Humans of RMIT: Jan O’Connor

Jan O’Connor, RMIT alumni, (architecture), co-founder T2 and managing partner environa studio

I began my architectural studies not long after joining the property development department at Myer Stores Ltd. where I was employed as the retail concepts design manager. The office was near the campus, which gave me the flexibility to work fulltime and maintain a full study load.

I enrolled in 1985 and completed the course in 1990 while working fulltime.It was a very intense but rewarding degree. You gain a lot of knowledge while following your creative pursuits amongst a diversity of ideas and interdisciplinary learning,

I learnt about collaboration before it was a thing, developed design process and problem-solving skills while defending my opinion and being pushed beyond what I thought was my limit.

I also must mention the people I met while at RMIT, many have remained friends for thirty plus years.

After working in the corporate sector for ten years designing retail concepts and having gained a degree in architecture it was the perfect opportunity to launch a retail concept of my own and T2 tea was born. I am now the managing partner of environa studio, an architectural practice (in Sydney), and my husband, is the principal architect. We have twelve staff and at most times 30-35 ongoing projects in the office.

We are a small company, so it is necessary to be a ‘Jill of all trades’ and be able to pivot quickly. I manage the daily minutiae but am also responsible for material selections and product specifications.

All our projects run on the basis of the ‘triple bottom line’ so most are social and environmentally oriented.

We have recently been engaged by an indigenous foundation in Kununurra in Western Australia to redevelop a site incorporating an eco-village, a hospitality training school and housing.

Over the past year we have worked with a Sydney developer to design a facility that will house an indoor ski centre and a 4-star hotel with hospitality and retail facilities.

Also, in the current mix is a masterplan for the Penrith City Centre, incorporating a 35-storey hotel, a retail precinct and 500 apartments requiring a social and sustainable outcome.

I know first-hand that architects can have a huge effect on peoples’ lives. Environa is committed to delivering quality and affordable designs to more people.We work with many not-for-profit organisations often with difficult sites, many adaptive reuse or urban infill.

We aim to produce an affordable, well designed resolution, maximise the site and create spaces where communities and individuals feel safe and comfortable.

Our practice has been involved in the sustainability arena for forty years. This is inherent in everything we do, it no longer requires a separate agenda.