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30UNDER30’s Tonielle Dempers wants to foster community through architecture

30UNDER30’s Tonielle Dempers wants to foster community through architecture


Australian Design Review (ADR) is heading to Bali this week 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.

For Tonielle Dempers, architecture is more than designing beautiful structures. It’s about creating environments that foster community, promote inclusion and yield positive social outcomes.

Having worked predominantly in the educational sector, now as a project architect at Tangentyere Design in Alice Springs, Dempers is interested in how the power of design can influence our surroundings and enhance our shared built fabric and quality of life.

ADR: How did your love for architecture originate?

Tonielle Dempers: My journey into architecture began with a simple classroom design competition in primary school, and then took off by modelling up residential floor plans found in the weekend paper in The Sims

Other than The Sims, my love for design originated from growing up in South Africa and being exposed to diverse architectural typologies and how this reflected the vibrant community life and culture. Moving to Australia opened my eyes to a whole new world of architectural influence on community dynamics, and highlighted the role architecture can play in creating communities, celebrating society and improving our surroundings for the future. It felt like a crucial responsibility to create spaces that positively impact individuals and society as a whole.

ADR: What does sustainability mean for you?

TD: As architects, I believe we naturally integrate sustainability into our designs, but it’s also about fostering a way of life that respects both people and the environment. It involves learning from others in the industry, valuing heritage and reuse, and working in harmony with our cultural and natural surroundings to enhance our shared spaces. 

Sustainability isn’t just a professional practice; it’s a personal commitment to creating a better world for current and future generations, drawing inspiration from the diverse voices of our neighbours, colleagues, friends and loved ones.

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

TD: As I have predominantly worked in the educational sector, a highlight has been engaging with students, educators and the community to deliver projects that will have a lasting impact on the educational journey of future students. 

More recently, I was fortunate to participate in the Mayfield Project, a research project sponsored by the Learning Environments Association. With a group of 21 like-minded industry professionals, we researched the topic of JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) within learning environments. We have produced a toolkit based on our findings to support authentic engagement to enact JEDI outcomes in learning environments.  Today, there’s a heightened focus on how architecture impacts student wellbeing and education, which is an exciting position to be in as there is always room to improve to directly benefit students’ educational journeys and overall wellbeing.

Mayfield Project Tonielle Dempers
The Mayfield Project toolkit
ADR: What drives your work and what do you hope to achieve in your architecture career?

TD: I hope to always continue learning – from people, experiences, places, the land, community and the design industry – and contribute back to our society. I’m deeply passionate about enhancing the lives of those we design for, particularly in education, community and social enterprise projects. 

Collaborating with fellow professionals, I aspire to create architecture that is not only visually appealing but also fosters healing and social cohesion. Ultimately, my goal is to contribute positively to the wellbeing and vitality of communities through thoughtful and impactful design solutions.

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

TD: Being selected for ADR’s 30UNDER30 was both overwhelming and uplifting. Seeing the diverse and authentic designers on the shortlist and final 30 highlighted Australia’s strong talent pool. It’s exciting to belong to a community committed to propelling the architecture/design industry forward and nurturing growth through genuine connections within 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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