Susannah Sweeney

With a love of heritage and architecture, designer Susannah Sweeney brings unique insights to her role as a director of the Sydney Living Museums Foundation.

Susannah Sweeney is the principal of a boutique architectural design business that provides sustainable solutions for the built environment, particularly in spaces that are difficult, small or forgotten. She has master’s degrees in both finance and architecture, and before reading architecture at the University of Sydney she was an executive director of research at an international investment bank. Susannah is also a director of both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. In her work with the SLM Foundation, she brings her expertise and knowledge to the world of heritage and culture, and enjoys working with donors and other supporters who share her passion.

How did you come to be involved with SLM?

I’ve been aware of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, now SLM, since its inception in the 1980s when Vaucluse House and Elizabeth Bay House were transferred into the Trust’s care. Working in the city for the majority of my professional life allowed me daily contact with our inspirational buildings in Macquarie Street, nestling precariously within the throbbing mass of the CBD. I came to be involved directly with SLM to help ensure the preservation and utility of our historic buildings and sites, which connect us all to a shared history.

When did you first give to SLM and what motivated you to do so?

I’ve always given to our state cultural institutions, and at various times have been a member of the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation, Ambassador of the MCA, and a member of the Australian Museum. I first gave to SLM many, many years ago at Vaucluse House, largely because of my family’s relationship with the site [Susannah is descended from D’Arcy Wentworth, father of William Charles Wentworth, owner of Vaucluse House], but it began a conversation about the need to protect and preserve sites and places that speak to all people residing in Sydney.

As a designer, what do you think are the most important issues we’ll be dealing with in the next 10 years?

The environmental performance of our built environment will be one of the most vital issues facing Sydney as our population expands over the next 10 to 20 years. Climate change, rising energy costs, and mental health issues surrounding living conditions will all direct urban planning decisions. Technology will facilitate the race towards a mandatory low carbon footprint in all development applications.

How can the management of heritage buildings be integrated with contemporary developments?

Heritage buildings must continue to maintain a conversation with contemporary developments in order to ensure the ‘crisis of verticality’, inherent to a modern society, doesn’t overshadow or interrupt our dialogue with our living history. Heritage buildings that provide a continuity of place will always stand beside modernity; however, maintaining a dialogue with the people who work and live within our built environment is essential to preserve cultural relevance in a postmodern world.

Complete this sentence: Sydney Living Museums …

... serves all people of NSW by preserving, repairing and engaging with both our tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Our shared bond, our sense of community and identity are manifest in our history and our present. SLM is mandated to ensure that this is available to our future, and I’m passionate about achieving that.

Portrait of woman

Susannah Sweeney. Courtesy Susannah Sweeney