Neil Appleton and Adrian Stanic Directors Lyons Architecture  / 
A conversation with Neil and Adrian

story / Interview / October 4, 2016

Why architecture…

Neil: I liked drawing and designing when I was a kid. I used to draw houses, cubby houses, helicopters… you name it I just liked drawing. I got to grade 10, still enjoyed it, and just never thought of another profession. In grade 11, my best mate and I decided we were going to go and do architecture together in Queensland. He went and joined the Navy and I kept on going… drawing and designing.

Adrian: It was much the same for me. This sounds like a cliché, but Lego was a huge part of my childhood. I would be constantly building and designing things with Lego as a kid. Dad was a builder. I used to go into his workshop and just make things. One year my cousin and I couldn’t afford to buy that Test Match cricket board game, so we made it. Architecture became a natural choice. I guess my mum and dad were kind of steering me a little bit in that direction too.

Style of conducting business…

Neil: Our method of external engagement is extremely client-focused. It’s got a lot to do with what type of sectors we work in; primarily education and health. Our clients are very real users. It’s heavy engagement; we thrive on it. We also have a creative engagement process. It’s all very well listening closely, but you need to have a creative critique of what people are saying. In other words, a way of engaging them in ideas that might change what they are thinking. Often, clients come to architects to make their organizations better or to improve the situation. You’re not necessarily going to do that if you just listen to a client without critiquing the status quo and saying, ‘Is that really what you meant?’ Creative engagement is entirely the basis of our business, to build a narrative of what our clients are about.

On women in industry…

Adrian: There’s a very poor representation of women in the industry, although it is something I think architectural practices are generally recognising the need to address. There is a lot more awareness now. Parlour has done great job of making people more aware of the statistics, which are not impressive at all. As awareness builds, work culture will change, but of course, these things don’t happen overnight. There is also a time balance decision about family and work, that both men and women struggle with. I think our work culture needs to do more to recognise the value of family in this respect. Families, as they exist in all their forms.

The other concern is that there’s not as many women returning to architecture after having children. It’s something that we talk a lot about and support in our practice. We’ve have lots of young women who started with us many years ago, still in the practice and now in senior roles with two or three kids. We do what we can to keep them in the practice, allowing them to grow their careers by creating continuity. We really value the people in our organization.

Advice to young architecture students…

Neil: Find a mentor and work hard. Personally, I think there’s nothing like a good apprenticeship. A lot of young graduates come in to practice thinking they’ve done their study and they’re utterly prepared to come in and crash through. They then realise that there’s still a whole lot to learn. There’s the ‘how-you-put-a-building-together’, which you don’t necessarily learn at University. It does require some serious hard work and determination. In our industry, particularly because they are long-term projects, you’ve got to stick at it to learn.

Adrian: I always say to graduating students that one of the biggest things that they can focus on is gathering skills. Even at first if it’s just learning software; learn as much as you can. Once you’ve got those skills, you can quickly progress on to the next thing. The reality is, when skills are high in an individual, opportunities gravitate to that person. For any graduate, that’s the opportunity to soak up more experience. Having good skills lets you do more and by doing more, it expands your career horizons.

Neil: I personally think the thing that’s really going to be valued in the next century will be creative skills, creative thinking. In whatever field you’re in, there should be creative thinking. In other words, how do you get around the box or outside of the circle? To a young graduate, I would say that creative thinking skills are vital.

On work-life balance…

Neil: I certainly have it much better now than I did 15 or 20 years ago and that’s just because I don’t burn it so hard. I do at a strategic design level but not like what I did when I was a student or graduate, at the coal face. That was a killer. Obviously I think I have reached a point where now I have kids. You have kids and seeing them growing up, you want to spend more time with them, so you take what you can to do it. You also have to change patterns, to work more efficiently.

Adrian: I also think as you mature, you learn how to do things more efficiently. You learn what’s important and what’s not and how to get results quickly. You know where you need to apply pressure and where you really need to knuckle down and do heavy lifting. And that just comes with time, understanding and knowledge.

I say to my kids…

Adrian: I’ve got three kids. With the 17 and the 12-year-old, generally it’s hard to extract anything from them after school, however, I like to know what they have learned that day. I say to them, just make sure at the end of the day that you recognise that you have learned at least one thing.

My mother always told me…

Neil: My mum used to say never go sleep angry. You’ve always got to try to get it off your chest before you go to sleep. She was always wise.

The Gazella girls had an in depth conversation with Adrian and Neil at the Lyons office on Bourke Street. It was also surprising to find for a good portion of the interview, Adrian and Neil shot back their own questions to the Gazella girls, intrigued as to how, why and what instigated Gazella. We did learn however, both Directors from a young age have immersed themselves in creative design which has lead them to find strong and successful careers in architecture. They each showed great reflections on their past and gave sound advice to the up and coming generation of architecture students. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us Neil and Adrian, we really appreciate it. 

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