft was, and at the start of a recession. Freaking scary, one would say now, as my nephews and nieces would say. There was a lot of greed around and the universe was giving out its message that things were about to change. I survived the recession, kept many happy architects employed in excess of about 45 over the years, and ran this practice for many years.
Working for yourself straight after graduation is an option that takes a lot of guts, and working for someone else in a team can be equally rewarding. I think it’s passion what you need is really required. To survive the days in and out you must first work on that throughout your life. I’ve now morphed my career over 30 years and have come back full circle to being the first city architect in Parramatta, along with assisting the State Government in strategy and as part of design review panels for major transport projects. This is a huge responsibility and requires careful calibration of commercial interests, weighed up against public benefits. I call my career at the moment a portfolio career; friends of mine call it architecture acupuncture. I am so grateful I’ve experienced my own practice, and I’ve worked for other architects, and also worked in the altruistic public sector for local and state government. Sustainability of social, environmental and economics is what matters most.
At the City of Parramatta, we continually strive for design excellence, and the quality of the built environment is being valued like never before. I applaud and support daily the current stable of award-winning architects, designers, project managers, developers, who work passionately to deliver amazing places and spaces. However, there’s a lot of noise in the design space and the city-shaping space. Many people are wondering how our future Sydney will look, like how they’ll get to their places of work, how they actually survive the madness of building so many projects simultaneously, metro, light rail, ferry stops, roads, and it’s up to the design and building fraternity to make every project as great as it can be, and join the dots. I have a theory that if each project is completed well, the totality will be fine.
As a design and building professional in the ideas space, we will all have a huge responsibility to improve the public realm and make beautiful spaces and usable objects for people to enjoy. Wonderful experiences over material goods and extreme consumption of unused objects must stop. New technologies will liberate the way you work – robotics, virtual reality, working around the clock globally and all the new inventions and apps that you will invent and promote will be part of the technology toolbox, but it will be yourselves and your individual design thinking that will drive the ideas of the future. I have a saying that we are all passing through, and can make great individual inputs that collectively make the world a much better place. Your generation will do things differently in wilder ways not imagined before. Collaboration will be at the forefront, and as design and building professionals, you should align yourself with experts in new and emerging fields.
Your newly obtained skills and degree will propel you into what you do best. Find and follow that dream. I suggest you should always be inquisitive – ask lots of questions. Don’t believe everything is urgent, be inventive, don’t lose your sense of humour, promote good over evil, ask the correct questions as to what is needed, and design everything you can to make people’s lives better. Life is about balanced choices. I don’t think it’s all about work anymore, but doing work that you’re passionate about and enjoying fun, love, music, food, wine, travel and coming home to your families. Thank you.
About the Speaker
Kim is the founder and director of Order Architects, with more than 30 years’ experience as an architect and has built a solid reputation as an innovator and a leader in her field.
She established her award-winning architectural practice, Order Architects, in 1984. The company is responsible for some of Sydney’s most celebrated architectural projects, among them the Sydney Olympic Village, Parramatta’s Barrack Lane and Bakers Mews.
Kim has been part of a number of New South Wales government panels including the Ministerial Task Force for Affordable Housing, and was a member of the Home Building Advisory Council of the Department of Fair Trading from 1998 – 2005.
In 2006, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects awarded Kim the prestigious ‘Marion Mahony Griffin Award’ for her contribution to architecture and to recognise the contribution of women architects in New South Wales.
In 2015 Kim was appointed to the Liverpool City Council’s Design Excellence Panel, and as City Architect for the Parramatta City Council. She is currently advising on the design of the Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct redevelopment, the Sydney Metro rail project, and the urban design components of the WestConnex development.
Kim is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects.
She graduated from UTS (then New South Wales Institute of Technology) in 1984 with a Bachelor of Architecture, and was a studio design tutor and lecturer at UTS for 7 years. In 2016, Kim received the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building Alumni Award for Excellence.