What made you want to step up into the role as an Associate Director?
From an early stage in my career at the office, I was given a lot of responsibility and it was an exciting position to be - to continue learning and being resourceful while also representing an international practice. As the firm grows, I find that my role expands to not only design and managing projects but introducing initiatives within the office that reflect our values while mentoring the team and building up the next generation of designers.
How did you get to where you are now? Did you always know what you wanted to do?
I always had an idea when i was young that i might become an architect. I loved exploring cities, was drawn towards the creative arts, and I enjoyed problem solving in math and science. As a teenager I took part in summer programs focusing on engineering as well as fine art classes which helped me to apply to university with an art portfolio while having a strong physics and mathematics background.
I first acquired a Bachelors of Science in Architectural Studies at the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana. The most valuable experience was spending my junior year abroad in Versailles and being able to travel throughout Europe on study trips. In between the academic years, I often interned with firms in order to build up my resume and to see what the different possibilities might be when I graduated. I decided to then pursue a Masters of Architecture at the GSAPP at Columbia University in New York, where I met influential professors who taught us about new methods in digital design.
What does your Associate Director role actually involve?
As an Associate Director at a large architecture firm, I have various responsibilities which contribute to the well being of the business and the team.
On projects I am involved in finding projects, negotiating contracts, working with the team to generate the design concept, and then overseeing the design development.
As a team leader, I manage how our team fulfils its responsibilities to different projects as well as enable individual team members as they develop in their career. I am also involved in communications which is a pivotal part of how a growing office remains connected internally while transmitting a clear message externally about our work and design process.
ZHA Team Photo
Embrace not knowing all the answers - asking questions is the best way to find solutions when working with others.”
My name is Melodie Leung and I'm a 42 year old Associate Director at Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), London. Whilst at ZHA, I've been a leading designer within the practice for over 15 years overseeing notable projects across architecture, interiors, product design, and exhibitions.
I’ve been working in the industry for 17 years now and have accomplished a number of achievements such as helping to co-found 'InConversation.world', frequently lectured and served on design juries and currently serves as a Trustee of the ZHA EBT Board, Museum of Architecture, and Architecture Editor at Large for Ala Champ Magazine.
What is it like being a woman in a Senior position and how does it feel?
I feel very privileged to have been able to work closely for over 10 years with Zaha Hadid. Needless to say she was instrumental to the opportunities I have today and I continue to learn from the lessons that she taught me. She often sent me into meetings on my own where I might have been perceived as young or inexperienced but knowing that she trusted me meant that I took that responsibility very seriously. I try and impart the same amount of trust and high expectations with my team. When working in a collaborative manner, its really important to be curious and confident in what a team can do with everyone's contribution, and that often requires additional skills in understanding people.
As someone in your role, how do you deal with challenges?
When I feel overwhelmed, I try and find a way to change the way I'm looking at a problem - this can often involve physically stepping into a different space or stepping away to come back with a fresh view. Its important to maintain perspective, keeping in mind the big picture, and to find creative ways to stimulate creative problem solving. I rely on a strong social network of colleagues and friends who I am also constantly learning from.
How do you stay motivated to keep going everyday and push past the challenges of your role? What actually keeps you going?
I've learned to balance patience and determination with wonder and curiosity. Architecture projects can take many years to realise but the ability to help give shape to cities and the spaces where people live means that I'm always learning, listening and observing.
Music Hall Project - Project Director Role
What advice would you give a young woman aspiring to progress to senior level in the industry?
Make the most of every opportunity you approach and meet professionals who can help you by sharing from their experience and network.
Your point of view is always valuable - at the same time, it can take time and effort to develop and articulate it.
Embrace not knowing all the answers - asking questions is the best way to find solutions when working with others.