Jenny Watson

"I want to be continually learning about building so I can feed that knowledge back into what I design”

“I’ve been raised and educated as an architect totally by ARM.

In 2006, when I was at uni in Perth, I was put into Andrew Lilleyman’s design class where Andrew taught us stuff like the fluid dynamics animation software that he was using at ARM.

I started working in ARM’s tiny Perth studio straight after that class. I got to see the whole process of creating RAC Arena, and later Elizabeth Quay, and I did whatever needed doing in the moment. It was a unique situation because I had the opportunities to learn and the freedom that you get in a tiny workplace, but we were just a phonecall away from ARM’s big Melbourne studio. When the Perth office closed, I moved to Melbourne.

These days I’m mainly designing rather than delivering projects, but I want to be continually learning about building so I can feed that knowledge back into what I design.

I like sitting down with the directors—usually Andrew or Howard Raggatt—and figuring out how to make their initial ideas take shape. Mostly it involves trying lots of different design options, and in the back of my mind thinking, ‘Is this strategy going to hold up when we have to redo it a thousand times?’ Because you always have to redo it a thousand times. Inevitably the client’s brief changes or something gets bigger or an engineer says, ‘Hang on, that doesn’t work for me’. So either the design strategy is flexible, or you need a whole new one.

At ARM, the early stages of design involve using a lot of software for experimenting and manipulating concepts. It’s really important not to be constrained to one type of software, or to let the software define what you design. I teach at RMIT University occasionally, and sometimes a student will show me a concept that looks all squishy, for instance, and I’ll say, ‘That’s cool, but why does it look squishy and not pointy?’ and they’ll say, ‘Because the software does squishy’.

The answer should be, ‘It looks like that because I want it to look like that’.”