The 2018 Sustainability Awards Emerging Architect of the Year Jean Graham speaks about running a small firm, her favourite designs and what she thinks makes a great architect.

You have called Winter Architecture a 'collaborative architecture practice'.  Can you tell me exactly what that means in practical terms? How does that translate to a ‘typical’ design brief/project you would handle.

Our practice has staff scattered across the country. Concept design stages are rigorously explored collectively, we try to get the team together in person for this.

From this point, the tasks within projects are divided and undertaken individually or in smaller groups. These tasks can be completed by staff in the Winter Architecture studio in Fitzroy, at home or at alternative share studios.

Our work is centrally located and constantly accessible from the cloud, meaning that our data and modes of working are free from the constraints of an office, city or country.

We have enabled this model of working to retain our amazing team, who may or may not require flexible working arrangements.

After winning the Emerging Architect of the Year in 2018, what would you say makes a great architect?

We don’t see the notion of the ‘great architect’ as the backbone of our practice. It is and always has been a collective effort.

So, a ‘great practice’ is one that can be adaptable, collaborative and open-minded about all design constraints and opportunities.

For us, enthusiasm about embracing new ways of working is a timeless quality of a 'great practice', be it in a design sense or a technological sense.

A ‘great practice’ promotes equality and empowers each other, their clients and the public.

Your firm has won quite a few awards in its relatively short existence. What do you attribute this success to and is there a secret formula to such success?

We’re very honest and open about our work and operations as a practice. I think this has contributed to some of our success. We believe it's important to value ethical and equitable modes of practice, so we appreciate the support we’ve had on this thus far.

Our open-minded approach has also enabled us to collaborate with some great architects and designers, as they find it quite easy to align their modes of working with ours. This gives us more opportunity to celebrate the work we do, and the work we do with others. Having said this, our modes of working may not matter so much to our clients, but we provide them with great work, I think that’s worth something too.

Your firm uses technology very much to its advantage. How exactly does technology figure in your day-to-day interactions with both staff and customers?

Technology provides us with a solid, shared and consistent platform for the whole team to operate from, regardless of their location.

It is a valuable tool for the business, but it doesn’t change the way that we design. When dealing with clients, it’s still very much about meeting in person. We feel the need to resolve things by sketching, opening a book, testing materials or model-making. As Architects we value the real, tangible aspects of our world, it’s impossible to explore these through technology alone.

As a small business owner, what is your advice to other architects that may be thinking of going out on their own?

Everyone says that it is really hard, and they are right. I would recommend alleviating some of the financial stress by ensuring you have one years’ salary saved for yourself so that you can sustain cash flow demands that will inevitably arise so that you can focus your energy on building your business. It’s a long hard road, so buckle up.

If you were to have your pick of structures to design, what would you most like to design and why?

For us, it’s not so much the project, it’s more about the site and the client. If the values of the client align with our mindset that’s what we want. Our team is so experienced across sectors, we’re all passionate and enthusiastic about all projects. Ultimately, the perfect project is reliant on a great project site and a trusting client allowing us to explore our full potential.

Can you tell me what your future plans are in terms of Winter Architecture?

We have some fantastic clients and some fantastic projects underway. We hope to see some of these projects completed in 2019. Hopefully, we can attract more work of a similar vein. We look forward to more collaborations with more great architects. Perhaps it’s a bit ambitious but so far we’ve so far gone interstate, perhaps we could go international!