Q&A with Johnny Chiu
Founder of J.C. Architecture (JCA)
Graduation year: 2004
Q. What appealed to you about UNSW and your degree?
After living for many years in New Zealand, all I wanted to do was to explore more international cities. UNSW was very appealing to me because of its location in Sydney. Sydney not only has its beauty and relationship to nature but also the ability to bring together the frontiers of tourism, culture, and lifestyle, and integrate them into an energy unlike any other city in the world. Looking back at the years I spent and the places I explored, I’ve found a lot of elements from Sydney that inspire my approach to design.
Q. Looking back what advice would you give to your first-year self?
Self-development is important, go beyond the curriculum, do more studies and readings. You can choose to learn in a passive way or to actively push yourself to pursue the best.
Q. Did you take part in any mentorship or scholarship programs, internships or exchanges during your time at UNSW?
UNSW provided an international exchange program that allowed me to see the world. I applied to KTH Sweden for an exchange. That one-year experience broadened my vision. Stockholm was a place I never imagined I’d go to live or study in. Thanks to this program, I was able to see the way Stockholm people live, the modern and classical parts of Europe and all the beautiful architecture it has to offer. It was another life-altering moment for me, to go from New Zealand to Australia to Sweden. After that, I went to Japan to work with Kisho Kurokawa, and completed a Master’s degree in Columbia University in New York. Without these experiences, I would not be the person I am today.
Q. How did your Bachelor of Architecture help prepare you for the workforce?
Even today, I still think back to the things my professor told us to do, like making things out of recycled materials or looking at the details of objects like water bottles, staples etc. It was this training in alternative thinking that allows me to see things in different ways or to think alternative methodologies we can use to create architecture.
Q. What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at UNSW?
I remember we got plenty of time to go out and discuss and think about our projects, sometimes about life. We’d sit on the steps of the Opera House by the harbour rather than staying in the studio. I think it was very helpful because you got to take your design into urban settings and reconsider your design in different angles.
Q. What do you enjoy most about working in your profession?
I think it is the challenges and creativities that every project brings. My office doesn’t focus on one category. We challenge ourselves with all different projects from graphics, branding, and hotel to office towers. Now we are even challenging ourselves to teach design. I think if the training is good, it allows you to think diversely. You can solve all kinds of challenges and programs with creative solutions.
Q. Can you tell us about an exciting project you worked on?
We are currently working with Taiwan Railway. Helping them to redesign a 70-year- old train. The concept infuses traditional design with modern, bringing a new train experience.
Q. Do you have any advice for current UNSW School of Built Environment students?
Always be prepared and improve your “toolset”, these skills are essential for the younger generations. I taught myself to learn 3D-design software when there was no class on offer at school. Later on, my toolset allowed me to give a lecture in Sweden, teaching 3D design. If one can acquire all kinds of technical skills, then this ability will lead you to translate your ideas in an easy – but also a stronger way – to have a dialogue with the world.