Director and Architect Doug Southwell has been with Scott Carver for the last sixteen years, initially joining as a graduate in a role working on a large mixed-use retail and residential project. Within a few weeks of starting with the firm, Doug was running the project himself. An alarming and yet terribly exciting place to be in a new role, “I certainly drew on previous advice from an old mentor who told me that ‘a large project is just lots of small gigs put together’ - I guess I just saw it as a sum of many parts,” says Doug. For Doug, his early love of the Bauhaus and Modernist movement still inspires his work today – the timelessness of the style, the clarity of a plan, a well-proportioned room and the simplicity of a material palette. These are all elements that are a driving force behind his work. We caught up with Doug to find out a bit more about what he enjoys most about his workspace, the value of learning from mistakes and what success really means to him.
1. Hi Doug, what’s one project which you have worked on at Scott Carver, that you are most proud of?
The Sydney Opera House - what architect wouldn’t want the opportunity to work on our world heritage icon?! I’ve had the opportunity to lead Scott Carver’s work at the Sydney Opera House since 2010 when we commenced on the VAPS project. Over the last 8 years we have been involved in 39 projects of varying scale and complexity including the recent renewal works on the Opera Theatre. I’m really proud of the fact that all of our team on the projects over those years, has the shared attitude that our role as architects is to continually collaborate and enquire to get the best outcomes for Sydney’s icon. To this day I still pinch myself every time I walk across the forecourt of the Opera House. For a few reasons: firstly - that I can be a small part of the history of such an architectural legacy. Secondly - that we get to collaborate with other architects on the building, including Jan Utzon, Design 5, the Eminent Architects Panel and more recently ARM and TZG. And finally - the fact that our team has created great relationships with the people that run the Opera House and the projects within. Working with clients who are so passionate about what they do is incredible rewarding.
2. What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your workday?
I spend most of my time talking to others on projects, writing proposals and helping at the front end, when we focus on unlocking value in a project. Less on the tools and more about face to face time. My weekly ritual on a Sunday evening is clearing emails and thinking about the week ahead. I spend way too long writing lists and have unfortunately become a whiz at excel numbers and pdf markups. But I still enjoying old school sketching and 2D Autocad. Call it therapy!
3. What brand values do you admire the most at Scott Carver?
Collective ambition realised. I like the fact that as an architect you ultimately want to get things built. And in creating those buildings, drawing on the ambition of not only our clients, but those within the business, and those who use the buildings is what I admire most.
4. What’s your favourite thing about your workspace?
Working with other disciplines. Having Interior Design, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design in-house has helped me develop as an architect and the cross-discipline design discussions are really rewarding. I also like the fact that the diversity of our projects also give access to such a range of other inputs - from strategic planners, marketers and agents, financiers and investors. It’s these others that I am continually learning from.
5. Has working for Scott Carver had influence over your style as an architect?
The diversity of the project that we get exposed to has meant I’ve had to become more ambidextrous. I’ve learnt to better at solving problems at the front end and looking for what really matters in a project and guiding the outcome.
6. What does success mean to you?
From a career perspective: I think at this stage in my career, it’s two-fold: It’s about creating opportunities for others in the business to step up and create projects of their own. And I want to be involved in projects that the end users love to be in.
At a personal level though - the next period of my career is really about the family. I have three children ranging from 5 to 13 in age and they are growing up fast. I don’t want to blink and see the next 16 years fly by, so work-life balance needs to be my next motto!
7. Has learning from a mistake ever led to success?
The reality is everyone makes mistakes all the time. But the important thing is how quickly we recognise it, own up and correct it. Ultimately in our profession, we are only as good as our last gig, so recognising a mistake rather than covering it up is really important. Early in my career I was probably a little head strong in my attitudes. I learnt pretty quickly that I needed to listen more to others and take the time to consider other views in the life of a project.
8. Name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learnt since working as a Director at Scott Carver?
I’d say the biggest challenge and lesson has been to ‘let go’. As an architect, you crave to be involved in the day to day of project. You become used to managing the process, a team, a program and the client relationship. Stepping out of that day to day was a challenge in stepping up to a Director role. It’s easy and natural to have loads of opinions about things, but stepping back to guide, rather than do, has been the biggest challenge and also the biggest lesson.
9. What’s the world need more of?
Problem solvers. Really lateral thinkers. There are loads of people out there with ideas, ambition and creativity. Half the problem is knowing how to harness that energy and focus on what the actual problem is.
10. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Three children + work = not a lot of spare time! But I am blessed to be married to an architect, who mind you, is way more creative than I am! When we do have spare time we both love being handy and making things around the house. Over the last couple of years, it’s been about renovating our house. It’s a 1940’s P&O style house - not quite the masters of Weissenhof… but the character of the curved masonry walls and the finesse of steel framed windows gives a sense of the simple craft of building. Somewhat timeless. We’re still both working on it… there are lots of jobs to finish off. Getting hands-on and creating things is a really important experience for an architect, plus you get to buy fun power tools along the way!