11 July 20112 – It was after he became a registered architect in 1988 that Tim Williams decided he needed more experience on “larger scale, more public projects”.
Where else to head but France. There he worked with writer, teacher and architect Antoine Grumbach and then with Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert at Reichen and Robert. He also came into contact with architect Francois Daune.
On his return to Australia in 1994 he returned to his first boss Alexander Tzannes and then joined the City of Sydney before starting his own practice, first with friends in 1997 and then going solo in 1998.
There were a few trips back to France, Mr Williams kept in touch with Mr Daune and in 2009 he was asked to join art and urban design collective Campemant Urbain.
Its members were Mr Daune, Mr Williams and artist Sylvie Blocher, and the trio were asked to work on an urban design for the regional centre of Penrith.
Mr Williams said the project, The Future of Penrith, Penrith of the Future, was commissioned by a consortium comprising Penrith City Council, Landcom, Penrith Panthers Football Club and the MCA through C3West and the Penrith Performing and Visual Arts.
- See our article about the project
The project had started actually started two years earlier, in 2007, with the Penrith Panthers commissioning Mr Daune and Ms Blocher to engage with the development of its 70-hectare property in Penrith, but quickly grew to include the local government area and the city centre.
“We wrote our own brief and then started to look at how we could discover residents’ dreams, concerns and aspirations,” Mr Williams said.
“We started at the beginning of 2011 and it was launched in October – there was some intense work in that time, a collaborative effort with lots of emailing and skyping.”
Mr Williams said the process, despite being massive, was enjoyable and the number and diversity of stakeholders symbolised the “collaborative” nature of the project.
“It’s still seen as the people’s project,” he said.
“That’s the thing that’s very different about it – we had a particular kind of engagement and listened with an open mind and an open heart.
“It’s known as shared responsibility. People are asked questions about what they want, they take time to think about that, and when they give you their answers you have a responsibility to do something with it.
“Ask first before you draw anything.”
Mr Williams said the trio was surprised and humbled by the recent win of the Australian Award for Urban Design’s “Policies, programmes and concepts – large scale” award.
“Of course we also thought it was perfectly justified,” he added, laughing.
“But it is a national award judged by a whole lot of different people, a very multi-disciplinary award which was very humbling because there were so many entries from around Australia.”
Mr Williams said the award was making “quite a splash” in France with the French Embassy particularly pleased by the win.
He also believes the international make-up of Campemant Urbain adds a cross-cultural value to the award.
“I think that (the international connection) is quite unusual in this context – it did surprise a lot of people,” he said.
“But in the same way that Paris is happy to have people give them ideas about their city I think we should do the same in Australia.”
Mr Williams said while the trio was keen for the project to be adopted by other cities facing similar challenges as Penrith it was a process that “took a long time and commitment”.
“We are also keen to follow through with Penrith and it looks like that will be possible. You always worry about the next phase and keeping the idea strong.
“But it really is a reflection of the trust of the people of Penrith. It’s been a real community effort.
“People want to be inspired and to have a vision – and where people lead, leaders follow.”