Kylee Schoonens is an award winning architect and co-director of Fratelle Group WA.
Now in her 30’s, she is the youngest female director of an architectural practice in WA.
Schoonens is involved in many organisations that aim to shift industry perception on female architects, particularly in executive roles.
As an active member of the Australian Institute of Architects, Schoonens has been a jury member for the WA architecture awards, and is also involved in the Property Council of Australia committee and National Associate of Women in Construction, among others.
Most recently, Schoonens was awarded with the honour of winning a place in the 40 under 40 Business News awards which recognise and celebrate Western Australia’s 40 leading business entrepreneurs under the age of 40.
We caught up with Schoonens to discuss her career and her ideas about the role of women in the architecture industry.
Describe your early years as an architect. How did you come to be the Fratelle Group Director?
I have been in the industry since I was 20, in either a part time or full time capacity. Initially I juggled a full time job whilst doing my architectural thesis at university which was quite intense. Once I graduated, I worked in a few practices, and the last practice I worked at was for seven years before I was offered the role of associate director at age 25. At the end of 2009, I was offered the director role at Fratelle group, which is where I am now. My experience meant that by the time I was 30, I had worked on a significant amount of projects that held me in good stead to be able to take on the projects we are currently working on at Fratelle Group.
Do you have any projects that stand out in your time as an architect?
We have worked on some projects at Fratelle Group that have been quite exciting. I actually had one reach practical completion very recently that I am particularly proud of. It is a commercial and laboratory development in Balcatta, a northern suburb of Perth. The reason it stands out is because of the constrained timeframe the team, clients and I worked to. We commenced the project in October in 2012 and development began on site in February 2013, a four month turnaround for this scale of development is extremely rare.
The development is itself a 10,000sqm, 2500sqm of this is office space and 5000sqm laboratory space, we worked really close to establish this program time frame to actually get the project out on time.
Have there been any setbacks in your career that made you question your career choice?
In 2005, when I was 25 and working at my last practice, I was offered the role of associate directorship. Three months later, I was involved in an accident in Perth where I broke my back and fractured it in three places. It was very sudden and unforseen and kept me out of full time work for a good part of nine months. I was hospitalised for six weeks and then in a brace for another four months.
Whilst in hospital I was still running a really large age care facility project (amongst other projects) and I was the project architect, so the accident happened at crucial time for me.
I couldn’t sit up so I had a laptop stand made for me so I could lie in bed and look up at people and talk to people online in conferences. Looking back, I realise how driven I was to get the project over the line and to keep the company out of the lurch; even though I wasn’t present in the office, I was still trying to be present on the project. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to walk again for a while, but the accident is certainly something that has changed me. It made me realise how driven I am in life, and understand that I need to look inside myself to see where that drive comes from during hard times.
Statistics show a male dominance in the architectural industry. Have you been exposed to this dominance and how have you overcome it?
Being in my position, I know now that you can’t get here without having confidence in yourself. You definitely need confidence to stand up against the high number of men you work with. When I first started out, I was a little intimidated on site, but you get over it.
It later became about exposing myself more, and gaining confidence through exposure is how I succeeded. I was quite lucky as I was thrown in the deep end pretty quickly - I won a design competition when I was young and then was offered the project architect role for its development at age 24. That certainly helped because I was out on site, meeting with builders, subcontractors and constantly around men.
Confidence is also something I try to instil in young people in the industry, not only in my own staff, a lot of whom are women, but also in my role in the National Association of Women in Construction where I mentor other females in terms of providing support and developing their confidence.
Basically, you need to believe in yourself, follow your passion and put yourself out there. Have confidence and know what you really want and make sure your voice is heard.
Is there anything in the architectural industry you would like to see changed?
I think there is already a change occurring, especially in the Perth and the state of WA. The change that I want to see continue is the growth in the value of good design and the perceptions about what good design actually brings to not only the project, but the context around it. I want people to realise that good design, not only in terms of appearance but also in terms of the lifecycle costs of the building and sustainability that make up for good design, can benefit the people and environmental that surrounds the project.