“What do you want your business to stand for? What you do you want to see when you look back at what your business achieved? All of our business – both fee-paying and pro bono – is aligned to our values,” says David Kaunitz.
David and his wife, Ka Wai Yeung, founded Kaunitz Yeung Architecture (KYA) in 2009, based on their community development work in the Solomon Islands, following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit in 2007. “We were designing and building a community, and it was as grassroots as it gets. Almost all the materials came from within proximity to the development: we were milling our own timber, mixing our own concrete, weaving window hatches out of local bamboo, termite proofing buildings with used dirty oil,” says David. This established the KYA’s values of wanting to design with communities and for people, and to contribute to making the world a better place.
More than a decade on and KYA still applies these values across a broad range of projects in Sydney, around Australia, and overseas. Its specialisation is designing health, education and cultural buildings with and for aboriginal communities, many of them remote. “We spend as much time as we can in the place and bring the community along on the journey of the design and construction. We involve and connect with people and listen deeply to what they’re saying,” David says.
KYA also has a long history of pro bono work, undertaking projects that aren’t viable for the business, but that the team is passionate about doing. They have designed a new suburb in Port Vila, Vanuatu, that will begin construction in 2021, and water and sanitisation projects are regularly developed for the Solomon Islands. For businesses undertaking pro bono work, David’s advice is to approach it like a fee-paying job: “You have to define time and resources and do it properly. Take on something you can commit to, don’t take on too much.”
The success of KYA’s approach has been recognised around the world with a string of national and international awards for its work. The practice recently won two International Architecture Awards for Munupi Arts Centre in Tiwi Islands, and for walu-win Wellbeing Centre in Orange. KYA also won a 2020 Good Design Award Gold Accolade for Punmu and Parnngurr Aboriginal healthcare clinics in Western Australia.
More than the awards, the satisfaction and accomplishment come in operating a business driven by strong values, resulting in buildings that are embraced by their communities. “We had a dream of building a business that would employ people, provide financial security for our family, be true to our values and do work that is making the world a better place,” David says. “I’m really proud we have managed to build a business exactly as we set out to do, and that we design buildings that are embraced and loved and looked after by their communities.”