Growing up in the West End business district of Perth, Annette Condello was no stranger to architectural firms. In fact, from the age of five, Annette had a different sort of playground than most children her age—scrap metal yards and West Perth Laneways. “I used to entertain myself by rummaging through the laneways and collecting chemist display stands, Tic Tac plastic frames, coat hangers from the dry cleaners and cardboard boxes,” says Annette. She would then assemble them into recycled, make-shift homes for stray cats.

Annette Condello stands at cave entrance, wearing a hard hat.
Dr Annette Condello in Lightning Ridge, NSW. She was invited by the Australian Opal Centre to present her research on ‘sustainable luxury’ in Australia.

Though it was a familiar concept, it wasn’t until she was an architecture student that she became consciously interested in sustainable design. Instead of using new materials to make her architectural models, Annette recycled materials she salvaged from bits of broken umbrellas and the colourful insides of perfume boxes—a bit like during her early years!

Annette is now a Senior Lecturer of Architecture at Curtin University, Perth, Australia. Her research focuses on examining the architectural transformation of luxury in the ancient world and its impact on the modern and contemporary West and the East. Annette is also exploring the architectural dialogue with cuisine, spoils, landscape and fashion in Europe and Australasia, and the diaspora of Italian modernism in Latin America and North Africa.

Annette Condello next to an Aboriginal dot painting.

Embracing creativity in leadership

“I love research and teaching in these areas—it allows me to encourage students to be creative and experimental,” Annette says. “I enjoy watching how students progress with their own research inquiry, especially how it allows them to pursue their own unique methods and seeing what they can accomplish with enough encouragement, but not too much. Just enough to keep them going with their own critical thinking as they need freedom to create and be themselves.”

When Annette was young, STEM careers weren’t promoted as heavily as they are today. In school, she enjoyed the arts, social studies and geography studies the most She still focuses on these subjects while conducting multidisciplinary research relating to architecture and urban design history, as well as landscape architecture, all through the lens of ‘sustainable luxury.’

“Art enabled me to create things and pursue what I liked the most—experimenting with ideas about different cultures, their histories and why they are still relevant today,” says Annette. “At one point I studied costume design!” Prior to starting her architecture degree, she was an architectural draftsperson for a few years and worked with many different firms. She was able to gain more than a decade of sessional teaching and research experience at the University of Western Australia and the Urban Design Centre, now recognized as the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC).

Annette serves as an Education Committee member at the Australian Institute of Architects of Western Australia. She has also held a variety of leadership roles at Curtin University’s School of Design and the Built Environment, including as Director International and Director of Graduate Research, all while completing the NESLI Advanced Australian Leadership Program, a six month professional development program for female school leaders, as well as teaching theory and design units, and supervising Masters/PhD students at the same time.

Despite her continued success in multiple leadership roles, Annette has observed both inequity and inequality in the workplace. “Sometimes things are unfair, regardless of how much you’ve worked for. It is hard when people don’t see the struggles in life you go through,” she says.  “Or when you are tired and exhausted and other people don’t see it. Or when people underestimate your abilities when you’ve accomplished things you’ve worked hard for. It is important to strive for equal representation and social equity to accomplish one’s goals for the common good.”

Annette accredits her success in leadership positions to the Head of School Professors, who believed in her ability to act as a leader. “It is important to have more diversity in architecture because there is so much to learn from other cultures from other people,” she says.  She strongly believes that international collaboration is important in architecture – for acknowledging what works in one city, how we can learn from one another living in similar climates, and how to implement the use of local materials in more innovative ways. “We need to be diverse and accommodative in our thinking in order to appreciate the diverse range of things in life and connect with groups who are on the same wavelength as you. Cultural diversity is important to develop more sustainability outcomes by injecting different measures of luxury for all people to enjoy,” Annette says.

A group of people look at a large sheet of paper. Some are engaged in discussion and some are deep in thought.
Dr Annette Condello (centre) at Curtin University’s School of Architecture.

Research highlights

In 2020, Annette presented her research on “Sustainable Luxury in Cities: Reframing Urban Waste” at the International Union of Architects (UIA) Networking Event: “Sustainable architecture at the cross road of preservation of cultural heritage and innovation.” Organized by UN-Habitat, the event took place at the World Urban Forum (wuf10) in Abu Dhabi, where Annette represented the Asia Pacific region. “Both my international and national research path has certainly enriched my critical thinking and future outlook on crafting luxury in the Australian landscape,” she says.

Annette has been awarded an Early Career Research Award for her contributions to Academia at Curtin University, as well as two Humanities Research Book of the Year Awards. “I had my first book launch, The Architecture of Luxury, at a symposium held at the Warwick Business School at The Shard Tower in London, which was a real highlight,” she says. Her other research highlights include presenting her research findings on sustainable luxury at Lightning Ridge (NSW), in Italy and the United States, and representing Australia as an international judge for the ‘Vertical’ fashion competition at the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech, Morocco in 2019.

Gender diversity’s crucial role in architecture and sustainability

Curtin University received their Athena Swan Bronze Award in 2018 for its commitment to gender equity and diversity. Curtin University has been named an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) for the fifth year in a row, recognising the University’s commitment to diversity and promoting equity and inclusion.

Annette believes that STEM plays an important role in Australia’s future as we move forward, and the SAGE principle should exist at Curtin University and Australia at large. “It certainly helps those people who don’t have the support from others, to feel part of a wider community to move forward to benefit society as a whole,” she says. Diversity also plays a crucial role in architecture and sustainability—which is not a luxury, but a necessity for resource-responsible societies. “We must learn from the lessons of Bernard Rudofsky—‘What we need is not a new architecture but a new way of living’. I think we have the capacity as individuals to make a difference by carefully crafting spaces through the idea of sustainable luxury,” she says.

Annette is motivated by the opportunity to gain creative new perspectives. “Collaboration with like-minded people and always learning new things is key. Improving creativity is what keeps one going with an unswerving capacity to see new ideas come to fruition.”