Gemma James: first year at Ignite

Gemma joined the Ignite Auckland studio in November 2019 after making the move from Melbourne. Since then, she has emerged as a key leader in the Aged Care design team and was recently promoted to Associate Director. We chatted to her about her first year at Ignite.

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Why did you choose Ignite?

I was living and working in Melbourne, but my partner and I had been thinking of moving back to New Zealand for a while. The opportunity to join a large, stable firm like Ignite came at the right time – it made sense to make the move.

What is it like working on Aged Care projects?

I have to be honest, I was a little apprehensive about taking on a role with an aged care focus, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the design opportunities in the sector. There are so many similarities to my previous work in the multi-unit residential and hotel sectors – it’s just a different targeted market. I get to meet a lot of new people in this role and many of them are the movers and shakers of the whole industry. And, at any one time, I’ll have projects that are in design stages and in construction – the variety keeps me challenged and engaged.

Our innovative team is working to create better design outcomes for our aged care clients. We get to experiment within the aged care space and push the boundaries of what we know as ‘normal’ for the sector. And our clients are onboard – they’re often the ones pushing for us to explore new ideas. I feel like I get to make a difference, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

That’s the essence of this company – you’re part of a team that nurtures and supports each other.

Tell me about the team culture at Ignite.

We’re quite a tight team. In a massive office, it’s easy to get lost, but when you’re broken down into these smaller sector teams you have a sense of belonging and being part of a family. That’s the essence of this company – you’re part of a team that nurtures and supports each other.

What have been some of your highlights over the last year?

Getting the Amenity Building at Gulf Rise over the line was a highlight. We documented that in a short time because the design kept changing at a late point in the project. It’s a fun building that has a bit of everything – it’s got a pool, gym, café, bar, activities room – it has quite a broad range of architecture in one space, which is quite exciting.

Another highlight has been the connections we’ve created as a team. Whenever there’s a massive deadline, everyone pitches in and helps each other out. I think when you’re working together to get a project over the line – that’s when you bond as team.

And what have been some of the challenges?

I found the cultural difference quite confronting when I came back from Australia. It also took me some time to settle in and get my head around the culture of the firm, as well as the intricacies of being a member of the leadership team. And, while navigating my way through that, trying to grow as an architect and as a leader.

What are you looking forward to achieving here in the next year?

I’m looking forward to seeing some of the buildings at Gulf Rise be completed – they should be done by April next year. I’m also excited to see our team members continue to flourish, like the ones trying to get registered. It’s always a good feeling when you can get excited for other people’s accomplishments.

For my own professional growth, I might look into becoming a NZRAB interviewer. I’ve been doing it in-house for our mock interviews and have found it really engaging –you have to assess if someone knows what they’re talking about or not in a short period of time. You have to ask the right questions and really listen to what the responses are. I’ve also just been promoted to Associate Director, and I’m excited to be part of women in leadership in the industry.

Any advice for new starters?

When you first start, it can be hard to understand the firm and know how to maximise your potential there, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – be open and honest with your managers.

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