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For 30UNDER30’s James Kennedy of AIA, accessible architecture is about communication

For 30UNDER30’s James Kennedy of AIA, accessible architecture is about communication


Australian Design Review (ADR) recently revealed 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.

James Kennedy is employed as the head of communications at the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). Kennedy began his career in the A&D world as national communications manager at the design and town planning firm SJB, where he had great mentors who contributed to his understanding of the value of design in the context of the built world. Considering himself to be an “urbanist by proxy”, his work revolves around storytelling – amplifying ideas, values, voices and built outcomes of peers across various media. As a media and communications professional, James excels at translating complex architectural language into layman’s terms, making architecture more accessible to a wider audience.

ADR: How did your love for architecture/the built environment originate and how does it relate to your current line of work?

JK: It was kind of accidental. After I finished a media and digital production degree in Adelaide, I moved to Sydney and just started applying for any job I thought I could do. I got two offers, one for a chain of coffee shops and one from SJB — I think I lucked out! I’ve had an enriched education in the built environment ever since and now consider myself an urbanist. 

It’s been a privilege working for SJB and fjcstudio over the last eight years and the experience has enabled me to understand the value of design in our built world. I’ve had great leaders, especially at SJB, who have mentored me and given me a long leash to think creatively about our brand and social impact. 

ADR: What does sustainability mean for you? 

JK: Don’t use natural stone in residential developments. Seriously. Enough with precious European marble. I appreciate it in a train station or a library for its capacity to elevate our sense of civic pride and purpose, and in public settings it’s available to be admired by everyone. But under your feet when you’re in the bathroom? I cannot get behind it. If developers stopped using natural stone in apartment blocks I think the world would be a better place. 

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

JK: In 2023 I set up Architecture With Pride (AWP) with my peers Aris Ioannou-Marsh, Joel Sia, Ben Peake, Rob Henry and Diana Espiritu. Together, we’ve raised over $100,000 in sponsorship with 14 of Australia’s most prominent architecture firms, the AIA, ALIA, EmAGN, Government Architect of NSW, Dulux, Bespoke and the NSW Gender Equity taskforce. 

Together, we’ve delivered an incredible program of events that have reached over 2000 queer and ally designers across Sydney and Melbourne. Watch this space for more things to come later in the year across Australia. 

We aim to cultivate an inclusive environment for queer designers within the built environment profession. Through a program of events and activations, we provide a platform for LGBTQI+ voices to be celebrated and amplified. We’re dedicated to delivering engaging experiences that challenge norms, spark creativity and foster connections in our community. By creating space for queer experience, we aim to empower queer designers to thrive and contribute meaningfully to the profession, creating better outcomes for all, by all. Follow us on Instagram – @architecturewithpride

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

JK: Two things drive me. First, I like to feel like I’m winning in a fast-paced environment where progress feels iterative and constantly ongoing. Second, I like to strive to make a positive social impact. 

Beyond AWP, I’ve worked on projects with Architects Champions of Change, Parlour, CareerTrackers and CareerSeekers, and have been a part of studio initiatives that enhance diversity and sustainability in the culture of our profession. 

I hope that I can keep building influence in the industry and working with really smart people who are out to do great work. 

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

JK: I’m rapt with the opportunity to participate in this year’s 30UNDER30 program. I remember when Niche Media director and founder of 30UNDER30 Paul Lidgerwood, came to SJB to promote the program and get us involved. Immediately I thought — I’d love to participate in a program like that. I admire the mentors this year and can’t wait to get their insights on the profession, and hope it sets up some new goals for me in my thirties. 

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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