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30UNDER30’s Isabelle Orr on the potential of architecture to transcend boundaries

30UNDER30’s Isabelle Orr on the potential of architecture to transcend boundaries


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.

Isabelle Orr holds a profound passion for architecture, viewing it as a medium to transcend boundaries and create a positive impact. This enthusiasm propels her constant exploration of creativity, innovation and sustainability in her architectural endeavours. 

In addition to her professional work, Isabelle volunteers her time to local community focused organisations in need of architectural and design advice.

ADR: How did your love for architecture originate?

IO: My love for architecture traces back to an early exposure to creative pursuits. My paternal grandfather worked as an architect with Peter Hall on the completion of the Opera House. As a young girl, we spent countless hours sketching bespoke imaginative house plans for my toy “clients”, marking my first foray into the world of residential design. He instilled in me a passion for modernism and rational space planning.

My maternal Nonno, a skilled woodworker and tinkerer, shaped my appreciation for craftsmanship. Weekends spent in his workshop involved restoring vintage furniture and crafting various projects. 

This dual exposure, blending theoretical understanding with practical application during my formative years, played a significant role in sparking my love for architecture.

ADR: Do you have a preference for a particular style of architecture?

IO: I don’t adhere strongly to specific styles. Instead, I try to follow a philosophy that architecture should be about form, space and light, forming a backdrop for the ‘colour’ of the inhabitants and their lives. I like to keep it simple and timeless. For me, it’s paramount for the design intent to be legible, with moments of abstraction, delight and juxtaposition bringing interest and joy.

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

IO: I often find inspiration in the work of Le Corbusier, turning to his solutions when confronted with design challenges to gain valuable insights. I also look to the contributions of Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, who were close collaborators of Le Corbusier. This reinforces my belief that architecture is fundamentally a collaborative process. I firmly believe that the most successful outcomes arise from teamwork, where diverse skill sets converge to craft innovative and harmonious designs.

Palace of Assembly, Chandigarh, courtesy of Isabelle Orr

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

IO: The practice I work at, MCK Architects, is nearing completion of an alteration and addition to our 2001 project ‘House for Art Collectors’. The objective was to adapt the residence to accommodate the new owner’s needs while ensuring its sustainability for the future. 

This was a particularly poignant project for me, as it is an important project for the office, serving as a constant reference as its original completion propelled the firm into being recognised within the wider community. 

The challenge was to preserve the architectural integrity of the original award-winning design while aligning with the sustainability goals of the new brief. We embraced the ethos of ‘doing more with less’, intervening only when necessary and prioritising the most sustainable option for any new additions.

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

IO: It felt quite extraordinary to be honest. Being recognised alongside a group of others who are making significant contributions makes me really excited about the future of our industry. I am really looking forward to meeting and collaborating with everyone involved.

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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