Architect Spotlight: Matthew Allen
Architecture, Articles

Architect Spotlight: Matthew Allen

Matthew Allen is a Director in Bates Smart’s Sydney studio and a social infrastructure expert. Since joining Bates Smart in 2009, he has worked across a range of residential, student housing, hotel and civic work, building particular expertise in residential master planning projects, mixed tenure housing, education and justice projects. In our conversation, Matthew chats about the significance of collaboration to his design process, his transformative experience studying abroad, and his passion for creating buildings that stand the test of time.
Photography Credit
Black Bee Photography
Bates Smart
Project name
161 Collins St, Melbourne
GB Veneer split face in colour Porcelain and Architec Honed 1083 block in colour Alabaster

How and when did you realise your passion for design? How did you get your start in the industry?

I’m one of those cliché stories. I wanted to be an architect for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a little kid. I never really wanted to be anything else. I was passionate about design all through my childhood, and I couldn’t wait to get to university to study architecture as soon as possible. 

My first job was with a small practice, a husband-and-wife team in Melbourne (one of my university tutors). I worked with them all through my year out, after third year. I then set up a business with a couple of other friends, and we did a few private jobs whilst we were still at university finishing our degrees. We did a couple of houses and medical consultant suites. In retrospect, we were probably a bit out of our depth, but the buildings still look good today! 

Can you tell us about your approach to design?

My approach is very consultative and collaborative. I really like working with other people to share ideas and explore themes together as a team. This applies equally within the office and externally with clients, consultants and other architects. I enjoy the collaborative nature of architectural design and feed off this vitality – it’s what really gets my creative juices flowing. 


How significant is technology in your design process? 

Technology to me is a means to an end, rather than a generator of design. When you compare one software package to another, it’s like comparing pen vs pencil or paper vs cardboard – they are different kind of model-making techniques. I know there are architects who are interested in the generative capacity of some technologies in defining things. I’m more old school. It’s simply another tool to help us with our thinking and design–to help us realise our design in different, faster, better ways.  

How would you describe the ethos of Bates Smart? 

Bates Smart has been designing for 168 years–we’re one of the oldest architecture practices in Australia. From generation to generation, we have been interested in pursuing buildings and places of enduring excellence. To me, this means that we really aspire to build the kind of city that people will always love. We’re not interested in innovation for the sake of innovation, but in terms of iterative improvements to the world around us. I think that is the benefit of having such a long legacy–we have example buildings that model innovations from 50 years ago. They are still standing and will continue to stand the test of time. We are really inspired by that legacy to build buildings that people will love for a long time into the future.


How and when did you realise you wanted to study abroad? How have your travels informed your current practice?

I always wanted to travel. I moved to the U.K. as soon as I finished university. My timing was lucky; I was there during the boom of the 2000s, when there was a real change in the nature of what was being built in London. 

There was a huge push in housing supply from a Government level, and a real appetite to regenerate large parts of the city. Brick had an amazing resurgence during that time, and you can see the legacy of that trend in the city today. 

Being in that place, at that time, working in apartment buildings and residential master planning made me deeply appreciate how architecture is the fabric of our cities. That has really inspired my career to this point, and I continue to be interested in how architectural projects can play many different roles in the city. For some people, it’s about the flagship iconic building. For me, I’m more interested in how architecture is for the everyday, and how we can make delightful spaces for people where they will spend their lives. 

What is the best part of your job?

There are so many good parts. But the best part is probably the variety—one day you can be doing very high-level, conceptual thinking, and the next day a technical analysis of options, or investigation of materials, or debating details with the builder and client onsite. I think this is partly why I so enjoy collaboration. Each relationship brings a new dimension to each project. Every day brings a different challenge, and I think that variety is what inspires me.  

Matthew Allen is the latest guest featured on Brickwork’s latest podcast series, Architects Abroad. In this series, design aficionado Tim Ross sits down with some of Australia’s most esteemed architects discuss how travel has shaped them both personally and professionally. Be sure to listen to Matthew Allen Architects Abroad episode.

“We are really inspired by that legacy to build buildings that people will love for a long time into the future.”

Matthew Allen
Project 161 Collins Street

“We are really inspired by that legacy to build buildings that people will love for a long time into the future.”

Matthew Allen
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