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Reflecting on a career in design – International Women’s Day 2024

To recognise International Women's Day at Buchan this year we were joined in conversation by two leading voices in our industry and our practice, Principal and Health Sector Lead Sandra Stewart FRAIA and Director and Principal Raylene McEwan, reflecting on their design career journey.

The theme for IWD this year is ‘inspiring inclusion’. Can you share how inclusion has inspired you on your career path in design?

Sandra An inclusive upbringing lay the foundation for my belief that gender was not a marker for what I could and couldn’t achieve in life and in my career as an architect; that mindset has influenced decisions at every stage.

Raylene During the eighties, a schoolteacher convinced my parents that I was never going to be a typist and I couldn’t cook, so he petitioned the school leadership to allow me to do technical drawing and woodwork throughout my high-school years. It caused huge shockwaves through the school community when I won the woodwork trophy. No-one ever made me feel like I couldn’t achieve the impossible.

What advice do you give people starting their careers in architecture?

Sandra Over my 30-year career I’ve taken many pathways – from working as a designer to being a project leader and now a sector lead for Health at Buchan.

Being aware of how you can participate professionally to an architectural practice, beyond architecture, and how you can also contribute externally to the industry is important. Taking on roles that see you contribute to your practice and the architectural industry such as joining mentoring programs as a mentee or a mentor, participating in industry committees, going to talks and conferences are all part of an architectural career.

It’s also important to keep in touch with your peers and colleagues throughout your career – you all grow together, and you never know where your paths will cross in future.

Raylene My career in architecture started with a love of technical drawing, then then concept design and presentation before taking on project and practice management roles. Taking every opportunity to learn and grow as a leader – of a project, a team, a studio – has enabled me to chart a path forward.

There are very many pathways. Be accountable to yourself, to your values and your goals, and join a practice that aligns with those. I really encourage people to learn professionalism early on in their career – it will stand you in good stead every step of the way.

What advice do you have for women wanting to take a leadership role?

Sandra A big part of leadership is about succession, training and mentoring. To take the next pathway forward, always be prepared for someone to take your place. Mentoring the next generation can happen at all stages – you can be a grad mentoring a student.

Raylene You can be a leader at any level in your career. For me, leadership is about bringing those around you, with you. It is about being inclusive and open to listening and learning – the right solution may come from a place you least expect it.


Raylene McEwan - Director + Principal

Raylene has more than three decades of experience in architectural design and project delivery. Starting her career as a draughtsperson, she is now a Principal in Buchan’s Christchurch studio and Director. Raylene has built an indomitable team, delivering numerous successful projects across the retail, mixed-use and commercial sectors.

Raylene is passionate about architecture and creative arts, is a strong supporter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and takes an active role mentoring young team members across the industry, believing that in good mentorship you learn from each other.

Photography I Jes Lindsay

Sandra Stewart FRAIA - Principal + Sector Lead Health

Sandra has over 30 years’ experience in architecture, with a focus on the health sector and mixed-use precincts.

A strong leader working across all facets of design and delivery, Sandra has expertise in feasibility studies, acute health, community health and mixed-use/retail developments. She confidently leads large, multi-disciplinary teams on complex projects and has a commercial focus that ensures good outcomes for her clients.

As Sector Lead – Health at Buchan, Sandra focuses on building exemplar projects across public and private health in Australia and New Zealand.

Sandra contributes to the profession through mentoring and as an assessor for the New South Wales Board of Architects. She has also sat on the Australian Institute of Architects NSW Professional Advocacy Committee.

Photography I Jes Lindsay