Welcome to Future Talks by RTF, where we engage in enlightening conversations with the pioneers who breathe life into design stories. In our next captivating conversation, we have the privilege of hosting a true visionary in the world of design. Andrew, with his remarkable design leadership and extensive commercial experience, brings a unique perspective to the art of architecture and innovation. His unwavering passion for design and its transformative potential in enhancing lives is nothing short of inspirational.

Andrew’s design philosophy is marked by a relentless pursuit of insight and intention, grounded in a reductive approach to materiality and a deep appreciation for the beauty of simplicity. With a profound belief that good design should be accessible to all, Andrew challenges the status quo and drives innovation and collaboration. He actively contributes to social enterprise through projects like The Calyx Project and the innovative NINELINE Series steel wall cladding. As Design Architect of the Assembly Three modular designs, he continues to push the boundaries of design excellence.

In recognition of his expertise, Andrew has also served as a juror for the SA Architecture Awards, culminating in his esteemed role as Jury Chair for the 2023 awards program in the Houses New and Multi-Residential category. Join us in this enlightening conversation as we explore the mind of a design luminary dedicated to shaping a better future through his transformative work.

RTF: What led you to pursue a career in architecture and design?

Andrew: From a young age I always had an affinity for art. My grandmother (from my father’s side) was an artist so I grew up in an environment surrounded by an assortment of her beautiful watercolour paintings. Although I originally thought I wanted to be more of a ‘maker’ as opposed to a designer, I always knew I wanted to craft things people would be able to find useful in their everyday. Architecture came from a conversation I had with my Dad, who challenged me to think bigger — the making of spaces and places, rather than just objects or artifacts. Art in our DNA has had a positive impact on me and all my siblings. My brother is a Graphic Designer and my sister now also dabbles in Interior Design.

RTF: How would you describe your overall design philosophy or approach to architecture and design?

Andrew: My approach to design is inclusive. I don’t believe a project should be solely designed by one author; it should be a collaborative process — working as a team, with your consultants and your client. I’m always open to being challenged. Design is bigger than one person, and we should always be striving for better together.

RTF: Do you have a singular design process that you follow or does the approach vary and change based on every project?

Andrew: Whilst having a ‘one size fits all’ approach to design is great as an aspiration, you should always be open continual improvement. For the time you’re facing, the brief that’s in front of you, or what tools you have at your fingertips, the industry is never static. You can try as hard as want to create a single design process, and the core element of that is important, but you must ensure that if a process doesn’t work, you are always open to change to be more suitable to your client and the project.

RTF: Your partnership with Forage Built saw The Calyx Project coming to life and winning multiple awards. How crucial do you consider collaborations and partnerships? 

Andrew: Adding a social enterprise piece to my professional portfolio has always been of importance to me, and The Calyx Project came at the right time in my career. The Forage Supply Co group were in need of an Architect to bring their idea of designing a housing solution to combat homelessness and I became part of the partnership.

Partnerships and collaborations whilst rewarding also require a lot ongoing dedication, and typically time outside of work to commit to the cause. No one knows what the future may hold, so positioning yourself in alignment with others and building relationships is so important to open yourself up to new opportunities.

Collaborations give us the opportunity to provide meaningful change and diversify our offering, doing work that is less transactional and more transformational. You simply can’t do everything, so strategically partnering with others that share the same vision for change is the only way to turn ideas into reality.

Future Talks by RTF: In conversation with Andrew Steele - Sheet1
The Calyx Project Prototype_©Studio Nine Architects
Future Talks by RTF: In conversation with Andrew Steele - Sheet2
The Forage Built partnership and The Calyx Project prototype under construction_©Studio Nine Architects

RTF: How do you approach getting your projects featured in publications? Do you manage the communications and PR in-house or have this task outsourced to a PR & communications agency? Which approach do you think is better and why?

Andrew: Over the years we have looked at both models to manage our communications as a business, which has resulted in an in-house approach. We found that no one understands us like we do, therefore it was clear cut that managing our marketing and communications ourselves was the best fit. I’ve always had a passion for marketing, this was something I headed up at my old practice, however when I moved to S9, I knew this was something I couldn’t focus on and run solely myself. 

Our marketing team keeps their finger on the pulse across the industry, establishing and building relationships with external collaborators that in turn help publish our work and build our brand awareness. We’ve recently launched a new website to continue to elevate our studio — it’s important to continue to evolve your brand and not stay stagnant.

RTF: Can you share any challenges you’ve encountered in the process of getting your work published and how you overcame them? Are there any lessons you’ve learned over the years that have significantly improved your success in this area?

Andrew: Building relationships in the media industry has been key to having our work continuously published and even leading to partnership opportunities for frequent opinion pieces. 

We’ve learned to be more strategic in our approach when pitching a story or project. It’s important to understand what a specific editor and publication are looking for and tuning to the readership rather than a one-size-fits-all, scattergun approach.

RTF: What advice would you give emerging architects looking to increase their chances of publishing their work? Are there any specific resources or platforms that you would recommend for architects seeking publication opportunities?

Andrew: Good photography and good copy are important for communicating your project in the best light. Engage with a professional architectural photographer to photograph your project. It may come at a cost but it’s really the only thing as a designer you walk away with at the end of a project.

When writing about your project, consider the audience. Are they other architects or the general public? We aim to minimise the meaningless archi-babble when we’re talking about our projects and instead use simple language that everyone can understand.

RTF: Which project of yours has been the most rewarding for you in terms of learning and/or exposure?

Andrew: The Calyx Project without a doubt. It provided a great sense of reward but also was the most challenging and confronting project I have encountered to date. The project has been recognised in local and national awards programs and earlier this year we were really proud to be awarded an international Good Design Award. It’s never been about the awards though, if anything I hope they have helped raise awareness of the issue of homelessness and gotten us one step closer to our end goal of building the first village.

I’ve always had an all-in approach with how I conduct myself as a practitioner, which can be quite taxing at times. I always try to remember that pressure is a privilege. To learn you need to surround yourself with like-minded people. My biggest advice to anyone is to secure a great mentor in the industry which is something I did in my formative years. Whether you have a keen interest in the business or architecture, the design stream or technical stream, align yourself with someone you’d like to be more like. It’ll give you the best chance or understanding how to get there.

XFrame framing system used to construct an Assembly Three prototype_©Studio Nine Architects

RTF: In your opinion, what are the most critical skills and knowledge areas that architectural education should emphasize?

Andrew: There needs to be an option embedded into architectural courses about business principles and how to effectively run a practice. An emphasis on organisational psychology would also be of benefit in the long run to students. In an industry that is extremely high-pressure and stress-induced, having the skillset to be able to manage this would greatly serve any individual. Understanding workplace culture is massive and appears to be lacking in the current curriculum. 

A higher focus also needs to be placed on technical drawings competency. More recently, we have found graduates have lacked in this area because of a lack of emphasis placed on this by universities. There is nothing more important than focusing on the fundamentals and getting the basics right.

RTF:Share a piece of advice for young architects wanting to start their own practice. 

Andrew: Find a mentor and pick their brains to understand what running a practice actually means.

Lean into further educating yourself about the industry, not only from an architectural perspective but also from a business perspective. A great resource in Australia is the Association of Consulting Architects, which focuses on the business of architecture.

You also need to deeply understand what you want to achieve. It’s a slow-burn and can take years to establish a brand. Projects take years to turn around, so it’s important to never lose sight about why you’re doing this and what you want to achieve.

RTF: How will architecture and design transform in the coming years?

Andrew: With the rate technology is growing, it is set to transform dramatically in the coming years. Being open to change will be the key. We’ve already dabbled with AR and AI in the studio and have ensured that we’ve let those who have a thirst for this kind of knowledge run with it and immerse themselves in growing and learning with the times. 

Regenerative architecture and decarbonisation are also at the forefront, and we will (hopefully) continue to see the development of innovative products like X-Frame that aim to achieve a circular economy.

Studio Nine Architects details:

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Rethinking The Future (RTF) is a Global Platform for Architecture and Design. RTF through more than 100 countries around the world provides an interactive platform of highest standard acknowledging the projects among creative and influential industry professionals.