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Rachel Nolan announced as IDEA’s first chairperson


Rachel Nolan announced as IDEA’s first chairperson


Australian Design Review is thrilled to announce the appointment of Kennedy Nolan founding director – Rachel Nolan as the first chairperson for IDEA 2023. 

Rachel Nolan announced as first Chairperson for IDEA 2023.
(Rachel Nolan – photo supplied by Kennedy Nolan)

Rachel Nolan adds being the first chairperson for IDEA to her list of incredible credits. Nolan has a wealth of expertise in creating built environments that are inspiring and responsive to the brief, context and environment. She is currently the Chair of the University of Melbourne Architecture Advisory Board, a founding member of The Boyd Circle and has served the AIA as a lecturer, juror for the Victorian Chapter Awards and member of the AIA Honours Committee.

The decision to appoint a chairperson was made in response to actively listening to the industry’s needs and evolving the format of IDEA’s judging process.

Australian Design Review and Niche Media’s publisher, Paul Lidgerwood, spoke about the appointment of Nolan as the first chairperson for IDEA. 

“Historically our editor has moderated discussions on Jury day, which has worked quite well over the years,” says Lidgerwood. “However our editors are not designers and we felt that in order to properly reflect an award program which is 100 percent focused on our Australian community of architects and designers we needed a chairperson from the industry. We’re thrilled to have Rachel onboard as our first chairperson!”

Nolan will chair the IDEA judging panel of designers and architects, including Byron George, Sue Fenton, Elvin Tan, Jade Nottage, Megan Norgate, and Danielle Brustman.

Lidgerwood felt the addition of a chairperson will enhance the judging process for IDEA 2023. 

“We feel a well respected and experienced practitioner, like Rachel, will better understand the nuances of projects being discussed by the panel. Those discussions are more often than not passionate. A chairperson will be able to moderate those discussions and ensure every voice in the room is heard and has equal weight in deciding winners and those highly commended.”

Kennedy Nolan architects embrace the ideals of modernism, focusing on practicality, user needs, and the potential of technology. Practice partners, Rachel Nolan and Patrick Kennedy believe that well-designed spaces can bring people closer together. Technology plays a role in enhancing comfort and convenience, incorporating smart features, energy efficiency, and innovative materials. Kennedy Nolan values how architecture affects human connections, delivering award-winning innovative projects across many design disciplines that contribute to a unique aesthetic and feel. 

Nolan reflected on project highlights for the practice, “Patrick and I have been working in this practice for 24 years, and like most we have been so preoccupied with making the work that it’s often difficult to stop and reflect on what we have been lucky to work on together,” Nolan laughs.

“Sometimes it takes an awards programme like this one to make us reflect on a project and how we practice.” 

“Our very first award we received as a young practice in 2000 was a memorable highlight. We received a Victorian AIA award for our first project which was an alteration to a house in Northcote for Patrick’s cousin. We felt we had something fresh to offer and were energised by the recognition.”

Rachel Nolan announced as first Chairperson for IDEA 2023 (James Street House 2000 Victorian Architecture Awards: Residential Alterations & Additions- photo supplied by Kennedy Nolan)
(James Street House 2000 Victorian Architecture Awards: Residential Alterations & Additions– photo supplied by Kennedy Nolan)

But it was IDEA that shone the spotlight on Kennedy Nolan’s work at a national industry level and winning the ultimate accolade of IDEA Designer of the Year drove home the acknowledgement and recognition of the practice from the Australian design community. 

Rachel Nolan's appointment as IDEA's initial Chairperson. St Kilda West House 2014 IDEA Interior Design Excellence Awards: Winner - Overall)
(St Kilda West House 2014 IDEA Interior Design Excellence Awards: Winner – Overall – photo taken by Derek Swalwell)

“We had a terrific run at 2014 IDEA, this was quite unexpected and we were taken aback by the reach this national accolade held (architects aren’t used to this). In taking home our first IDEA, we knew we were moving into a broader section of the Australian design community and this was exciting for us. We believe design should be a broad church and we felt seen and energised by this recognition,” reflects Nolan. 

“A career highlight was our practice being named Designer of The Year at the IDEA gala 2019. This meant a lot to us. Fortunately the awards were held in Melbourne that year so we could take all our crew with us to enjoy the party. The award was for all of us and we felt lucky we could be together to celebrate it!”

Awards programs like IDEA bring us together and allow this community to be seen across a number of design disciplines. It also allows us to see the calibre of great design and should encourage us to strive harder and do better.”

“Beyond awards and recognition we take great personal satisfaction from the opportunities our practice has had to work alongside peers we respect. Our practice has been nourished by this broader engagement and we understand it takes many to make change. Our involvement in New Normal, Nightingale Housing and the Boyd Foundation are examples of this.”

Kennedy Nolan is currently experiencing a wave of creative output, with multiple ongoing projects in the works. 

“We have just finished ima Pantry, a Japanese cafe and grocer as the final piece in the puzzle for a net-zero energy retrofit of an apartment complex which is part of the Nightingale Village in Brunswick. 

We are midway through construction of our first sports pavilion, we hit Level 4 of our new city hotel, 14 floors To 60 and we are also on site for our Merri Beck city council redevelopment. Saxon St is a revitalised civic and cultural precinct which will be home to Blak Dot Art Gallery and Siteworks.”

Taking a deep breath, Nolan reflects on the core values and design principles the practice is known for. 

“The projects are different but the approach is the same. Architecture, interior design and landscape are all as important as each other. 

Rachel Nolan's appointment as IDEA's initial Chairperson, Always House defines the ethos of Kennedy Nolan
(Always House 2022 – Photography: Derek Swalwell)

A lovely and clear example of this is our ‘Always House’ on the coast in Flinders. It works hard. It is poetic. It is improving with age. And in time the landscape will be the hero.”

The biggest challenges for the industry that Nolan has observed is the cacophony of noise coming from social media and digital platforms. 

“It is challenging not to be overwhelmed and subsequently influenced by the tsunami of design material available online and on social media. It’s too much. Sometimes it’s like there are 6 televisions on all at once, and in the same room!”

She acknowledges: “We have to give ourselves space to think and ask ourselves what is important.” 

There is also a need to think sustainably and collaboratively about design within the community.

“We need to think hard about waste in our design industry, and about resources, the countries they are from and the country we are on. We have to get busy as we have much to learn. 

“I also believe there is great opportunity in the Australian design community for thoughtful collaboration. It’s a small community and I think – a collegiate one working together to make change and better work. It seems like something we can do,” Nolan says.

Looking ahead to IDEA, Nolan anticipates there will be a response to the changing environment. 

“It does seem as though the world has shed their fear of colour – so expect to see lots of colour and given the times we are living in I expect to see good design addressing sustainability.”

And her top three tips to get your project noticed: 

  1. I will be looking for invention – looking out for design that leads and does not follow.
  2. I will be looking hard to understand that what we are judging works well – it doesn’t just ‘look good’ 
  3. I will be looking to see if an entry does more than what it was initially asked to do. 

IDEA has extended the entry deadline by one week. Enter now!

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