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ADR 30UNDER30 alumnus Lia Pipolo on pushing through self-doubt

ADR 30UNDER30 alumnus Lia Pipolo on pushing through self-doubt


Australian Design Review’s 30UNDER30 program provides mentorship and career development in the architecture and design industry, bringing together game-changers, industry leaders, practice founders, product manufacturers, suppliers and sponsors to highlight and empower young architects and innovators of the future.

In celebration of the new ADR 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World stream, ADR talked with the alumni from the inaugural Interior and Product Design stream to learn what they thought about the program.

Siren interior architect and designer Lia Pipolo is no stranger to globe-trotting for work and pleasure. Born in Belgium, she relocated to Sydney at a young age with her family, eventually completing high school in Tokyo and working abroad in Florence. 

Currently based in Phuket, she is a massive advocate for the brave new world of the hybrid workplace. She encourages people to push through discomfort and self-doubt when embarking on a creative project or applying for a new program such as ADR’s 30UNDER30.

One of Lia Pipolo’s workspaces in Gokaran, India.
Australian Design Review: How has working in different locations around the world influenced your design?

Lia Pipolo: Moving to Tokyo at 11 years of age gave me the opportunity to explore my style without the influence of people I’d grown up with. In a time where you’re typically kind of coming into your own, I had no boundaries or judgements. It was definitely at that time that I fell in love with art and architecture. I kept gravitating towards cool storefronts, hotels and fashion. 

I went back to Tokyo when I was 18 and realised that I was reverting back to design and architecture. I transferred from studying art history and arts into architecture and then got to work in Tokyo for a little bit. 

Since then, I’ve just been trying to prioritise travel and work as much as possible and gain exposure to different cultures. I think anyone who’s travelled will agree that it is the best form of education, and coupled with the lens of design, you get to see how different cultures influence every day design, often in the most mundane ways. 

ADR: How do you come to be working remotely overseas?

Lia Pipolo: I have built such a wonderful working relationship with my current workplace, Siren. Working together as a recent graduate, through the pandemic and beyond, I have formed strong relationships and eventually at some point last year I said to my boss (who is a total whiz at workplace strategy and flexible work modes), “I think I want to move to India for a while, is there opportunity to work remotely?” We decided to give it a shot and Siren already had a wonderful remote system set up – and I have been working remotely ever since! 

Hand drawn section by Lia Pipolo.

It was a bit of trial and error to see if it would work, but I think it hasn’t made much of a difference as long as you have trust with your employees and your boss. I work on my own time, but I meet my deadlines and have strong organisation and communication skills which makes this all possible. The main reason for moving overseas was to get a fresh perspective and lens, to be inspired by different cultures’ approaches to design and I have been able to do just that.

ADR: How do you find your work-life balance when it’s not regular hours and you can’t be in constant communication with your team?

Lia Pipolo: In all honesty, I think my work-life balance pre-remote work was not working for me. And this experiment of getting out of my comfort zone and being in totally foreign spaces, has inspired me to start making more space for my time and experiences outside of my working hours. 

I have more things to see here which means I really want to clock off on time to go explore a place, so I’m motivated to finish on time and experience new things.

ADR: What pushed you to enter the 30UNDER30 program?

Lia Pipolo: I had previously applied for and won the Graduate of the Year award through UNSW, which I was originally apprehensive to apply for, but I think because I had such a successful outcome, I was motivated to put myself out there again because it was such an unexpectedly positive experience.It’s similar to when you interview for jobs: the more you do and the more experience you gain, the less scary and more enjoyable it becomes. 

The Cube Render – 3D perspective by Lia Pipolo, handmade model and photoshop.

I think having travelled extensively, people are often quite surprised to know that I’m an anxious traveller. I really have to push myself through the uncomfortable parts. But because of that, I’ve learned what qualifies as a comfortable level to push myself to become rewarding. 

Because of that, I now really enjoy networking and applying for different things. The Graduate of the Year award definitely reinvigorated my enjoyment to push myself and it was exciting to win something and meet people through the process. As I was in 30UNDER30’s inaugural year, we couldn’t compare ourselves to last year’s winners, and I think that too gives room for more vulnerability. 

Perspective 3 – Digital perspective by Lia Pipolo using Revit.
ADR: What do you do when you hit a creative block?

Lia Pipolo: My interests are deeply rooted in the Arts, and in my spare time I also make and sell my own art – mostly textile art. I have the flexibility to flip between this and interior architecture. One – which is much more structured and has a clear timeline of concept and documentation, and another – my art is much more fluid and subjective. When I’ve got a block in one, I can switch to the other and vice versa. 

Photography supplied by Lia Pipolo. 

Australian Design Review’s 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World stream is brought to you by major sponsor Neolith, alongside Miele and Tongue & Groove.

The program is supported by practice partners BVN, HDR INC, SJB, Richards Stanisich, Williams Burton Leopardi and Billard Leece Partnership.

Check out the program here!

Read about another 30UNDER30 alumna, Melanie Ting.


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