1997 Katy Svalbe
With more than 20 years of Australian and international landscape and design experience, Katy Svalbe has worked for large multidisciplinary design firms and landscape practices of boutique as well as significant stature and size. Today, she leads landscape architecture studio Svalbe & Co. In the years prior, she co-founded the multi-award-winning landscape and interior architecture studio Amber Road with her sister and revered interior designer Yasmine Ghoniem.
Katy graduated from the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture at UWA in 1997.
Why did you choose to study landscape architecture?
Katy Svalbe – At high school I adored art and biology. Landscape architecture appealed as a perfect blend of both.
What was your most memorable class from your time at UWA, and why?
KS – Design studios were the most memorable. Richard Weller's passion for design fuelled us to delve deep. Craig Burton's landscape history classes were also epic. I also adored botany class, I wish there had been more than one of them.
During your time as a student, who was a key person of influence in developing your approach to landscape architecture, and why?
KS – Richard Weller was key in honing a key eye for design at all scales. His energy and passion for the profession and design was exhilarating and infectious.
What did you learn at UWA that has been most influential during your career?
KS – The importance of a strong design concept to drive all design decisions and moves; starting with the bigger picture then drawing down to the detail.
What are some moments that stands out from your time studying landscape architecture?
KS – Site visits and time spent learning outside in the landscape was always a treat. The WEDGE conference at Rottnest and a design charette at QUT were also a great ways to see how other students approached design.
What are some moments that stands out for you, in your career so far?
KS – My first job at Hassell stands out, working behind the scenes on big thinking and concepts for the planning of Millennium Parklands at Homebush – the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney were an epic introduction to the profession. Being a co-founder of Aspect Studios in Sydney alongside dear friends Sacha Coles and Kate Luckraft taught me an immense amount about all sides of running a practice. Living and practicing in Madrid, Spain was an incredible experience. And, sharing a design practice, Amber Road, with my sister for seven years brought my attention back to the joy of detail in design.
Could share a significant project that you’ve worked or are working on? Why has this project been significant for you?
KS – I left Western Australia shortly after completing my degree. Having recently returned and being located in Quindalup, I am really enjoying re-connecting with the local landscape, particularly that of the south west.
I am very excited by a large scale rural property I am working on. It is taking me back to big scale concepts and thinking of my very first Millennium Parklands project. Very different from the boutique and compact projects I have become more familiar with in my practice (especially since running my own) and taking me back to values I am keen to promote around balancing conservation and production in our rural landscape. Early days on the project, but excited to make it one that drives change locally.
This interview was undertaken in 2022, and has been edited for clarity and cohesion.
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All images: Darcy Street and Laneway, Svalbe & Co (via svalbe.co)