Ridley Senior Associate and registered architect, Catherine Zuza joined Ridley in 2014. Catherine is currently the Ridley project lead on the heritage redevelopment of Department of Lands Building as part of The Sandstones redevelopment project in the Sydney CBD, alongside design architects Make.

  1. Executive Architecture is the design architect’s best friend

I love the architectural design process. It’s why I entered this profession. But as the designer, my vision for any given project rarely resembled what was eventually built.

My job today is about making sure our client’s vision and the design architect’s vision matches, and that the result of this collaboration can be built. By being involved before a design architect is briefed, I can make sure the project has the foundation they need to deliver something exceptional, that is much less likely to be compromised during construction.

Since joining Ridley, I’ve learned that as the Executive Architect, you have far more influence over delivery of the initial design vision than you ever did as the person holding the pencil.

  1. Problem-solving skills can never be overvalued

So much of what we do is solving problems before they arise. The Sandstones project is extraordinarily complex and new challenges arise every day, requiring a flexibility and ability to anticipate problems.

Determining a way forward on The Sandstones that protects the heritage and archaeological significance of the twin buildings we’ve been asked to redevelop has been an incredibly painstaking process. We’ve now built a working 3D digital model of the entire site off data obtained through a site-wide point cloud survey, which is making the process easier.

Taking this time to anticipate how we’re going to apply Make’s designs on such a complicated site, and being able to address those problems before the hard hats come on-site, is going to make a huge difference when construction starts.

Catherine Zuza in the vault of the Lands Building.
  1. Empathy is as valuable as evidence

Disruption caused by construction of buildings and infrastructure varies job to job, but there is always an impact. Actively helping to find a solution for people who are impacted by our work is a necessary part of the job.

One thing I’ve learned is that people who live or work close to a development don’t see the evidence of why a project is needed as justification for any negative impact on their properties or lifestyles. The evidence they want to see is that we care about what their project is potentially or actually doing to them, and that you’re committed to doing something about it − even if that something is not very much at the time.

No-one wants to compromise, and very often these moments in project delivery are all about that. I’m better at my job when I’m able to put myself in the shoes of the people affected by the projects we’re charged with delivering.

  1. Measure twice, cut once

The potential for technology to radically change the way we design and deliver projects is staggering. Ridley’s pioneering a lot of that and is starting to realise that potential.

The Sandstones is an incredibly complicated project. It’s taken months to get an accurate gauge of how we’re going to reimagine these heritage structures. It would have taken a lot longer without 3D scanning and imaging technology to just find out what there, particularly with so much of the interior needing to be protected and restored.

What we’re creating is a digital model that faithfully represents every square inch of the structures. Taking the time to do that work right means the design architect, Make will have a reliable foundation for the design, and everyone will know what they’re working with when the hard hats come on-site.

  1. Design needs to be practical first, last and always

Through my career I’ve avoided being pigeonholed to any one typology. I’ve been fortunate to have worked on a lot of large projects including aviation, mixed use, residential, multi-use developments, commercial, infrastructure and now with The Sandstones, hospitality.

If my time so far with Ridley has taught me anything, it’s that there is no point getting hung up on a design that can’t be built, or can’t be built cost-effectively. Having a background in design means I’m better placed to make sure this ethos is applied early; the most satisfying jobs I’ve worked on since joining Ridley have been those where the technical aspects of the project have been married to the design vision from the start.