People Profile: Paveena Miller talks about launching her career with Chapman Taylor in Bangkok and London

Paveena Miller graduated in 2012 from UCL’s The Bartlett School with a master’s degree in Architecture, joining Chapman Taylor’s Bangkok studio in 2015 and then our London studio in 2018. Paveena currently works as part of the International Feasibility team, and has experience working on a wide range of projects within the design industry, from hospitality and F&B interiors through to large-scale resort/hospitality schemes and large, mixed-use developments in South-East Asia. We asked Paveena about her background, her career development and her experience working in both Chapman Taylor’s Bangkok and London studios.

Tell us a little about your background

I was born in Bangkok, where my mum was an accountant and then a stay-at-home mother of four, while my dad was an engineer who always loved creating things, including the first remote controlled air conditioning system in Thailand. I attended high school in Adelaide, Australia, between the ages of 13 and 18. At that time, my English wasn’t great, which led to me struggling in some subjects. However, it was no bar to me excelling at science, maths and art, because each of those involves the use of a universal language.

When it came to choosing a career, architecture was a natural choice, combining elements of the three subjects I enjoyed the most. I returned to Bangkok and studied for a bachelor’s degree in Architecture at Chulalongkorn University, before moving to London to study for my master’s at UCL’s Bartlett School. I completed my studies in 2012 and returned to Bangkok.

You joined Chapman Taylor’s Bangkok studio in 2015. Why did you choose Chapman Taylor?

I wanted to work in an international design firm and learn how to design for the highest worldwide standards. A friend of mine happened to have the business card of Jon Grant, then Director of the Bangkok studio (now Director of London studio’s Interiors team), and I sent Jon my portfolio. He called me in for an interview, where we had a good chat, and I saw for myself how Chapman Taylor was a firm which designed to the very highest international standards.

What projects did you work on while in Bangkok?

The first project I worked on was a project for Tesco in Thailand, for which I designed layouts, before working on the Rattanathibet Residences masterplan for Bangkok – a residential community which will consist of over 70,000m² of apartments, retail and leisure elements. It was a demanding experience for me, but I learned a lot because we were a relatively small team and we all got deeply involved in several areas of the project. I worked on everything from the initial concept design and presentations all the way through to permit drawings. I was thus very hands-on, very early.

I also loved learning about the standards applied by a major international technology firm when designing an office building for them. I got to understand the rationale behind various rules and regulations, and it resonated with me in the same way that a mathematical formula does – if you put all the relevant information into the equation, the solution becomes straightforward. For me, it was fun to fit that company’s stipulations within our creative process. Again, because were a relatively small team, I got to experience several different aspects of the project, from co-ordinating and construction drawings to client pitches.

Mui Dinh Ecopark was a memorable project also. The masterplan created a striking and sustainable resort on the east coast of Vietnam, and won the prestigious MIPIM ‘Best Futura Mega-Project’ international award in 2018. We worked with (Main Board Director) Chris Lanksbury from the London studio on the concept design, and I particularly enjoyed creating artistic illustrations with (South-East Asia Director) Oscar Martinez for the client.

Rattanathibet Residences

You moved to London this year. What differences or similarities do you see?

I loved working in the Bangkok studio, but I still always wanted to experience architectural design elsewhere. I wanted to learn more about what is ‘out there’ in terms of ideas and new approaches, and moving to the UK has helped me to expand my knowledge and expertise much further.

In Bangkok, my work encompassed several areas of a project’s lifecycle after the concept the detailed design was created – which was great, and I think all architects could benefit from understanding how a concept is realised in a commercially realistic way.

In London, where I work in the International Feasibility team, my work is much more focused, and I get to see the way in which a concept is created and the reasons behind various aspects of that concept – that is very interesting to me, and the more experienced team members here really know what they are doing when they create a design. I am learning a lot from them.

What have you been working on since moving to London?

I have worked on concept designs for a retail, leisure and F&B development in Asia – a project which includes a covered theme park, an artificial beach and a hotel tower.

I have worked on some design details for a shopping centre extension and refurbishment in Europe, helping design some columns and interior wall patterns as well as doing some modelling for the project. That was quite enjoyable – it was quite different from my usual work on the big project concepts. I have also worked on feasibility studies for a mixed-use development in China, and am about to work on a masterplan for a mixed-use development in the Middle East.

Several of the projects involved collaboration with other studios, which gives me a great sense of being part of an international family. I have worked with our Madrid, Shanghai, New Delhi and Bangkok studios – giving me a great opportunity to expand my experience and my knowledge of worldwide approaches to design.

Mui Dinh Ecopark

What do you aim to achieve in the coming years in terms of career progression?

Although it can be demanding, I very much enjoy co-ordinating with project managers, contractors, suppliers etc., and I would like to develop that further. I would also like to experience a number of areas of work and learn as widely as I can, given the breadth and depth of experience available across the London studio. What I have really noticed is that I am given great respect by the more experienced team members when I communicate my thoughts – they listen and discuss with me just as they would with each other.

What challenges face architects starting their careers today?

I feel that schools and universities do not adequately prepare students for the reality of life in a design firm – how to create a scheme which is both creative and financially credible, how to meet clients’ requirements, how to effectively manage your workload, etc. Courses might explain big architectural concepts very well, but firms also need their employees to understand fundamental design principles, or how to use space effectively and not wastefully. I think that creates a gap in the profession which needs to be filled quickly when starting at a design firm.

My time at Chapman Taylor has helped bridge that gap. There is always a new idea or a new design tool to learn, and you have to keep moving. For example, having worked with other software previously, tutorials were laid on for me to learn about Dynamo for Revit (the advanced 3D BIM design software used widely across Chapman Taylor’s network). It’s very enjoyable, though, and Chapman Taylor has been excellent in terms of providing support and opportunities to learn about new developments via regular CPD sessions and other vehicles. I’m learning something new every day!

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