In conversation with | Vicki van Dijk

“To create innovative, quality and appropriate environments for the client requires vision, interpretation, diplomacy and integrity.”

Vicki strives to provide personalised attention to her clients through developing relationships where all mutually benefit. By leading with empathy and strong communication skills, combined with Vicki’s talent in design, Vicki ensures that the intrinsic design idea and client’s brief requirements are maintained throughout a project, from an initial concept to a completed building. This level of attention to detail and rigour of approach is similarly applied to all elements of Vicki’s life – sport, food and architecture a like.

What do you do in your spare time?
With two teenage girls who are totally immersed in their three sports my spare time is spent managing and/or coaching their teams and of course cheering them on from the sidelines. I thoroughly enjoy and value this time with my girls and the opportunity it provides me to watch them grow in ability and maturity, meet other parents and simply do my bit for our community.  I too value my own sport, as I have done all my life. Having started netball when I was ten, I developed a passion for playing the sport that I have continued to this day.  I am also a keen runner, enjoying my lunch time runs with our studio’s ‘Run Club’ and competing in park runs and half marathons.  On the flip side to sport I really enjoy cooking, particularly baking.  At PMDL we have a healthy rivalry amongst the team in baking prowess and lots of takers in testing the results.

What is the best moment of the day?
The best time of the day for me is early morning, particularly in summer, when you can enjoy the serenity and get a good head start on the day. For me that is either walking the dog, going for a run before work or simply relishing my walk into our studio in North Sydney.  It is a great time to reflect on things and mentally prepare myself for the day.

What interested you about PMDL? How has it evolved? Have there been any noteworthy developments?
I knew of PMDL well before the opportunity to join the Practice was afforded to me. Working in the education space I was exposed to PMDL through various forums where I developed a huge respect for the substance of their knowledge, passion of their delivery and quality of their outcomes.  This was proven and reinforced to me when I joined them in 2011 and I have been privileged to have benefited from this sound foundation and be a part of the significant evolution of the Practice over the past 10 years, in response to changes in circumstances, market, technology, expectations and most recently the COVID challenge of 2020.  Whilst I have grown through all my experiences with PMDL, the curve ball of 2020 resonates as the most formative.   It was during last year that I felt I cemented my contribution to the Practice, gaining some insight into the challenges the four founding directors faced in setting up the practice in 1994, and using this to navigate a path through to what is now a very positive outlook for PMDL.

Your expertise range across many sectors. How different/similar are they?
My expertise spans two main sectors being aged care and education.  During my ten years working in the UK and first three years in Australia most of my work was in aged care. Returning to Australia in 2000 I was afforded the opportunity to dabble in education and by 2003 was fully entrenched in the design of educational facilities for NSW independent schools.  I have enjoyed working in both these community focused sectors, one catering to the beginning of life care, creating environments that support life learning, enquiry and inspiration, and the other end of life care, supporting nurture, dignity and purpose.  In all cases my clients have been the end users of the facilities  providing me with the opportunity to develop and foster intimate and long term relationships and obtain valuable and rewarding feedback.

How do you approach a project?
Holistically. My approach is not to get caught in the weeds but continually step back to see the big picture and respond strategically.  I do not take things as given but rather challenge preconceptions, not to impose ideas on my clients but to show them all the opportunities to enable them to make informed decisions on the direction they choose to take on their projects. I embrace my role as facilitator of the design and procurement process with the  overarching ambition of providing my clients with ownership of the decisions and ultimate outcome.

Sikh Grammar School

What are the key factors in leading Education Design and how do you see it evolving over the next 5 years?
I see several key factors being imperative to the appropriate and successful evolution of educational practices.   I have prioritised these to include the following three factors.

Firstly, invest in change management, the professional development of teachers, to support the change in their role from being the ‘fountain of all knowledge’ at front of classroom to facilitator of discussion and research, promoting critical thinking and supporting project based learning. To this end our design of education facilities needs to factor in dedicated or multiuser use of space for all staff and opportunities for this to be obvious and transparent for students to see that ‘learning is a continuum’.

Secondly, review of the measure by which we ‘rate’ our students.  Cutting-edge research and new knowledge must become part of the public discussion in order to meaningfully shape the policies and practices that influence the future of education and the way we assess our students. How do we recognise and reward soft skills that are not measured by an ATAR mark, skills highly sought after by leading and progressive companies. Similarly the spaces we design must cater for the different ways students feel most comfortable and they can engage in learning, which is supported by creating a variety of learning settings and furniture options.

Thirdly, approach technology in a way that supports the change in educational approach rather than dictates it. As technology becomes a major part of how we communicate and share ideas, educators need to think critically about how to deploy technology strategically. Values, purposes and goals need to lead the way, not the technology.  The design of learning spaces needs to accept technology as being ‘just is’, able to support whatever outcomes are derived from the pedagogical and pastoral vision.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges for architects working today?
There are a myriad of challenges facing architects today.  The three that resonate most with me, being most recent challenges we have faced, are as follows;

Navigating the transition into todays digital age.The first digital natives are entering the workforce, with significant technological ability and high design aspirations but lacking the necessary knowledge to detail, direct and coordinate. The experienced architects who have the building knowledge often can’t draw (electronically) often find themselves working with graduates who don’t know how to put a building together. Architects of all ages need to find common ground. At PMDL we foster that equilibrium. Our Baby-Boomers and Gen-X’ers carry a wealth of knowledge and experience that we need to acknowledge and promote can be augmented and supplemented by the variety of skills that millennials bring to the table.

Increase in competitions. Competitions are becoming an increasingly common way of procuring design solutions, which from a positive slant can promote and harness great design and provide great profile for our profession.  However more and more competitions provide challenges in regard to the process, fair remuneration, the protection of copyright and the ongoing commission, which make it increasingly more difficult for firms to participate and at worst, can undermine our value as architects.

Decline in the traditional role of the architect. For PMDL who, for the over two decades, have been fortunate to act in the traditional role of the architect administering contracts for clients, with the prevalence of D&C contracts and rise in project managers taking on that responsibility we have watched our super-indent role diminish.  Whilst understanding our client decisions in choosing a third party for that role it is fair to say it has been a sad loss for the younger members of our profession looking to gain expertise in contract administration and for the profession as a whole in owning and applying expertise acquired over several generations.

What brings PMDL together?
Key to bringing PMDL together is a united sense that everyone in the team has a voice and is valued for their contribution to design outcomes and practice matters, no matter how small the input.  It starts from having the right team.  At PMDL we are continuously on the lookout for team, seeking out the right cultural fit, those that share our values and demonstrate integrity.  We look for a generosity of spirit that ensures we continue to operate as a team, sharing ideas, knowledge and reward.  Supporting this is a tailored investment into our team’s development and an achievable strategy for succession to ensure the business remains relevant and sustainable.  We are also committed to being transparent about how we run the business, to the degree that we can, allowing team, no matter how junior, to contribute to the Practice beyond projects.