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For 30UNDER30’s Jacky Chen, architecture is about weaving design, history, culture and art together

For 30UNDER30’s Jacky Chen, architecture is about weaving design, history, culture and art together


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.

Jacky Chen is an architectural graduate who is passionate about architecture, seeing it as an opportunity to express creativity, bring ideas to life and make positive contributions to the city. For Jacky, creativity is part of his DNA. From an early age, he was inspired by his father, a traditional Chinese watercolour artist. His desire to see his drawings come to life is what led him down the path of a career in architecture. 

Additionally, Jacky had the privilege of engaging with his local community on a public art mural project, as well as tutoring the Master of Architecture final design studio at the University of New South Wales. Jacky is continually inspired by members of the public and students, as it’s through collaboration that he believes architects can have the greatest impact.

ADR: How did your love for architecture originate?

JC: My creative journey started at the age of four when I picked up a paintbrush and off I went trying to imitate my father, a traditional Chinese watercolour artist by trade. I would then showcase this medium live, alongside my father, as part of charity fundraisers held across Sydney. Not only did this fuel my artistic passions, but it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate our culture and give back to the community. 

I always wanted the things I drew to come to life. Before long, I had taken an interest in sketching buildings. In putting the two together, it dawned on me that I should pursue architecture as a way to bring my sketches and creations into the real world. 

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

JC: I would love to work with Philippe Starck. Not only am I a huge fan of his Citrus Squeezer but I love his design philosophy of ‘democratic design’, a commitment to offering well-designed goods that are not only affordable and mass-produced, but also aesthetic and durable. His background and knowledge in various design disciplines are what make him an inspiration to me. I strive to apply his philosophies to how I approach my own work. 

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

JC: One of the highlights of my career so far would be my involvement in the street art initiatives as part of Marrickville Council’s plans for urban renewal. The goal was to revamp the rundown laneways around Dulwich Hill to add vibrancy and encourage people to re-engage with the town centre. 

The opportunity to participate in this was immensely rewarding as the team was constantly approached by curious members of the community, all positively engaging with the artworks. 

Upon completion, it was evident that these murals were a huge success as the once forgotten laneways had now become places for people to stop, linger and appreciate rather than serving as shortcuts. This, along with other community contributions resulted in my nomination for Young Australian of the Year in 2014.

ADR: What drives your work and what do you hope to achieve in your architecture career?

JC: My work is driven by the way good design can shape the end users’ interactions and their experience of the built environment. Architecture, when carefully crafted and considered, should create an opportunity for conversation, encourage interaction, and stimulate thoughts and emotions. This is what I aspire to achieve in my work. 

In my architecture career, I also hope to better engage and connect with the people and communities we design for. By involving them in the design process, and understanding their values and needs, architects can create spaces that will enhance their quality of life. 

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

JC: I was certainly thrilled to see my name announced alongside so many distinguished individuals who are doing amazing things to shape this industry. The calibre of this year’s 30UNDER30 finalists is incredibly high, and the opportunity to meet and connect with these talented people is super exciting. I am also looking forward to meeting the mentors and gaining all the knowledge I can. 

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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