Melbourne architect Mel Bright of MAKE almost became an engineer, following in the footsteps of her “quite rational” family. However, she changed her university preferences at the last minute because of her love of art and design. “I realised that with architecture I could combine both the rational and the creative,” she says. While studying at RMIT, Mel says she started to find her own voice in about third year. “Before then I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed,” she says. “I think this idea of the right career path needs to be constantly checked and reassessed as values and ambitions can change over the years. I often ask myself if what I am doing is fulfilling, and now that I have kids it is even more important to me that the sacrifices for a ‘career’ are worth it.” While Mel was born and raised in Melbourne, she has also lived in the UK, USA and Asia.
Which five words best describe you? Enthusiastic, persistent, creative, passionate, organiser - okay, just bossy!
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I had an amazing start to my career, straight out of university: Clare Cousins [interview here] and I did some design work for Virgin Lifestyle stores in Singapore, a very quick concept design that resulted in us flying over to present and develop the scheme with a small interior design practice in Kuala Lumpur. We stayed for six weeks working together, flying around Asia and even sharing a bed at the directors’ house - it was intense! I stayed on while Clare had other plans. It certainly wasn’t the standard graduate start and it’s wonderful that Clare and I are still good friends today.
Since then I have done many things; mostly I have worked in large practices on larger scale buildings. Massive mixed-use buildings in China with Lab Architecture, five-star hotels in the UK and Europe, small retail shops in Melbourne and most things in-between. Interestingly, I hadn’t designed a house until starting MAKE.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Be brave, be yourself, trust your intuition, if it feels wrong at the start then it will be. Find people to work with that share common passions - everything is easy after that. Enjoy it, do what makes you happy.
What’s your proudest career achievement? There have been many. It has been such a thrill to start to gain recognition over the years and to see our projects win some awards. However, better than any award was recently handing over our Local House project to our wonderful and happy clients. The whole MAKE team and our extended families shared an evening together enjoying the house, it was such a joyful and happy night and it’s moments like that I can’t quite believe it’s what I do for a job.
What’s been your best decision? Two things: going out on my own with MAKE and marrying a wonderful and supportive husband.
Who inspires you? The team at MAKE. My dad - not creatively, but he has pushed me to do better in all things my whole life. I’m also inspired by all small design practices that manage to produce good architecture on small budgets. It’s so tough.
What are you passionate about? Good design, making cities for people, making architecture that strives to do more than just fulfil a functional brief. Buildings that give delight and that engage with the larger context of city and suburb.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I would like to see my dog again - I know, not a person! She died a few years ago and I would love to take her for a swim at the beach. She was the MAKE office dog for many years.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? My goals in life are pretty simple: make great buildings, with good people - clients, builders and the MAKE team - and enjoy doing it. I would like to do this and feel that I haven’t done it at the cost to other things in life, in particular my kids.
What are you reading? The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to my six-year-old and Olivia goes to Venice to my three-year-old. A couple of our favourite kids’ books.