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30UNDER30’s Fiona Ho on discovery, delight, and using her practice to advocate for Asian Australians

30UNDER30’s Fiona Ho on discovery, delight, and using her practice to advocate for Asian Australians


Australian Design Review (ADR) recently travelled to Bali with the 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World for 2023/2024. To celebrate, we are getting to know this exciting multidisciplinary cohort, the passions that drive their work and what makes them tick creatively.

Fiona Ho is the senior interior designer at Basalt Studio, which she co-founded with her brother in 2014. Their philosophy, ‘design is thought and not bought’, led to them teaching themselves about professional business management, and as a result, the studio has gone from strength to strength. Ho takes pride in leading, teaching and mentoring her team, delivering successful projects and building the studio’s brand. Their hard work has shattered the barriers of being a small design studio, allowing them to enter prestigious shopping centre portfolios, gain recognition as renowned designers in Sydney and become part of the recommended list of retail designers for Scentre Group. 

Ho is also a passionate artist, incorporating her unique sense of artistry and creativity into the multilayered hospitality designs she brings to life. 

ADR: How did your love for architecture originate?

Fiona Ho: My love for architecture began with exploring rock pools along the Central Coast, and developed while submerged underwater at Cabbage Tree Bay, Manly. As a freediver, I admired the inner workings of coral reefs and the way fish gracefully wove through them. These experiences deeply inspired me, teaching me about the beauty of highly textural coral structures and rock formations. Coral reefs taught me porosity in architecture, a principle which informs much of my architectural designs for shopping centres today. 

In addition to architecture, I’m also an avid oil painter. My mother introduced me to painting, and I honed my skills at the National Art School. There, I developed a highly expressionist and textural style. Each brush stroke is filled with movement and I enjoy freely letting paint fly. Nowadays I approach my architectural projects similarly, layering and texturing them like a canvas. 

ADR: Do you have a preference for a particular style of architecture?

FH: I absolutely adore Rococo and Monolithic Architecture. One emphasises texture while the other is characterised by its absence. 

ADR: If you could work with any architect, designer, artist or other creative – living or dead – who would you work with and why?

FH: I would have loved to work with Carlo Scarpa on his Fountain Gates in Venice. Failing that, I would like to work with my 5-year-old self.

ADR: How did it feel to make it into Australian Design Review’s 30UNDER30?

FH: I was very honoured to be selected as ADR’s 30UNDER30 as I feel it further energises my pursuit for more representation for Asian Australians. The program opens up opportunities to collaborate with my peers and further guide my direction through our mentors and access invaluable knowledge. The conversations I had with the mentors have already sparked so many new ideas and possibilities for me personally and for the studio. 

ADR: Is there a particular project you’ve worked on that has been the highlight of your career so far?

FH: Burwood Chinatown is the highlight of my career so far. This project allowed me to influence a new generation of Asian Australians, fostering pride in their heritage in ways my generation never experienced. Using my training in retail design with a focus on food and beverage, I revitalised an outdated arcade into a welcoming place for everyone.

I created a space where children can discover and share their culture, emphasising the universal joy of food and community. I felt my work was validated the day I saw children playing tag in the central courtyard, unaware it was formerly a loading dock. Inspired by nature and my passion for freediving, I designed the masterplan to mimic a coral reef, creating engaging, porous architecture. 

My favourite part of the tenancy carve-up was squeezing in the six-square-metre milk tea shop under the stairs. 

ADR: What drives your work and what do you hope to achieve in your architecture career?

FH: My drive comes from a desire to inspire young Asian Australian women. I aim to shift the dialogue of what an architect or designer looks like. When I hire people to join our studio, I look for design excellence instead of how many years of experience they have.

I hope to lead by example, demonstrating that even a young Asian Australian woman like me can start a design firm straight out of uni and achieve success purely on skill and not any other factor. Young women make up 80 percent of my firm and it’s my calling to mentor them to become the best in the field. 

ADR’s 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World stream is brought to you by major sponsor Neolith, alongside Miele, Interface and Tongue & Groove. The program is also supported by practice partners BVN, HDR Inc, SJB, Richard Stanisich, Williams Burton Leopardi, and Billard Leece Partnership. To find out more about the final 30, including their places of work and discipline areas, head to the 30UNDER30 page.


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