School of Architecture

Monday 22 May 2017

James Davidson Architect

Determined to see architecture as not only a built product, but also reflecting a complex process that has a positive impact on society, UQ alumnus James Davidson (Bachelor of Design Studies ’95, Bachelor of Architecture ’99 Hons 1, PhD ‘09) founded James Davidson Architect (JDA) in 2009.

James grew up in a family home that was purposefully designed to ensure ease of access for his mother who had a disability.

“The notion of design making a meaningful impact in people’s lives greatly appealed to me as I grew up in a home specially designed for those who had a disability. My interest in architecture was also spurred on when, as a teenager, I worked for my builder uncle as a technical drawer,” said James.

After spending two years on student placement in Malaysia, James graduated in 1999 from UQ with First Class Honours in a bachelor of architecture.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at UQ studying my Bachelor degree, and then later on a PhD in Architecture where I worked in collaboration with the Aboriginal Environments Research Centre. A great friend and mentor throughout my PhD studies and to this day, is Professor Paul Memmott who has had a major influence on my career and how I see the world of architecture.”

James’ study and travels in Asia, coupled with his PhD, contributed to his firm focussing around half its resources in Aboriginal design projects, like cultural centres, housing and a variety of other remote projects.

In determining which projects JDA will take on, James looks for those that present an opportunity to turn problems into enjoyable challenges. His philosophy is that architecture is directly linked to its underlying social processes and material context – finding the connection between practice and theory and the design of future built environments.

Based in Brisbane and Cairns, and comprising six people, JDA is developing a reputation for self-initiated, collaborative projects with a strong emphasis on design advocacy.

Among James’ many impactful projects is his leadership in innovative flood-resilient architecture both nationally and internationally. In 2013, he was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship which took him to the Netherlands, UK and USA researching urban design and residential architecture solutions for climate change adaptation and flooding.

Since winning the award, James has designed a floating Queenslander house, which is anticipated to be implemented in Brisbane’s flood-zones. JDA has also recently worked with a number of local councils around Queensland and New South Wales on flood related projects. One such project was with Maitland City Council, looking at design solutions in flood-affected heritage areas.

As a previous Director of Emergency Architects Australia, James led their 2011 Queensland Flood relief project and also recently coordinated SEQ Waterfutures, a five-day design charrette with over 170 participants from over 20 different disciplines and a number of local and State Government authorities to design an integrated water management plan for the Brisbane, Bremer River and Lockyer Creek catchments. In collaboration with Dr Paola Leardini at the School of Architecture, JDA gave UQ architecture students the opportunity to be involved in this project.

“Having the UQ architecture students involved in the charrette meant they were exposed to important real-world issues associated with flood planning for South-East Queensland,” James said.

“This was not only valuable for the students’ own experience and confidence, but their presence brought a dynamic energy to the workshop, which was appreciated by everyone involved.”

“A rewarding element of this project is having an influence on government housing strategies and the implementation of strategies that will ultimately create a better society.”

JDA is also currently implementing the Nightingale Housing project as the first Queensland architecture firm to receive a Nightingale License.

“Through this license, being architect-led, JDA is in a position to design quality living spaces that cut developers, real estate agents, and marketers out of the process, selling to owner-occupiers to ensure greater housing affordability. This housing project has been successfully implemented in Melbourne and within days of receiving the first Queensland license, we’d already received more than 50 applications from people interested in purchasing a home through this process.”

Whilst the community-oriented direction of JDA seems purposeful, James says, “it is but it isn’t at the same time.”

“I would say the growth of JDA to encompass projects that were sustainable, ethical and impactful was ‘deliberately naive’. While I knew the direction I wanted the business to take I didn’t know the specifics and so I took advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. Fingers-crossed it continues this way.”