Michelle Blakeley: influential creative & the embodiment of 1980s cool

A recent article in WA’s advertising journal “Campaign Brief” confirmed rumours that CODA senior architect Michelle Blakely really was the person of influence we suspected she was! We were delighted to discover more about Michelle’s very successful career as a creative director prior to taking up architecture.



Michelle’s contribution to her new profession has proved equally substantial, and she is looked upon with great respect within our studio. We recently spent some time with Michelle to learn more about her evolution from advertising executive to architect.

After such a successful career in what I imagine is quite a dynamic and fulfilling industry, what drew you towards a career in architecture?

I always wanted to be an architect. I come from a family of builders. Unfortunately, I was discouraged from studying architecture when I was at school because it was regarded back then as a male profession.

At CODA, you’ve worked across the realms of architecture, interiors and urban design. Did you expect the industry to be as diverse or all encompassing when you started out?

When I was studying, people always asked what sort of buildings I wanted to design and I could never give them a specific answer. I really wanted to say “all of them”. I feel that there should be a seamless transition between architecture, interiors and urban design. Each impacts on the other and, for me, the design outcomes are so interdependent. I love the ‘big picture’ strategic thought required for urban design; the challenge of resolving architectural design against the functional requirements of construction and use of a building; and the joy of creating spatial experiences that comes with interior design.

You’ve worked as the Project Architect on the Pilbara Super Clinic and were a lead on the Wheatstone Housing project in Onslow. Both of these projects have involved a fair amount of travel through WA’s north west. How have you found working in these environments and were there any surprises?

Working on projects in the north west has been a huge education. It has made me so much more aware of the impact of environment and context on design. The importance of place is embedded in CODA’s design philosophy and this has been confirmed for me with the Onslow and Super Clinic projects.

Surprises: the invasive and destructive nature of mould (and therefore the importance of appropriate, well-designed mechanical systems) as well as the high cost of building in that part of the world.

Can you tell us about your most rewarding project to date?

I haven’t been at CODA long enough to follow through a completed built project. Refurbishment of Iwan Iwanoff’s Marsala House and Bather’s Beach, Fremantle, when I was at Donaldson+Warn were at opposite ends of the design spectrum, but both very rewarding and satisfying (which probably reinforces my first answer to your questions!).

What’s the best thing about what you do?

Problem solving. I love looking for design solutions because there always is a solution, you just have to be tenacious and keep digging to find the solution that offers the best design opportunity.