Alumni Spotlight: Alison McFadyen, Phillips/Pilkington Architects

A graduate of the Master of Architecture at the University of South Australia, Alison McFadyen has wide-ranging experience in residential, commercial, retail, hospital, institutional, and educational projects.

Alison was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects SA Chapter Emerging Architects Prize in 2018 and is currently employed at Phillips/Pilkington Architects.

In this interview, she discusses how her career has been shaped by formative experiences and provides wisdom for new graduates and early-career architects looking to establish themselves in the industry.

Image: David Sievers

Q: As a fresh graduate, what were your major challenges and concerns about the future?

A: When I first graduated, I found it challenging remaining connected with the wider industry outside of the practice. I was part of such a great network at university and found that when working full time, I had lost some of that flexibility. I quickly learnt that it was important to make the time to engage and network with the wider architectural community.

Another major challenge was finding myself in an industry where a lack of gender balance was extremely evident, whether in a consultant meeting, on-site or within the architectural practice. Through engaging with the wider community, I was able to discover many talented women within our industry who provided support and inspiration. This has also resulted in my commitment over the years to supporting the increased representation of women in the construction industry.

Q: Can you provide a brief overview of your professional history?

A: I am currently a senior architect at Phillips/Pilkington Architects. I joined the practice in 2012 and was appointed Associate Architect in 2015. Prior to joining Phillips/Pilkington Architects I worked at Troppo Architects and Hames Sharley Architects. I have developed a wide range of experience in residential, commercial, retail, hospital, institutional, educational, master planning and recently research laboratory projects across all phases.

Prior to studying architecture at UniSA, I had completed work experience at Bates Smart and Peddle Thorps in Melbourne as a work experience student during high school.


Prospect Residence by David Sievers

Q: Are you in a place now that you’d hoped you would be when you graduated? Did your career path match your expectations or have there been some surprises along the way?

A: When I graduated I was incredibly lucky to be working at Troppo Architects - I graduated during the global financial crisis where many didn’t get jobs. I believe they did help inform some of my influences and how I choose to practice architecture now.

Early on in my career I moved between practices to gain a range of experience across different sectors. At one stage I went from working on residential extensions to a $50 million hospital upgrade and then the Adelaide Oval Redevelopment, which was quite a change in scale and steep learning curve.

I always planned to complete my architectural registration, so moving between practices to gain a range of experience at different stages of the projects allowed me to complete this within three and a half years.

One thing I have found surprising is how much some of my interests outside of architecture inform the way I practice now.

Q: You’ve spent some time teaching at UniSA - how do you see your teaching and professional practice informing each other?

A: I have really enjoyed remaining connected to UniSA as it enables me to be up to date with what is happening in the local and wider architectural community.

It is always rewarding witnessing the students grow throughout their study and even more rewarding when you see them participating in an internship at your firm, and then working as a graduate with you. As an architect, being able to share experiences and knowledge is a privilege.


Jeffrey Smart Building, UniSA by Sam Noonan

Q: In your professional practice, what has been one the most rewarding projects you’ve worked on?

A: One of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with is the UniSA Jeffrey Smart Building, which Phillips/Pilkington Architects worked on in association with John Wardle Architects.

We had a fantastic team of architects - many women, which was a first for me to experience in our industry - consultants and builders who worked collaboratively throughout the project.

This project was also key to me being able to complete my architectural registration.

The UniSA Jeffrey Smart Building received multiple awards in the State AIA Award categories including Educational Architecture, Interior Architecture, Kenrick Award for Sustainable Architecture, and a commendation in the Education category at the National AIA Awards.

Q: What advice would you give to students and new graduates starting out their professional journeys?

A: I recommend staying connected with the wider architectural community. We have fantastic networks in South Australia which offer advice, support and opportunities to learn and network. In architecture, it is impossible to know everything, but it is important to remain connected and participate in professional development.

I would also recommend embracing opportunities and putting your hand up to assist in the wider community when the chance arises. Many of my career opportunities and support networks have come through being visible in our industry outside of the office.

I would suggest that all experience is good experience at the start of your career - because even if you are not particularly enjoying the work at that time in your career, it will help shape your understanding of what type of work you do and do not want to be doing. It is important always to have a go so at least you know you have tried it.

I have always had a mentor - whether formal or informal, and not necessarily within architecture - to support my career moves.  

For current students I recommend participating in university internship programs, and initiatives such as the AIA Student Mentor Program so that you have some work experience to list on your CV when you graduate.

A final note: get registered and do it as soon as you have the hours ready for your logbook.



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