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Why sometimes success means going your own way

Jean Graham is a natural born architect. As a child she was drawing designs before she could read. ‘From a very young age I was interested in design, making, creating and drawing imaginary places that I could envisage in my mind,’ she says. ‘In primary school I had a textbook that I filled with drawings of houses, drawing plans, elevations, sections and perspectives.’

In high school her most cherished subjects were history and visual communication. ‘I explored ideas of technical communication and tried to emulate the artists I admired such as M.C. Escher,’ she says.

After studying a double degree in architecture and construction management at Deakin Graham embarked her career, prepared to play the long game. ‘Being an architect is a lifelong career, the journey is long, and the opportunities afforded can be limitless,’ she says.

Following your own path to success

Graham spent a number of years practicing architecture in medium to large scale firms. ‘This was not a negative experience, however, I felt there were some areas which could be improved,’ she explains. ‘Upon searching for the firm that would help me to realise these ambitions, I discovered that I may just have to invent it for myself.’

And this is how Winter Architecture came into being.

In the relatively short period since it opened in 2017, Winter Architecture has been awarded an astounding number of accolades. Some recent awards include being finalists in two categories in the 2019 Sustainability Awards, International Longlist for the 2019 Emerging Architect of the Year – Dezeen Awards, Silver Medal in the 2019 Melbourne Design Awards for Architecture – Sport, Recipient of the 2018 Sustainability Awards, Emerging Architect of the Year and International Shortlist for the 2018 London International Creative Competition.

Graham says Winter Architecture, of which she is Director, has an honest approach to work and ethical and equitable modes of practice, which have contributed to this success. ‘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,’ she explains. ‘This gives us more opportunity to celebrate the work we do, and the work we do with others.’

An innovative approach to collaboration

At Winter Architecture they are focused on flexibility and this means staff are scattered across the country. ‘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,’ Graham explains. ‘We have enabled this model of working to retain our amazing team, who may or may not require flexible working arrangements.’

'Upon searching for the firm that would help me to realise these ambitions, I discovered that I may just have to invent it for myself.'

Jean Graham,
Architecture & Construction Management Graduate, Deakin University

Their process is tried and tested and works effectively for everyone involved. ‘Concept design stages are rigorously explored collectively; we try to get the team together in person for this,’ Graham says. ‘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.’

Graham values the long-term relationships she has built up with the team, many of whom she knows from her studies. ‘Most of the staff within the Winter Architecture team have graduated from Deakin,’ she says.

What defines success?

For Graham, the ability to work within a great practice with clients and projects that she loves is what defines success. ‘At Winter Architecture, we don’t see the notion of the “great architect” as the backbone of our practice,’ she explains. ‘It is and always has been a collective effort.’

In her extensive experience, 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,’ Graham explains. ‘A “great practice” promotes equality and empowers each other, their clients and the public.’

It’s not easy but it’s worth it

Graham says that when people say the path of becoming an architect is really hard, they are right. ‘I would recommend alleviating some of the financial stress by ensuring you have savings to support you whilst you are studying so that you can focus on all of your efforts and energies in learning and equipping yourself with the skillset required to be the best you can be,’ she suggests. ‘In architecture there isn’t much room for developing these skills once you are in practice and earning an income.’

To achieve success at the level that Graham has, it’s important to hold strong to your own passion. ‘I believe that the path that you take must be yours,’ Graham says. ‘Be true to yourself and you will find the direction that is most suited to you.’

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