Q & A With Madison Whyte


Associate Director & Architect

McLellan Bush Architects

McLellan Bush Architects (MBA) specialises in schools and educational facility design. Madison began working at MBA in 2013, and was offered the position of Associate Director in 2018. Throughout her employment with MBA she has worked on a variety of different sized educational projects, being responsible for projects ranging from master planning, to refurbishments, to new school buildings. She has focused her professional life on learning space design, with a subspecialty on the effects of colour in learning environments, and the impact that colour can have on enhanced learning outcomes.

Madison is passionate and authentic about her profession, educational architecture and the critical role it plays in student’s educational experiences. She believes in and is an advocate for Managing Architects. Leading projects from briefing and master-planning through documentation and contract administration, Madison has delivered award-winning educational spaces. She recognises that the process is fundamental to the outcome, and works hard to gain the respect of Clients, Contractors and others through her expertise and attention to detail.

What led you to architecture as your chosen profession?

It was due to my Graphics teacher at school that I decided I wanted to do Architecture. I was lucky to go to a School that had a great Graphics program and I remember I used to spend most of my time outside of School hours working in the Graphics lab or Art room. I have quite an analytical brain and always got high marks in Science and Maths, but never felt the same amount of accomplish for any work I did in those subjects compared to Graphics and Art. I think it was the act of creating something from nothing that always interested me.

How have you found the process of becoming an associate director at your firm? And what did you find challenging along the way?

This is a question that I find very difficult to answer. Being offered the position of Associate Director was an honour (and to be honest, a shock), but it was never an end goal for me. I do what I do because I love doing it. I think it is important for everyone to remember that Architecture is a collaborative field, and I don’t believe that there are any solo achievements in Architecture, or that anyone plays an autonomous role in this field. Every project I have worked on has been a collaboration between my colleagues, our Clients, consultants, stakeholders, contractors, suppliers, and anyone else who has contributed to the projects. The successes that came out of these are joint successes.

I think the best advice I can provide to anyone, regardless of your position or your goals, is to be authentic.

Northside Christian College – Centre for Innovation & Creativity by McLellan Bush Architects Photographer: Angus Martin
The McLellan Bush Team celebrating Caloundra Christian College Primary Learning Centre being awarded the 2020 Gabriele Poole Award for Building of the Year (with social distancing). Photo: Dana Stephens, Georgia Stevenson, Natalie Bush and Madison Whyte

What project was your ‘baptism of fire’? What is the most challenging and inspiring project at the McLellan Bush Architects at the moment? And when will we be able to see it?

The nature of Architecture is that every project comes with its own challenges that need to be solved. When I was a student and a Graduate, I worked on a number of refurbishment projects, which helped develop my skills as an Architect. Refurbishments can be quite challenging as they are always riddled with unknowns, and also always have constraints that need to be considered. Working on these projects taught me a lot of skills, not just in documentation, but also on how to approach problems that arise throughout the process, and how to come up with solutions to these which provide the best outcome for our Clients.

I have a special love for refurbishment projects, because I find that when people have been looking at the same thing for such a long time, it’s hard for them to see anything other than what is there. So, when we can change an underutilised space into something that positively impacts student learning, in a way that our Clients may not have been able to visualise at the time, that is really rewarding for me. Refurbishing a learning space also pushes you to look at what the fundamental design considerations are for student learning, and how these can be achieved within the parameters that you have been given, which is always a fulfilling challenge. 

Every project we do at McLellan Bush is different, and they are all inspiring in their own way. One project close to my heart is the new Junior High Precinct at St Peters Lutheran College Springfield, which was recently completed this year and is the first stage of this building. This new building is specific to St Peters Springfield, and is really an embodiment of the nurturing and supportive culture of the College. At a recent site visit for this project, prior to its completion, we were joined by Professor Stephen Heppell, who is an industry recognised leader in education innovation and learning environments. It was a pleasure to show Professor Heppell around the project and to hear his positive feedback on the acoustic quality, light quality and overall design of the project. The students and staff have begun occupying the building, and we look forward to watching how the students, staff and College community benefit from these new learning spaces.

St Peters Lutheran College Springfield Junior High Precinct by McLellan Bush Architects Photographer Angus Martin
St Luke’s Anglican School – Middle School Precinct by McLellan Bush Architects Photographer: Paul Beutel

What hobby keeps you sane outside of Architecture?

I am a firm believer that people who work in creative fields need to have a creative outlet just for themselves; something creative you do without judgement or needing to explain what it is or why you did it. I have a laser cutter at home and make things as much as I can. I love doing graphic design projects in my spare time, whether that be designing invitations or other outputs for family and friends. I also lino cut, which is something that I love. The thing that keeps me sane though, is reading. I probably read for 3+ hours every day.

Which facet in the architecture field do you think needs to change?

I think the biggest struggle the Architectural profession faces is the lack representation of the importance of the traditional role of an Architect. I am a firm believer that an Architect should be involved in all stages of a project (especially construction) and that this is fundamental to the profession, the Client and the Building Industry. I believe that the outcome of having a Managing Architect working progressively on all stages of the project is continuity of design, knowledge, and representation, which results in authentic user-centric spaces, while maintaining quality and value for money.

Favourite building in Queensland?

It would have to be GOMA, because this building holds a lot of personal memories for me.

What do you think has influenced your particular architectural aesthetic?

I have focused my career on learning space design with a sub-specialty on the effects of colour in learning environments, and the impact that colour can have on enhanced learning outcomes. This is something that I researched throughout my studies and continue to research to this day. It is this research and the desire to create authentic spaces that impact positively on student learning which influences my aesthetic.

Best advice for emerging graduates and architects in Queensland?

My advice for emerging graduates and architects is to find something that you are passionate about and try to find ways to incorporate this into your career. Architecture is so broad, so it might take you a while to realise what this is and how to integrate it into your work life. For me, I am passionate about how architecture influences learning, and I luckily work in a firm that specialises in educational architecture. However, for others it may not be as direct a connection as this. You may love to make hand models or may be passionate about sustainability, or perhaps community involvement. Find a way to harness this, because it will make what you do so much more meaningful.

Genesis Christian College – Senior Learning and STEM by McLellan Bush Architects Photographer: Angus Martin