30 January 2020

Leonora Chieng

Leonora Chieng

Manager, Infrastructure & Projects at Queen Victoria Market
Bachelor of Architecture (Honours)

When Malaysian native, Leonora Chieng, arrived in peaceful Adelaide 25 years ago, her first impression was far from the frenetic pace of a big developed country she was imagining. The contrast was disorientating at first.

“My first thoughts were: it is a country town! Where are the high rises and flyovers?” She recalls. But soon the budding architect grew to love the city – the weather, beaches, and easy way of life eventually winning her over.

“The weather is better than Melbourne where I now live! And not forgetting the beaches… I think Adelaide, of all the capital cities in Australia, has the best beaches.”

Leonora has since adopted Australia as her home country contributing to some of its most impressive landmarks as an architecture graduate and project manager, including the Australian National Botanical Gardens, Old Parliament House and Federation Square thanks to her Australian education.

She now serves as Manager of Infrastructure & Projects at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne driving their AUD$250 million renewal project, the biggest investment in Melbourne City Council’s history.

A proposed public square at Queen Victoria Market, City of Melbourne and NH Architecture
A proposed public square at Queen Victoria Market, City of Melbourne and NH Architecture

“I was head hunted for my current role at Queen Victoria Market as I was working at Federation Square which has similarities in terms of them both being iconic precincts of Melbourne,” she says.

“I was also interested in being part of the history in the making, working on the project that is the largest and most ambitious investment in the history of Melbourne City Council.”

While the role is history making – helping drive the world’s largest market infrastructure renewal project – Leonora is responsible in ensuring that the new facilities meet the operational requirements for the Queen Victoria Market which she says requires a lot of meetings.

“Whether that’s to improve processes, attending design workshops, collaborating with all departments of the organisation to ensure the future facilities meet our operational needs, I’m always meeting with my team to ensure that I provide the support that is required to facilitate smooth delivery of these projects,” she says.

“My role as the Manager of Infrastructure & Projects also means that I’m constantly planning for future capital asset projects as well.”

The Queen Victoria Market’s Summer Night Market, City of Melbourne
The Queen Victoria Market’s Summer Night Market, City of Melbourne

Leonora cites the practical focus of the architecture course at UniSA as giving her the confidence to accomplish her professional goals and access to industry connections, such as some of the most respected Australian architecture and engineering firms, crucial steps in her success.

“I was fortunate enough that in my last year of university, one of the biggest and oldest Australian engineering firms, GHD, visited our final year architecture students’ exhibition and contacted the Head of School that they were interested in hiring the top graduating student,” she says.

“Lo and behold, I received a phone call from the Head of School at the time asking me if I had any intention to stay back and live in Australia – and I certainly did.”

It was here she became a Registered Architect and made the transition into a more a project management professional path, where she has seen great success two decades on.

“I spent close to six years working with GHD from the role of Graduate Architect and progressing through to a project management professional. I became a Registered Architect after only working for over two years due to the great exposure and experience I had at GHD.”

Queen Victoria Market Precinct Renewal Background, City of Melbourne

From there her career skyrocketed. She had found her niche in project management, working in many of GHD’s offices, from Adelaide to Canberra, Brisbane and Abu Dhabi. Leonora played a key role in refurbishments of the Supreme Court of South Australia, the Australian National Botanical Gardens and Old Parliament House.

She also had the chance with GHD to contribute to their major Abu Dhabi Airport upgrades. In fact, Leonora’s expertise was so sought-after, she was headhunted to join the Supervision Committee for the USD$5.7B expansion of Abu Dhabi International Airport (SCADIA).

“I relocated to Abu Dhabi after being headhunted for a program management role for one of the world’s most iconic airport projects, which is still under construction now,” Leonora says.

“This involved the construction of a new midfield passenger terminal, a second runway at a distance of 2,000 metres from the existing runway, cargo and maintenance facilities, and other commercial developments.”

“The project saw a doubling of the existing airport land area to 3,400 hectares, with dedicated buffer zones to the north and south, and the new facilities designed for an ultimate capacity of 50 million passengers a year.”

Abu Dhabi Airport's Midfield Terminal nearing completion, Abu Dhabi Airports (left) & KPF (right)
Abu Dhabi Airport's Midfield Terminal nearing completion, Abu Dhabi Airports (left) & KPF (right)

“It was an enormous project.”

After returning to Australia, Leonora worked for both private consulting and government-owned organisations, before ending up at Melbourne’s iconic Federation Square spearheading delivery of the AUD$11.7M Capital Asset Replacement and Renewal Works Program, and later the Queen Victoria Market.

Despite the twists, turns and new heights her career has reached as a high-level project manager, her love and enthusiasm of creating structures from the ground up and places for the public to make memories has always remained.

“I love how not one project is the same,” says Leonora. “Every project has its own challenges, but you are continuously learning something new!”

“…And who doesn’t like to see things being constructed and built – appearing right in front of your eyes.”


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