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Get Smart – Smart Design Studio

Since Indigo Slam hit the media waves, Smart Design Studio has been the name on everyone’s lips. But it was more than just this project-gone-viral that saw William Smart named The People’s Choice Luminary at the INDE.Awards – it was his entire trajectory of work.

  • The team at Smart Design Studio.

William Smart is a man who, by his own admission, has become an overnight success – despite the fact that he’s been in the business of architecture for 20 years now. It was a passing comment he made while accepting an impressive line-up of awards at the inaugural INDE.Awards (June 2017). That night he accepted two awards on behalf of his practice, Smart Design Studio, for the famed Indigo Slam residence in Sydney’s Central Park precinct. The third, The Luminary award, celebrated his own personal accomplishments in the field. But according to Smart, it’s taken every project he has ever worked on, big, small, or budgeted, to get to where he is today.

It’s taken every project [Smart] has ever worked on, big, small, or budgeted, to get to where he is today.

Everything he’s done in the past informs the work of his future. “I moved to Sydney because I liked the city, I didn’t have an extraordinary lineage that brought a great series of clients my way, and I didn’t have a business plan,” says Smart. “I just started because I felt like I had a voice that I didn’t understand. I wanted to learn about it and go on a journey of finding out project by project.”

Smart grew up in country Western Australia and studied architecture at Curtin University of Technology in Perth. Indulging an urge to travel, work and explore abroad he bought a one-way ticket to Europe once he’d finished his studies. After stretches working in France and London, it was the opportunity to work on projects, such as the railway station for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, that saw him return to Australian shores. That was when he made the decision to begin his own practice, which has been steadily growing ever since.

The team at Smart Design Studio

Ebbing and flowing between 40-45 staff, Smart Design Studio is exactly where it’s meant to be. The “little company once envisioned is edging on medium. But this is where numbers will stay. Since taking the world by storm with Indigo Slam, the critically-acclaimed – and much awarded – residential project commissioned by art curator and philanthropist Judith Neilson, the studio has been in hot demand. But further growth isn’t on the cards. Any larger and Smart wouldn’t be able to maintain the high level of involvement he currently has in all of their projects. As it stands he’s already quite selective in the projects he takes on.

“It’s at the point where if we take on [one project] we can’t take on something else,” says Smart. “So we have to choose carefully, based on our opportunity to be creative, our clients’ investment in architecture with interiors together as one, and their willingness to embrace our attention to detail – we love things that are exquisitely and finely detailed.”

William Smart of Smart Design Studio

For all the intricacies, diligence, and subtle yet impressive design cues becoming the calling card of his studio, he is notably strict in ensuring functionality in the end product. If a concept isn’t going to be amazing, then it’s thrown away. “It’s driven by the big idea, and it’s tested to the most critical detail in order to move forward.”

“It’s driven by the big idea, and it’s tested to the most critical detail in order to move forward.” – William Smart

Smart is a Luminary. He’s a talented, well-respected, admirable architect of great standing and stature. Yet his humble nature and desire to lead his team, “helping everyone get over the line,” is perhaps influenced by his own teachers and mentors, helping him get over the line. “I remember in primary school [my teacher] grabbed me and said, ‘I’m going to give you a set of pencils. I want you to draw, you’re good at drawing’. His attention on me took my grades from being a mediocre student to top of the class,” says Smart. Later, a university lecturer paid extra attention to him as a struggling first year student, taking Smart under his wing. “I just thrived in those conditions.” Luckily so, the wider architecture and design community is certainly better for it.

The Luminary Award was sponsored in 2017 by Wilkhahn.

Photography by Charles Dennington.

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