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‘Leadership is getting more and more complicated’ – BVN’s outgoing co-CEO Ninotschka Titchkosky reflects on career lessons

‘Leadership is getting more and more complicated’ – BVN’s outgoing co-CEO Ninotschka Titchkosky reflects on career lessons


At a powerful juncture in her career, BVN’s outgoing co-CEO Ninotschka Titchkosky sits down with Australian Design Review (ADR) for a candid chat about the challenges of leadership, her belief in bringing your authentic self to work and what’s next after her departure from BVN in April.

Ninotschka Titchkosky is something of a titan in the architecture world. 

As co-CEO of BVN Architecture – the first woman in this role – in partnership with Neil Logan, she leads the international firm’s research into robotics and digital fabrication and is passionate about decarbonisation in construction. 

Her past five years at the helm of BVN, and more than 20 at the company overall, are particularly remarkable given just 22 percent of CEOs in Australia are women. In her time, she has been involved in pioneering projects like Systems Reef 2 (the world’s first 3D-printed air distribution system) and Atlassian Central, which is set to be the tallest hybrid timber building with a glass and steel façade when it is complete in 2025. 

Titchkosky’s drive to push the industry forward also made her an ideal mentor for ADR’s 30UNDER30 Architects and Innovators of the Built World program this year.

Ninotschka Titchkosky
Ninotschka Titchkosky

But on 15 February, the firm announced Titchkosky would soon be leaving BVN. Current principal Ali Bounds will be taking up Titchkosky’s position alongside Logan, with the new partnership commencing 1 April 2024.

“The mindset I’ve always had for BVN and that all the principals share, is you’re just a custodian of the practice for that period of time,” Titchkosky tells ADR in the weeks leading up to her last day.

“The goal is to make a positive impact in your tenure and pass the baton onto others.”

The journey to BVN

Titchkosky has been laying these foundations for more than 30 years since she had her first brush with BVN at Sydney University. Lawrence Nield (who would later become the ‘N’ in Bligh Voller Nield) was her professor in the final year of her architecture degree. They also co-edited an architectural journal called Content together with Richard Francis-Jones.

But Australian architect Alex Popov beat both Nield and Francis-Jones to the punch, offering Titchkosky her first job after guest critiquing her final presentation. She worked at his reasonably small studio PopovBass for a couple of “amazing” years on residential and mid-scale residential projects. 

Yearning to develop her skills on larger projects, Titchkosky eventually jumped ship to work with Francis-Jones at Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp (now fjcstudio).

A coffee catch-up with Nield several years later led her to join BVN, where Titchkosky has been ever since – aside from the two years she spent riding horses, travelling around Australia and working in London. Upon her return, she joined BVN in Melbourne and later ran the Melbourne studio for roughly 10 years before going home to Sydney.

“I didn’t have a clear trajectory for myself quite honestly,” Titchkosky reflects. 

“I was one of the youngest to have been made a principaI at the time, it was a big shift in approach for BVN. I was just an architect and then the next day, I was a principal – at least that’s what my peers thought. I hadn’t gone through a linear process of going up the title ranks. I’m grateful that the principals at the time saw potential in me, even though I was still pretty green.

“For me, it’s always been about following my curiosity and doing what I can in the best possible way I can, and that’s led me to the point that I’m at.”

Sharing creative control

Those early university years have shaped Titchkosky’s architectural practice in more ways than one. She has learnt the joy in sharing creative control, fondly recalling the camaraderie among her tight-knit group of classmates in 1989. That love of teamwork and the complexity of architecture has “stayed with” Titchkosky.

“I actually get a little bit frustrated if I’m working in a team and I feel like others aren’t contributing, and it’s not like a more shared and owned process,” she says.

“I mean, it is important for there to be a level of leadership in all of that, but I feel like sometimes the best ideas come from all sorts of different places. Sometimes the role of the lead in that process is actually just finding the gold in those conversations and being able to connect the dots and thread it together into something that is quite exciting, which you might not have immediately thought about.”

Leadership has been a “program of continuous learning” – a journey that Titchkosky says she’s still on. She has amalgamated styles that mostly male mentors modelled to her over the years when few women were partners in architectural practices. Like all leaders, she has also had to learn to overcome aspects of her personality that make the task difficult, while elevating her strengths.

“I think the older you get, if it’s not naturally within you, the more you start to understand that idea of leading with people alongside you, or even you being behind them, as opposed to being at the front,” she says. 

“Particularly as a woman in architecture, there’s a level of forthrightness that’s required to some extent to go forward. But then, at a certain point, you need to understand when you’ve got to temper that and allow others to rise up around you or beyond you. It’s a fine balance as a woman and it has taken time for me to get to that point.” 

The complex task of leading

According to Titchkosky, leadership is only getting more complicated. 

“I think in the world in which we operate, the complexities of what’s right, what’s wrong, policies, what’s unacceptable behaviour, the pace at which organisations are operating, the demands that we’re getting from clients or within the business – they can be really, really complex,” she explains.

But the complexities didn’t hinder Titchkosky from putting herself forward as co-CEO in 2019. Neither did the prospect of losing some of the nitty gritty creative work.

“It’s definitely a ‘true-ism’ that you have to pull back from some of that project work, but being a co-CEO at BVN in partnership with Neil, I’ve managed to keep probably 40 percent of my time associated with projects,” Titchkosky says.

“That’s been important for me, to stay in touch with my craft, because I think otherwise it’s hard to lead a creative group of people when you are too removed from the process.”

BVN’s co-CEO model was introduced in 2019 to reflect a collaborative approach. Sharing the role with Logan has enabled Titchkosky to strike that balance between project work and her responsibility for the firm’s strategic direction.

When asked if she thinks she and Logan are treated any differently despite their equal status in the workplace, Titchkosky quite definitely says “no”.

“I think fundamentally not. We both have quite different skills but they’re super complementary, which has been the strength of our partnership,” she says.

“We’re perceived more as a single unit rather than two individuals that you treat differently.”

Rising up the architecture ranks as a woman

Titchkosky shows a similar surety when asked if she has faced obstacles throughout the course of her career because of her gender.

“Absolutely. I think being a woman, it’s still harder, no question in my mind,” she says.

“Interestingly, I think I felt this most strongly when I became a principal. Once clients, site teams and others realised the buck stopped with me, they weren’t sure how to deal with that. They could accept me as a great second in charge but struggled to make the shift. You’d have to be confident about standing your ground,” she says.

“Luckily, I was reasonably courageous in that department, but for someone who isn’t it would be significantly harder.”

Thankfully, a lot has changed in Titchkosky’s experience. She has worked with great project teams, including external parties, who try to instil better cultures that attract women employees, and she has generally witnessed a greater ability to call out sexism when it happens. However, this can still be workplace-dependent and is harder for women in more male-dominated cultures, including within the architectural environment.

“It was only the other day I went to a conference and it was actually a bit confronting for me because I hadn’t been to one like that for a while. It literally would have been 85 percent men in navy suits,” she says. 

“I was just going: ‘My God, what’s going on here? Is this still happening?’”

Tending to the garden

Gender equity is a “garden that needs to be constantly tended to”, something Titchkosky says “you just can’t take your eye off”. 

“We all have so many biases within us (including me) because of our historic experiences, so it requires constant reflection and accountability to identify that,” she says.

Aside from the obvious improvement in economic outcomes for women, evidence from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency shows that increasing the number of women in executive leadership positions has the added benefit of improving company performance, productivity and profitability. 

Titchkosky’s observations echo this, telling ADR that a diversity of leadership and opinion is generally beneficial to business decisions. She adds that everyone’s own lived experience is an important part of the way they lead.

“In my case, I’m a single parent. I’ve got a son who’s had some mental health issues. You go through those things in life and you have a certain level of empathy for trying to help guide people through personal situations as well as complex work situations,” she says.

Bringing empathy to leadership, whether you’re a woman or a man, “creates an environment where other people can share some of the challenges that they’re facing,” she says. 

“My feeling is that we’re all dealing with a lot more complexity in our personal lives, and you shouldn’t have to separate who you are at home and who you are at work. You should be able to be your authentic self,” Titchkosky says. 

“That means you do need leaders who are able to bring a level of understanding of that into the workplace as well. Maybe women are better at it? Not necessarily, but I think certainly having differing views around the table helps.”

What’s next for Ninotschka Titchkosky?

Having absorbed so much in her two decades at BVN, and been responsible for so much, Titchkosky is looking forward to “a little bit of space” after she wraps up, and before she starts to think about her next moves.

I do have a strong sense of what I’m passionate about and what I believe in,” she says. 

“I’m really focused on how we help inspire change in our industry, how we move away from traditional practices into transforming the industry through advanced technologies, circularity and principles of regeneration. I can’t see a future where that isn’t going to be the case.”

Titchkosky feels she still has “a fair bit to offer in that department” and imagines herself moving into the “sweet spot” between a future-focused and purpose-led environment that operates in complexity.

Ultimately, when she looks back on her career in years to come, Titchkosky hopes to say she influenced change in the industry and helped people realise the new possibilities of technology.

“We can create solutions that are better for the planet using some of these new technologies. I think that’s super exciting rather than seeing technology as a negative thing,” she concludes. 

Photo supplied by BVN.

For the month of March, in recognition of International Women’s Day, ADR has shone the spotlight on women of influence in architecture and interior design. Read our profile of GroupGSA director Lisa-Maree Carrigan.


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