Chee Lam - Director of Chee Lam Design & grad design tutor for the BIA

Chee Lam - Director of Chee Lam Design & grad design tutor for the BIA

Chee Lam is the director of his company, Chee Lam Design as well as one of the graduation design studio tutors for the BIA. We asked him some questions to provide some insight into his role as a Designer in the industry & as a tutor. 

1. Please write a short introduction about yourself, addressing the company you work for & your role, as well as your engagement with the BIA as a 4th year tutor.
I’m Chee Lam, and I run a small design studio, Chee Lam Design. As a sole practitioner (currently), I run all aspects of the studio, from meeting clients, designing, and project delivery through to accounts and marketing. I have been teaching part-time within the BIA consistently since 2007 and 2015 marks my second year being a design tutor in the final year of the BIA course.   

2. What course did you study at University and how would you say it compares to the BIA?
I studied architecture at UNSW and when I started teaching within the BIA back in 2007, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the BIA course had much in common with the architecture degree in terms of understanding architectural space but its learning and teaching outcomes were more aligned and related to the building industry in terms of future employment and industry expectations. 

3. What would be some advice you would give to graduates on finding their first job? 
Everyone is different but understanding your strengths and weaknesses upon graduating is a good start. Use those strengths to your advantage by “up-selling” them as confidently as you can. At the same time, being honest and acknowledging you have weaknesses, but simultaneously expressing your willingness to tackle them and learn to improve on them, will put you in good light with employers. It’s also useful to know what you “want” in terms of employment. For example, which design studio would you like to work for, and why? The “why” will shed insight on how you see yourself as a designer, your skills, and where you want to be within 3 years, and the following 3.   

4. What do you enjoy most about tutoring the core BIA subject, design studio?
My passion for design is why I do what I do and being able to tutor in it, has helped me tremendously at a professional level.  In the day to day reality of running a practice, there is seldom sufficient time to devote towards a more critical, intellectual approach to design but by being involved with teaching, it provides me with that exposure even though it bears no relation to my own projects that I may be involved in at the time. The design process is quite fluid and I find that ideation happens in weird and wonderful ways. Being involved in design teaching exposes me to other ideas and different ways of thinking, and provides me with the nurturing that I need as a design professional.

5. What has been the most rewarding design project you have worked on throughout your career?
I have been very lucky and grateful for the design opportunities I’ve had over the years and there have been many rewarding projects throughout my career, all for different reasons.  To isolate a singular project would be very difficult but if I had to note some highlights, they would be:

  • Tjapukai Aboriginal Park,
    A design competition for the revitalization of an existing cultural venue in Cairns. I led a small team at the time (including collaborating with another small interpretive design studio) and despite a short time frame, limited resources, and being involved with multiple projects at the same time, we went on to win and secure the project for the office. It was also one of my most nerve-wracking presentations personally, walking into a crowded board room and having to sell the design to 15-odd strangers.
  • The Powerhouse Museum Revitalisation,
    Another design competition, but one that involved collaborating with one of my personal architecture “heroes”, Shigeru Ban. Being exposed to, and to experience Ban’s thinking first-hand, was a wonderful opportunity.
  • Musashi Dining Bar,
    A Japanese eatery, it was my very first project to make the shortlist on 2 interior design award programmes concurrently, obtaining a “High Commendation” from one of them. We had a great client who trusted us and was open to our creativity and made for a really enjoyable process from start-to-end. It was also a bit of a “comeback” project for me after being out-of-action for over year following an accident, so it had a personal aspect to it as well.


If you would like to find out more about Chee Lam Design please head to: