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Q&ADR: Shahana McKenzie, CEO of AILA

Q&ADR: Shahana McKenzie, CEO of AILA


Every week in our Q&ADR column, ADR interviews an architect, designer, object maker or industry person about who they are beyond the work – their life, inspiration, challenges and aspirations.

This week we catch up with the CEO of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), Shahana McKenzie, about how she fell into the A&D industry, keeping work-life balance as a mother of three and the brilliant work of landscape architects.

Can you tell us about your background and how you have ended up working within the design/landscape industry?

Completely accidentally actually… Am I allowed to say that? My background is actually in sports and working across major sporting events, sporting teams and indigenous festivals.

My first introduction to design industries was when I was working at the Australian Institute of Architects with some fantastic people like Carey Lyon, John Wardle and Ian McDougall to successfully deliver the AIA’s first presence at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The rest is history really.

What has been the steepest learning curve and most pleasant surprise while working at the AILA?

The steepest learning curve in joining AILA was probably getting to understand the content. While I had been a GM at the Institute of Architects prior to joining AILA, I didn’t have a strong understanding of what the profession did. I was probably alongside most in thinking that landscape architects design gorgeous backyards, and the reality was the most pleasant surprise. Landscape architects are amazing. Not only are they engaging, creative and caring, they are making the world a better place and it has been such an incredible honour to work with and represent the profession and its work.

They may be designing a pocket park for a local community, to a new light rail, a playground, a major tourism attraction, a national park or a new city. They are a profession that strongly advocates for people and communities whilst holding a strong passion for environmental sustainability. It is really is very inspiring to work with such incredible people.


GASP! Stage 2 McGregor Coxall with Architecture by Room11 was part of the 2016 AILA Awards. Photo by Bo Wong.

What would you say has been the biggest achievement in your career?

Staying happy… I am still smiling and still love coming to work every day!

I also think that personally, a big achievement for me has been to feel that I manage to juggle raising three gorgeous daughters, having a happy family and still deliver great results for AILA like a tripling of our membership!

I think another major achievement for me is to feel that I have been a strong supporter of women returning to work after kids. We have created a supportive and flexible environment at AILA that supports over 10 part-time working mums. We absolutely get the best out of our team because of the trust and support they are provided.

What’s something many people don’t realise about the role of a CEO or business leader?

It can be a heap of fun! You are such a central piece in setting the culture and energy for the organisation and it can be surprising what an impact your energy can have on the pace, focus and outcomes of the organisation.


Adelaide Botanic Gardens Wetlands by Taylor Cullity Lethlean was a project in the 2016 AILA Awards. Photo by John Gollings.

What is your pain point with the Australian design/construction industry?

Over the last three years, AILA has been passionately focused on advocating with government, industry and the public around the benefits of well-designed open space. It has been fantastic to see support for this agenda coming through from all sectors, however, we still have a long way to go.

What do you think are key issues for designers over the next decade?


Who/what/where are you inspired by?

Steve Jobs once said: “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.” I am absolutely inspired by people who give it everything and especially those that change the world for the better.

Young Steve Jobs

Young Steve Jobs

I am also inspired by being a little bit risky, by taking on a challenge and watching others do the same. Especially anything that has the potential to fail (not catastrophically) but something that gets the creativity pumping.


If you’d like to be featured in Q&ADR, simply email adrteam@niche.com.au with a little introduction of yourself.


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