The winning sibling

Amelia Borg, director of Sibling Architecture, has won the inaugural Steve Ashton Scholarship for the Architectural Profession.

Amelia, 34, studied architecture at the University of Melbourne with Sibling’s four other directors, who formed the practice together in 2012.

“We called it Sibling because when we were students, we shared a studio in the CBD,” says Amelia.

“Studying architecture is really gruelling and time-demanding and so we’d live there, eat there, sleep there and we considered ourselves closer than siblings because we spent so much time together.”

“Also, we like the idea that we have that kind of relationship with everyone who works for us, and we all view each other as family.”

Sibling are engaged in public, commercial, residential and university projects, and they maintain a research stream to their practice.

Sibling’s exhibition item for the 2013 University of Melbourne ‘Alumni’ series, entitled On/Off, was a room-sized Faraday cage that blocked out all telecommunications signals and forced its inhabitants to communicate without any technology.

Sibling’s Over Obelisk is a current finalist in the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture.

Sibling are also interested in design for the ageing population. Their 2017 MPavilion event entitled Designing the age-friendly city, with partners including Arup, will explore how public buildings, and public realms especially, can be accessibly designed to accommodate older people’s needs to stay active and socially engaged with the city.

Straight out of uni, Amelia joined McBride Charles Ryan. Her mentors there, directors Rob McBride and Deb Ryan, had worked at ARM before establishing MCR. Another of Amelia’s mentors is ARM Principal Andrew Hayne, who also worked with her at MCR.

After MCR, Amelia worked for two years in Amsterdam, both on projects and as an editor of Volume Magazine (the quarterly founded by Ole Bouman, Rem Koolhaas and Mark Wigley in 2005). “When you stop studying and start practising as an architect all the writing you do at uni stops, and I wanted to get in touch with that sort of thinking again,” she says. “Working at Volume was amazing because it laid the foundations for why Sibling has such a strong interest in research.”

As well, Sibling’s work has published extensively in local publications such as Architecture Australia, InDesign, Artichoke, Houses and internationally in Frame, Domus and Dezeen.

Sibling’s Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

The BS Club

Amelia says that when Sibling was first born, the directors felt decidedly unprepared for the business side of practice.

“Through discussions with other young emerging practices, we have come to learn that a lack of business knowledge is commonplace for architects starting their own business.”

“Starting out was a huge learning curve and we had a lot of friends who were in the same boat. We started an informal group called the BS (Boring Stuff) Club, and we’d meet once a month and discuss how you approach fees or difficult clients or when you need to start hiring staff. I don’t think architecture school prepares you for dealing with those basic questions.”

Winning the scholarship has allowed Amelia to enrol in a post-graduate business degree, which she chose after talking to other architects who had completed it.

ARM Director Ian McDougall says Amelia stood out to the Steve Ashton Scholarship panel partly because she’d mapped a professional development pathway for herself, and assessed why it would be an advantage to Sibling.

“Amelia has already worked in architectural publishing, and she’s started a practice with a group of friends,” he says. “The intent of the scholarship is to help people who are emerging to take their business to the next level.”

“Sibling already has a record of growth and success, and Metropolis Magazine in New York named the practice one of their ‘Seven most innovative designers to watch’ in 2016.”

—Ian McDougall, ARM Director

Amelia feels that across the architectural profession, business acumen and innovation need to catch up with design innovation.

“Hopefully my study will mean that I can spread a wealth of business knowledge around to other practices who are in the same situation as us.”

Steve Ashton believed strongly that a business education was essential to running a successful architecture practice. The Steve Ashton Scholarship for the Architectural Profession is made possible by the Ashton Nixon Bequest, which is funded by Steve’s family, friends and colleagues.

*Photo of Amelia Borg by DLA-ALM