Sandy Anghie’s passion for architecture runs deeper than just her sole architecture practice, it extends to a not-for-profit initiative called Historic Heart – a revitalisation project aimed at transforming the east end of Perth from a rundown and forgotten space into a vibrant and regenerated oasis of landmark buildings, tourist attractions and inviting spaces.
Here’s a tip. If you should ever find yourself needing to get something done in Perth, try knocking on the door of architect Sandy Anghie. Truly. As she describes her various jobs, responsibilities and interests, the most overwhelming question becomes the one of ‘when does she sleep?’
In the early nineties, Sandy graduated from her law degree at the University of Western Australia and spent the next eight years as a corporate tax lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills, and also KPMG and EY.
But her entry into the legal sphere was first and foremost a pragmatic decision, prompted by Australia’s depressed economy at the time. “Interest rates were 18 percent, the construction industry was going through hard times and the profession of architecture was facing considerable challenges,” she says. It wasn’t until 2006 that she finally felt the time was right to return to her first love, undertaking her masters in architecture and then setting up in sole practice.
She doesn’t regret her life as a lawyer though, not for a moment. She found the experience invaluable. “As a lawyer you take for granted your ability to analyse issues, put together well-reasoned arguments, to make a case, to speak and write clearly, the rigour of process.”
All of these skills have put her in great stead for her current primary focus. Since May 2016 she has been the project manager of a not-for-profit initiative called Historic Heart – a revitalisation project aimed at transforming the east end of Perth from a rundown and forgotten space into a vibrant and regenerated oasis of landmark buildings, tourist attractions and inviting spaces – much as has been seen in developments like the Downtown Brooklyn project in New York.
The initial idea was led by the property developer and Western Australian of the Year 2016, Adrian Fini, who now chairs the committee, while Sandy is the only person working on the project full-time. Her role is incredibly broad, covering the establishment of the not-for-profit entity, stakeholder engagement, fundraising with state government and multiple other organisations, coordination of contractors and artists, website creation, PR, social media… and the list goes on.
The response to the project has already been “overwhelmingly positive” says Sandy. This in turn fires her passion for the job as, every time she presents it, she says, “It’s always enthusiastically supported.” The various strands and initiatives Historic Heart encompasses range from street art and furniture to reactivated spaces, historical walks and landscape projects.
Sandy says that early challenges included obtaining funding, but determination and persistence resulted in a $250,000 grant from the state government, matched by the same amount from the private sector. She also encountered difficulties in gaining approval from the City of Perth for the first public art project, as a private organisation installing landscape in the public realm was somewhat unprecedented. Now that the project is established, however, Sandy suggests that the operation of Historic Heart will be able to run more smoothly. This doesn’t mean she’ll be easing off at all. Apart from vowing that her passion for the organisation means she’ll be in it “for the long haul”, there’s her other full-time job to think about. Because throughout her time with Historic Heart, Sandy has also continued to run her own architecture studio. “Balance has been difficult in the past,” she admits. “And, to be honest, I did work 24/7. My New Year’s resolution this year was to have more balance and to take some weekends off.”
Would it be easier to work part-time in someone else’s practice? She says not.
“Working in a larger firm, your role ends up being manager of people, whereas the reason I studied architecture was to do the creative part myself.”
She does note though that one of the things many budding architects don’t understand is that the design process only takes up about half of one’s time – particularly for someone running their own practice. She credits her legal experience for assisting in this regard too. “The balance is dealing with local government regulations, documentation, rendering, contract administration,” she explains. “So for all of this a background in law is really helpful.”
The other advantage of Sandy’s position is that she can dictate her own workload and how many projects she takes on.
But those projects don’t just have to compete with Historic Heart for her time. She’s only recently stepped down from the board of the West Australian Ballet after five years, but is also involved in an enterprise called Activate Perth, as well as sitting on two other boards and writing a regular column for The West Australian newspaper called ‘Meet the Architect’. “I’ve been quite time poor,” she says, with a touch of understatement.
Sandy Anghie is clearly the embodiment of that old piece of advice: want something done? Ask the busiest person…