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40 Under 40 winner of the day: Esther Chew


Growing up on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Esther Chew often spent her spare time cycling through the streets to rickety playgrounds. From these beginnings exploring her local neighbourhoods, Chew developed the belief that architecture can help make lives better.

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The 36-year-old studied at the University of East London and the University of Adelaide and is now an associate at Adelaide architecture practice Grieve Gillett Andersen.

Last month she was named a winner in InDaily’s inaugural 40 Under 40 Awards.

Before joining Grieve Gillett Andersen, Chew worked with architectural practices in London, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney and Adelaide and has gained extensive experience in educational and community facilities, urban design, public transport and heritage interpretation projects.

She has worked on a number of notable public projects including the Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk, linking the National War Memorial on North Tce with the Torrens Parade Ground, and the Hart’s Mill Playground in Port Adelaide.

Fresh from her 40 Under 40 recognition, we asked Chew some more about doing business in South Australia.

What do you believe are the strengths of doing business in South Australia?

Nick Gibbs wrote in his ‘Changing Perspective’ feature in SA Life in June 2017 that “if you can impress South Australia’s small but astute audience, you can impress the world”.

If you’re talented and hardworking, Adelaide is a city with immense opportunities.

What do you believe are the weak points of conducting business in South Australia?

Architecture is a small industry in Adelaide. The market is very competitive and the industry can be extremely critical to its own audience. Project budgets are almost always lesser than those in the eastern states yet levels of complexity can be significantly higher. Innovation is harder as we can be more risk averse. But it also means that when a project has earned national and international recognition, we all know that it was well and truly deserving.

Do you see your future in South Australia?

I grew up in Malaysia, studied in London and lived in Sydney prior to moving to Adelaide in 2006. I have spent the last 10 years gaining skills that have created exciting career opportunities for me here. In that time, I have also started a family and have become thoroughly at home in South Australia.

Here I can work on a multi-million-dollar building project on a Friday and be watching the sunrise on the beach in the Yorke Peninsula on a Saturday morning. Having lived in several major metropolitan cities, it is a privilege I do not take for granted.

How can the state encourage more of its young leaders to stay?

I think the state is doing all the right things – investing in the knowledge economy, alternative energy, entrepreneur and creative industries and transitioning to a hi-tech economy. We are growing our infrastructure, increasing densities and building up our education and public transport systems.

However, the reality is that we live in an era of geographic mobility. I have travelled extensively and have lived in several major cities around the world. Speaking from an architectural perspective, I am a believer that the world has much to offer our young talents and we should be encouraging them to go while still calling South Australia is ‘home’.

And if we keep doing what we do and nurture a highly accessible and creative centre of excellence that aligns with their values, they’ll come back and stay.

In the process we might attract a few others to come – like me.

More about 40 Under 40

An assessment panel representing the South Australian business community judged hundreds of nominees for the inaugural 40 Under 40 awards, which aim to identify and promote a new generation of local leaders under the age of 40.

The final 40 includes a hugely varied collection of South Australian talents, who are making a mark in fields such as health, technology, the media, property, social innovation, agriculture, finance, the law, and much more.

For the full list of 40 Under 40 winners go here.

40 Under 40 is an InDaily initiative supported by the following partners:

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