Architect Spotlight – Emma Williamson
Emma is a co-founder and Director at CODA, a multi-disciplinary practice based in Western Australia. Under Emma’s leadership, CODA has grown a portfolio of built and research works that have led it to be recognized as one of Australia’s most innovative practices. CODA works mainly in the delivery of community infrastructure, from affordable housing projects to urban design and research. The practice is driven by the need to make a positive contribution to the lives of its clients. Emma is passionate about the architectural profession and spent nearly a decade as a lecturer at Curtin University in the Department of Architecture and Interior Architecture. She is regularly invited to contribute to conversations and lectures about our developing built environment. Emma currently holds a position as Chair of the National Committee for Gender Equity for the Institute of Architects and is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at Monash University.
Which architect or person do you admire as an inspiration?
There isn’t really a single architect that I admire. Rather, I admire all architects that take the time to improve the built environment at the same time as they are solving complex briefs and problems. Of note for me are Rachel Neeson for her beautifully crafted and community focused buildings, Justine Clark for her continual advocacy and global reach and Neil Durbach and Camilla Block as my mentors very early on in my career.
What do you consider the most underrated thing that architects do?
I think that the capacity for architects to participate in the process of building a better future is often underestimated. Optimism is inherent in the way that we imagine a future for our cities and town. We always look to be both useful and generous in our approach. Sometimes these moves are not obvious but we always feel they deliver benefits to the public.
What is the quality you most admire in a client?
Clients that have foresight to trust fully in a relationship with a design practice are critical to great projects. Clients that are generous in their thinking, aspirational and fiercely engaged with the process are admirable and necessary. Project outcomes are best where a client and architect can challenge one another from a position of mutual respect.
Which project made you happiest?
Projects that continue to have an impact and influence with their users and communities make me the happiest, projects in which occupation is the key ingredient to project completion – we don’t design static objects, we don’t try to ‘protect’ or ‘shield’ our buildings from the outside world, we hope that our clients and the communities our projects serve can connect, love, own and engage with our projects for many years to come.
Tell us one (secret) thing about how you design?
For me, design is done through talking with other people. I don’t have a strong formal position and we are primarily interested in how our work can make connections, be opportunistic, leverage potentials. For us design is a conversation, and the more people we can involve in that conversation the better. That doesn’t mean the work is designed by consensus, but that stories and dreams, imagination and aspiration should be woven into all projects, and these cannot be isolated to the vision of just one person. Our role is to give form and craft to the meanings and narrative built through this dialogue.
What inspires you, what gives you inspiration to do better?
We are inspired by the idea of being useful and mindful of the fact that architecture is around for a long time! Its worth making an effort because the investment in time and money to build something is so significant and it will be there for such a long time. I couldn’t bear to drive past a design for the rest of my life knowing we could have done better! Our staff share this vision and through their passion and commitment we stay focused on each project and the bigger picture.
Name one architectural destination that non architects should see?
I am less interested in single buildings, and more driven by the richness of cities that are built up over time and have diversity and intensity. Places like New York, or Istanbul prove that great cities are not made up of a series of “icons’ but of diverse streetscapes and a mosaic of activities. Understanding and appreciating this richness should give us all confidence to create diversity through architecture and invest in buildings that will come to tell a story about the history of a place.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I am actually very happy that we have managed to grow an interesting practice with interesting and passionate staff, clients and projects at the same time we managed to grow our family – its been quite a ride but if I step back a little I have to say I do feel happy to be surrounded by so many great people working toward a shared vision.