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30UNDER30’s Ali Whelan champions sustainable, liveable cities

30UNDER30’s Ali Whelan champions sustainable, liveable cities


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.

Ali Whelan, a pivotal member of Breathe Architecture since 2019, spearheads the front-end design team with a focus on urban, masterplanning, and concept design for highly sustainable architecture. Renowned for her big-picture thinking, she excels in diverse projects, from residential developments to strategic planning. Ali’s expertise, efficiency and commitment to sustainability make her a sought-after and respected figure in the architectural community. As a mentor, she generously shares her knowledge with young architects and designers.

ADR: How did your love for architecture originate? 

AW: My love for architecture was born out of a combined interest in art, history and physics. The relationship between art and physics in architecture is symbiotic, with each discipline informing and enriching the other. Embracing both the grounding logic of physics and a pursuit of aesthetic harmony, I found myself at their nexus in architecture. By embracing the principles of both artistry and scientific rigour, architects have the opportunity to create spaces that inspire, endure and enhance the human experience.

ADR: If you could work with any architect, designer, artist or other creative – living or dead – who would you work with and why? 

AW: I would have cherished the opportunity to work with Robin Boyd. The Small Homes Service was an innovative approach to housing which provided the broader public with the opportunity to own affordable and well-designed homes in Melbourne’s suburbs. Boyd proposed a shift in the way we think about housing and offered an opportunity to live better with less. There are a lot of lessons we can take from Boyd’s approach to housing when looking at how to tackle the housing crisis we are currently facing.

ADR: What does sustainability mean for you?

AW: It is my firm belief that humanity and the planet matter and that design should be used as a weapon for good in our society. With this in mind, sustainability is a driving force in both my personal and professional life. I am committed to creating sustainable and liveable cities through the projects I deliver, in turn delivering a more resilient urban environment for thriving communities.

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

AW: Working on Breathe’s ‘Cobargo Santa Project’, a home rebuild for a deserving family in need after the devastating summer bushfires of 2020. The project team was determined to help the community recover from disaster and donated all architectural services pro bono. The project was then used to promote the Architects Assist program, an initiative of more than 600 firms from the built environment industry working pro bono to support those affected by natural disasters and other adverse circumstances. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a meaningful project and proud to have used design as a force for good to help others. 

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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