Lives with Purpose – Alumni Profile

Saltwater Budawang (Yuin) Woman Kaylie Salvatori is a landscape architect, Indigenous design strategist, educator, researcher and artist. By skilfully nurturing relationships between communities and Country during the design process, Kaylie strives to place Country at the centre of such collaborations, asserting the right and need for Traditional Custodians and Indigenous knowledge holders to hold power.

Valuable lessons learned at UNSW

I was already studying at UNSW when I decided to apply for the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture. I was originally studying a double degree in Law and Development Studies, however I wasn’t the greatest at my legal endeavours, primarily because I missed the opportunity to be creative. I met my partner who was studying Landscape Architecture and really liked the work he was doing, so thought I would sign up for an elective to see whether it was the right fit. 

I enrolled in a class Dr. Kate Bishop was teaching, called People, Place and Design and really loved it, also earning my first HD in my studies! The next semester, I wrapped up my Development Studies degree and dropped Law for Landscape Architecture. Needless to say, I am very happy with my decision!

What I learned during my time at UNSW was that achievement takes a lot of work, there is always more to learn, and that it is best done in collaboration.

Loving what you do - a career with purpose

I love making community happy and creating places that support life. I love learning about the cultural landscapes around us and how we can design to honour them. 

I love what I do because it provides a culturally appropriate means for me to (re)connect with Indigenous community, learn cultural knowledges and work to support the health of Country and community in a way that still allows for me to use my creativity.

Highlights on the career journey

Once I graduated, I continued working with Arcadia Landscape Architecture, progressing from student to landscape architect. I was with Arcadia for just over three years, during this time progressing from graduate to senior landscape architect, before forging a new role of Indigenous design strategist, an identified position which recognised the cultural roles Indigenous designers often play outside of the usual remit of landscape architecture.

During this time, I also worked as a sessional tutor at UNSW and helped out with a couple of research grants under Sara Padgett Kjaersgaard. I wrote articles for design journals and made appearances on guest and speaker panels at several conventions and events.

After the birth of my son, my partner and I decided to bring our dream of running our own studio together forward a few years and founded COLA Studio. It is an acronym for Country Oriented Landscape Architecture, our studio focusses on socio-cultural environmental design and placemaking. We have been in operation just over a year and it has been a huge learning experience, with lots of amazing opportunities. We are also developing a docu-series style project focusing on regenerative design, but that is still very much in its infancy - watch this space!

Problem solving at work

As a designer, in general, your job is to find solutions. For me, the over-arching solution we are trying to find is how design and development can occur in a way that honours Country, engenders custodianship and care, and holds space for Indigenous people - particularly Traditional Custodians of place - to live in and care for Country now and forever. Working back from that, I suppose the problem we are trying to solve is the entanglement of the colonial project with the built environment and development in general.

Building resilience 

The approach I would advise taking is to lose your ego, make space for others, be transparent and share knowledge. Try and be gentle on yourself and be realistic with your expectations. 

Proudest achievements

In my personal life, having my son is hands-down the best element, and nothing in my career life could compare to that experience. That said, I am quite chuffed with my career - I was proud to win the Harry Howard Prize coming out of UNSW, and a couple of the award nominations that I have received have been very humbling. 

I am most proud however, of the work I’ve been doing the past year and the opportunities to work with Elders and knowledge holders. I am proud to say that over the past year, I have been able to provide community directly with double the income I have been paying myself.

Advice for current students

Find your fit and put your hand up.

Headshot of Kaylie Salvatori
Kaylie Salvatori

Kaylie Salvatori is Director, COLA Studio.

Degree and year of graduation: Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (Hons 1), 2018.