Meet our students: William Chan

18 January 2012

William Chan's studies took him all the way to South Africa.
William Chan's studies took him all the way to South Africa.

When William Chan moved to Sydney from Brisbane, he had no idea that his degree would take him to the other side of the world. Nonetheless, that's where he ended up, with a scholarship to design new buildings in the Diepsloot slums in South Africa.

William graduates with a Bachelor of Design in Architecture (Digital Architecture) this year, and has now accepted a graduate position with HASSELL, recently ranked the number one architectural design practice in Australasia.

A highlight in William's time at university came when he won a scholarship from the United Nations initiative Global Studio in 2009 to travel to Diepsloot, one of the poorest areas of Johannesburg. There he joined 30 other students from around the world to improve local employment and income generation opportunities by proposing designs and practical action.

"I've been really inspired by what I've learned, and it's given me different insights into the architecture profession," says William.

The University's Associate Professor Anna Rubbo, who developed the Global Studio program, describes it as "an innovative design and planning think- and do-tank," working with disadvantaged communities.

One of the team's main goals was to help consolidate a not-for-profit arts and culture network, and William was particularly involved in creating design proposals for a centre that could house it.

"For four weeks I collaborated with other students to design creative solutions to strengthen Diepsloot's cultural talents and bring the community together," says William.

"Our team designed an arts and cultural centre, using processes that involved the local residents and enabled sustainable practices, public education, and engagement with various universities."

Global Studio's Diepsloot work was then selected for the 2009 International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. After presenting the design to the South African government, plans are now underway to have the building constructed.

Before travelling to South Africa, William also worked with Professor Rubbo on a design project to redevelop a Sydney school.

William says the project helped him to understand the importance of working with people, in this case school students, in their own environment.

"We shouldn't go in there and say 'we're the architects and we know a lot about what a school should be'," he explains.

"Instead, we listened to the students who shared stories that we could use and integrate into our own designs and to pinpoint exactly what they wanted."

It's been quite a journey for William since his move to Sydney in 2008.

"I was really nervous back in first year, when it was a new city, new people and a completely new course that would pretty much shape my career," he says.

"Although I was an interstate student who knew nobody from Sydney, I took on the challenge of venturing outside my comfort zone. I came to Sydney because it allowed me to push myself, to exceed myself, and that's really, really important to me."

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