Property and Infrastructure Specialists
I trained as an Interior designer and practiced for 13 years with architectural firm Nettleton Tribe. Back then, interior designers, like architects, were responsible for everything from concept design to post-completion. Today designers don’t often have the opportunity to project manage their own projects and don’t see how their design really works, or fails, in the real world.
Suellen Brown Riggs project management

I realised I excelled in managing the design and delivery phases, working directly with consultants and the client from start to finish. I completed a Masters in Design Science and moved to client-side project management. For the next decade I worked for large corporates including GIO, AMP and Suncorp-Metway, managing their retail programs of fitouts, refurbishments and site divestments. I then moved to Colliers International as a senior PM and then associate director, working with their commercial leasing team on a wide range of commercial, health and hospitality fitouts and refurbishments in Australia and Indonesia.

I came to APP in 2017, on recommendation from Christina Hammond, whom I’d worked with at Colliers. Since I’ve been here, all my experience in fitouts and programs of work has been put to great use as part of APP’s Programs team. I’ve worked with Goodstart and Invocare managing the delivery of various programs of work for childcare centres and funeral homes.

Working in Programs offers the exposure to different programs of work, rather than one-off projects. Here, the focus is on the bigger picture. You have involvement in the development of corporate design standards and oversight of the entire program budget. Charged with delivering a corporate identity across a wide range of assets, some new, some existing in good condition and others in very poor condition. I’d previously delivered rollouts of new facilities, whereas now the assets for Goodstart and Invocare are rarely new. This is where my design background comes in, drawing on my design skills to assist the client and consultants to rework the standard design to achieve the design objectives and operational requirements.

One of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on was Odyssey House, where APP provided pro-bono concept design and PM services to fitout their offices in Redfern in the face of some steep challenges. We were ‘hands-on’ in assisting an inexperienced client, who had a minimal budget and no experience in leasing arrangements. Our purpose was to achieve the absolute best with the least amount of money. We helped them to navigate through the project challenges and we called on our long-time APP client, Westpac, to donate quality office furniture and equipment, and the result exceeded all expectations.

I’m now working on the Deptartment of Communities and Justice program. This involves managing the delivery of Safe Rooms and Remote witness rooms in 44 Court Houses in NSW for use by victims of domestic violence, plus a range of fire, life and safety upgrades across 91 assets in NSW, and all by 30 June 2021. The fire, life and safety upgrades are required at courthouses, correctional centres and juvenile justice centres. The major challenge here is managing the design and delivery of both streams of works across the geographic spread of the assets in seven regions. From the NSW/QLD border, west to Broken Hill, south to the VIC border, across to the SA border. Reporting on these projects by site, by region and by facility type means information management is critical to provide live data in the face of a tight program. On completion, the project will make these high-use facilities safer to visit and safe to work in.

I enjoy the camaraderie of the Programs team. It’s a young, vibrant team and very collaborative. Good design is still a passion of mine and I measure project success by how well the completed facility performs its function over time and if it can adapt to change. I mentor the younger team members and offer assistance when they reach out, encouraging them to seek out the best possible design, construction and operational outcomes for their clients.

For me, maintaining relationships is about how you establish an honest connection based on trust. You are not just a service provider or project manager. In partnering with a client, you need to understand their business and what they need to achieve. You need to become the key member of their team they rely on, to successfully deliver on what they’re expected to deliver. As a consequence, I’ve been fortunate to work with several clients who kept coming back to me to work together on the next project, even when they have changed employers. Today, I have several close friends who were originally clients. It’s showing interest in them as a person, rather than their role, and the relationship benefits you both in the longer term on both a professional and personal level.

- Suellen Brown-Riggs, Project Director 

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