This week on Home Stories it’s a sequel as Ashley and Cass revisit photographer Nathan…
Canberra has always had its detractors, but plenty of people see it for what it is—a designed city with architecture in its blood and modernism in its soul.
Two women who have long been proud to call it home are the directors of local design and architecture firm The Mill: Architecture + Design.
Shannon Battisson, an architect with close to 20 years experience, is a Canberra local with a great love of the city she grew up in, and a strong desire to share that passion with the nation.
Sarah Welsh chose Canberra as her home when she came to study Interior Design at the Canberra Institute of Technology in 2003. Together, they share a deep passion for Canberra and a love of the power of architecture and design to impact people’s lives.
Starting their firm in 2011, Shannon and Sarah set about their work with one clear aim; to bring professional design services to the projects that would traditionally have been considered too small or too simple. Together they work to ensure all projects that come through the doors are the better for it.
Regardless of scale, complexity or style, The Mill works to produce spaces that are not only beautiful but also highly responsive to their place, climate and use. Ten years on, and while the team at The Mill has grown, that passion for why they do what they do has never wavered.
Shannon divides her time between running the architecture department at the Mill, her family, and her work with the Australian Institute of Architects.
Her dedication to this latter role recently saw her announced the new National President (Elect) for the AIA, a position she hopes will help her to take her passion for Canberra, climate action, and diversity in the profession to the national stage. She plans to use her term to champion climate responsive architecture, quality affordable housing for all and inclusiveness in the profession.
“At the Mill, we work hard to ensure that all of our projects, big or small, leave a positive impact not just on the lives of the families who live in them, but also on the environment around them. Creating climate-responsive architecture is what we do, and we love getting to bring our clients along on the journey with us!”
Shannon is a specialist in solar passive architecture, a methodology she was introduced to first during her studies at the University of New South Wales and later in her early work on returning to Canberra.
Working for a small design and construct practice, Green House Design & Build, gave Shannon a solid working understanding of designing for the Canberra climate, one she describes as “just as beautiful as it is severe”.
Working on many of the older houses around Ainslie and the inner north, the company sought to bring a new level of thermal performance to the famously cold Canberra homes, whilst remaining true to the character of the homes we all recognise as so very Canberra.
And now, despite all the passing years, Shannon and the team at The Mill hold fast to those teachings. Whilst her passion lies firmly with Canberra’s mid-century soul, the team work hard on projects that include both new homes and renovations of some of the city’s earliest houses to introduce new amenity, performance and life; a passion shared between both directors.
Sarah grew up in country NSW but was quick to recognise the wealth of design legacy in the city she has called home since moving here to start her studies. And whilst she loves our bigger, more famous legacy buildings, Sarah finds great delight in discovering the hidden gems scattered through so many of our inner suburbs.
“I can pick them, and love finding new streets and enclaves around town whilst out and about. My favourite suburbs at the moment are some of the more underrated, with many around Woden and Phillip rich with modernist homes to admire.”
When Sarah is not enjoying her newest role as mother to a gorgeous baby girl, she heads up the Mill’s interior and commercial design team, and has built a reputation for delivering incredible spaces for clients in retail, hospitality and commercial fields.
Working with clients of all scales to bring out their brief and respond with a space that exceeds all of the expectations is what drives Sarah’s work.
“We love that no two clients are the same. We work on projects of all scales, from the most intimate café in the suburbs to large scale office design around the country. And each one of our clients gets the best we have to give.”
Since coming together to create The Mill, something both Shannon and Sarah happily admit was the fortunate result of finding themselves in between positions at the same time, they have built not only a strong reputation but also an incredible team.
“We’ve always considered the company as an extension of our family, and the day we don’t all love coming in to the office will be the day we shut the doors. Finding great designers and supporting them to be the best they can be, is a big part of what we do. Sarah and I were both mentored by some incredible people who really championed us and we wouldn’t be where we are now without them,” says Shannon.
So, as they look to the future, Shannon and Sarah are both clear about their intent, both together and individually. Sarah works hard to stay ahead of future design trends, finding inspiration in a number of places including blogs, design journals and websites like Design Milk Co., Interior Design Magazine, Artichoke and The Local Project.
She stays connected with her clients, sharing images and inspiration through websites such as Pinterest, a powerful tool for capturing and communicating ideas in an easy to use format. And she studies the work of other designers through interaction with the world around her.
Interestingly, one of Sarah’s favourite places for observing the newest design trends is as simple as a trip to the shopping centre, where her attention is less on the products being sold and more on the way in which fellow designers from around the world are bringing ideas together to capture your imagination.
“Retail design is really at the cutting edge of new trends and styles. There is so much innovation, experimentation and fun to be had in retail design.”
For Shannon, her focus remains firmly in working hard for her clients, supporting her team, and using her position within the AIA to advocate for the benefits of quality architecture.
“We need to learn to look around us and really see what is there before we look to change it. So much of the built environment has much to offer, and we need to be slower to knock it down. After the year that we’ve had, we need to learn some hard lessons about waste, about doing things well, and about making sure that we don’t leave people behind as our cities grow and change.”
On the topic of diversity and equity in architecture and design, Shannon and Sarah couldn’t agree more.
“We have both experienced significant discrimination based on gender, and as recently as last week I was asked in a highly public forum what I felt women brought to architecture (that men did not). My answer then, and now, is that what architecture needs is true diversity, and that is much bigger than gender.”
“We live in one of the most beautifully diverse cultures in the world, and while we are slowly making progress in the area of the gender divide in architecture, we have a very long way to go in terms of the wider issue. Until we see our cities designed by the myriad of people who live in them, we will continue to see places that leave so many of us out. Each one of us is coloured by our life experiences, and we should be striving for a world where we can all see ourselves in the built environment around us.”
The Mill Architecture + Design is located at 75 Printers Way, Kingston.