Architect in Profile - Cynthia Leung

Cynthia Leung, Design Manager at Canary Wharf Contractors, is a qualified Architect. After working in a practice for a number of years and keen to gain exposure in the front end of the industry in relation to construction and property development, she moved to Canary Wharf Contractors to build upon her experience. Here, Cynthia talks to FC&A about her professional experience.

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Cynthia Leung

Cynthia Leung is Design Manager at Canary Wharf Contractors

Please tell us a little about yourself and your current role at Canary Wharf Contractors.

During my time at Canary Wharf, I have worked on a number of buildings as part of the Wood Wharf development, a new 23-acre site that will welcome up to 3600 new homes, two million square foot of commercial space, 350,000ft2 of retail space, nine acres of public spaces, plazas and parks. I am currently managing the design of several buildings across phase one and phase two of the development which include floating retail pavilions, a high-rise 20-storey aparthotel and a 42- and a 12-storey high-end residential tower, known as 10 Park Drive and 8 Water street. The latter will be run by Vertus, Canary Wharf Group’s new residential leasing and management company and is scheduled for completion later this year.

My current role as Design Manager at Canary Wharf Contractors, part of Canary Wharf Group, is to manage and lead the design delivery with the consultant team and client/stakeholders to achieve a coordinated and coherent design that is in line with the programme, budget and brief. During construction, I maintain and coordinate the flow of design information between the design team and contractors to enable construction to proceed efficiently, as well as facilitating cost control, managing changes in the design and buildability issues.

What does your role involve?

Day-to-day, my role involves managing the design of the buildings, which entails working closely with the design consultants, our construction team on site as well as coordination of any design elements with the client (PAD). I get a holistic view of all aspects of the design and drive the delivery of it. I need to stay on top of what is going on all the time and make sure that if I get early warning of the design impacting the construction, that this is tackled and unblocked.

Is your role mainly desk-based or are you out on site regularly?

My work involves regular site visits; it is not just confined to desk work, which gives me a good amount of variety in my day-to-day work life.

What education and work history brought you to this job?

I am a qualified Architect, so becoming a Design Manager was a natural progression for me. Having come from a consultant background, I definitely have a comprehensive understanding of the design process and level of work involved at each stage of the design. My past experience has allowed me to be more empathetic towards the team but also know exactly what needs to be delivered at each stage, plus have an appreciation for good quality design, detailing and construction.

What part of your job do you find most satisfying and which parts are the most challenging?

The most satisfying part of my job is when the design comes together and you see it physically being built on site. I enjoy being able to walk into a building and know the history of how it was conceived. Each building tells a story, and for me, that story is the most satisfying and what makes the building unique. I also enjoy having a holistic view of the project and have a key role in bringing the design together and know about all aspects that inform the design – its history and reasons why things are designed the way they are.

Aside from formal qualifications, are there personal skills and character traits that are useful for your kind of role?

Soft skills are essential. In my job, being a good listener and open-minded is crucial. The nature of my job relies on the support of the team to deliver the outcomes, so being able to work well as a team is crucial to the success of the project. My motto is to let everyone have a voice, to listen and make each opinion heard, so there is a sense of autonomy and ownership. To push the team to propose solutions rather than dictate or hand them the answers on a plate. I see my team as a partnership and building that trust between client and consultant is essential.

Is there something about the work culture at Canary Wharf Group that you particularly value?

It is particularly interesting that the developer and contractor is all one organisation. It makes lines of communication somewhat easier and streamlined. I also value the respect and level of trust we have on our consultant teams too. Our attitude to stay open to ideas and constantly evolve with the times is also very refreshing.

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

Listen, listen and listen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, learn from your mistakes. Gather as many supporters and mentors as you can, learn from them. Constantly challenge yourself and trust your gut instincts.

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