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Jane Williams
In Conversation

With over twenty years’ experience as an accomplished architect what do people look to you for?

Leadership, clarity and strategic thinking. I am decisive, action orientated and willing to take risks. I also have an entrepreneurial streak and a love of ideas - which enables me to generate creative value add propositions for my clients. I have often worked with clients on branding and organisational change processes exploring briefs beyond the physical environment. I enjoy exploring design propositions and taking others along on the journey. Ultimately, I believe in being a trusted advisor to my clients.

How do you see your own experience and skills contributing to JWA?

I see this as a dual opportunity for co-creation - projects and practice leadership. I am excited by JWA’s deep understanding of their purpose and vision. My diverse experience complements this, and my new perspectives and knowledge will add another dimension, benefitting clients and staff. In particular, my extensive work with bespoke commercial workplaces and integrated base buildings, as well as with international brands like Virgin, where the physical environment has driven organisational identity and branding.

I believe an essential part of being a Principal is cultivating the next generation of leaders and actively contributing to strategic planning. JWA has had tremendous organic growth whilst maintaining the essence of a boutique design studio, which is admirable. I bring over a decade of experience in business strategy and governance matters, including Board experience, and an in-depth understanding of practice leadership in a local and national context.

 

Your scale of work and projects types vary significantly. Was this a deliberate choice?

It was partly driven by my aspirations, but also serendipitous opportunities! I genuinely love being an architect and never wanted to be pigeon-holed into one project phase or typology, nor lose sight of architecture due to focusing too much on the business. I enjoy being 'hands on’, seeing conceptual ideas through to more technical resolutions. I decided early on in my career I wanted to work on big complex projects. My first project for BVN - Cook and Philip Park Aquatic centre in Sydney’s CBD  - fulfilled that desire - a real baptism by fire for a young graduate in a project architect role and contract superintendent on site.

I also have a strong interest in architecture that sits in the public or civic domain. Many of the significant projects I have worked on have had a civic generosity, whether workplace, education, public building or commercial development.

 

What are some of the more surprising things you've learnt through this diverse experience?

Cross-fertilisation across various typologies/sectors can be a real catalyst for change. It enables an exchange of ideas at a rapid pace. For instance, a university is a place of education, but also an extremely large workplace. When you apply commercial workplace practices to change the way you use space, you can not only potentially attract more academics, because the environment is more collegiate and effective, but possibly also increase student enrolment due to space savings elsewhere. Across the various projects I’ve worked on, I come back to one core value - what does it feel like to be a human being in this space?

 

How do you find architecture shaping your life outside of work?

It’s the reverse of this question that intrigues me most at present, as my personal interests are strongly influencing my work practices, particularly leadership. Over several years I have been undertaking an apprenticeship of sorts, training horses with a focus on natural horsemanship. This requires stripping away all the aides and tricks to work in harmony with a horse free on the ground. You slowly build trust and confidence as you increase the learning pressures and level of tasks. It involves elements of play, strategic thinking, agility, pressure testing, reading psychological signs and looking for true yields. An authentic relationship between you and the horse is necessary. This translates to my approach to creating high performing teams, and build a culture of trust, confidence, risk taking, learning and optimism.

 

What changes would you like to see in the industry to make it easier for women to enter/stay in architecture?

That’s a big question! Whilst there is a grassroots approach of change from the bottom up and initiatives such as Male Champions of Change, I would personally like to see more women meaningfully supported in leadership positions, ownership in architectural practices and taking up roles on boards (both executive and non-executive positions) - where influence for change can perhaps be greater. Over a decade ago at BVN I was instrumental in developing paid parental leave policies, which was a start in recognising - at a time when government didn’t - the importance of providing financial support whilst on parental leave, and a greater incentive to return to work for parents that was non-gender specific.

In conversation with Jane Williams

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