To be given the UDIA NSW & Greenfields Development Company Distinguished Service Award for Excellence is a significant achievement as it seeks to award an individual who has contributed to UDIA NSW in a significant way, the benefits of which are lasting and can be readily seen.

This award is not open for nomination or application by the general membership, nominees are put forward by the UDIA NSW Council and it is a decision which creates a strong debate over several meetings, it really is an achievement and well deserved. Karl has demonstrated true leadership in the Urban Development industry, through his sustained high level of contribution to shaping design and planning policy in NSW.

Seen as always a willing volunteer to take on the challenges faced by the industry, Karl has given selflessly to the efforts of taskforces, committees and workshops focussed on better outcomes for housing supply, the environment and the community.

In the past several years, Karl was instrumental in his contribution in critical analysis of proposed draft Planning instruments from government agencies.  His research into key complex design and commercial parameters, led to significant improvements and better government policies. What Karl does not know about the complex analysis of cross-ventilation, is not worth knowing!

His personal time spent on a detailed understanding and advocating for planning and design issues was invaluable to the industry.

We were keen to know more about the person who is this year’s UDIA NSW Greenfields Development Company Distinguished Service Award recipient.

What was it about specialising in urban design and master planning throughout your career?

I learned early in my career that if you don’t get the urban design right, then the buildings themselves are not going to make great places or cities. We need to design for the future we want and that includes future planning for open space, services and amenities that support an increased density as our population grows. You can spend all your effort designing one great house, however, the impact is small. But, when you put that effort towards projects of scale, the impact can be much greater.

When you started out, what did you want to be known for?

I wanted to be someone who was always curious to learn something new, never afraid to take on a new challenge, and always willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with my team and clients to get the project done.

How important is it to support your industry through participation?

Instead of complaining about issues in the industry, there are so many opportunities for architects to get involved and be agents of change. Industry participation allows us to shape a better future for all, and debate and advocate on important issues. It also provides an opportunity to create a strong and unified voice for our industry, so we can successfully communicate our ideas to the public, other organisations and to government.

If you were starting out again in your career… what would you do differently?

I would get involved in the broader industry sooner, as there is so much to learn from being around more experienced professionals and the mentorship and sponsorship that can come out of those connections is invaluable.

As an employer, what is the one skill or attribute you look for in your staff in terms of their leadership potential and do you choose it or develop it?

For leadership potential, I would say there are two attributes I look for – strength and warmth. Strength of character is the ability to take charge when required and to galvanise those around you to deliver a common goal. Warmth is the ability to achieve this without force, by being empathetic and allowing people to deliver their best in their own way. A great leader does not need to be the smartest person in the room, but they do need to be able to listen to, and take counsel, from those who are.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone looking to advance their career in our industry?

Get involved in an area of the industry you are passionate about and contribute some of your time and energy to reaching out beyond your own job and affect change more broadly. In return, you will get the opportunity to interact with a group of interesting and equally passionate people and raise your profile within the industry.

If we were sitting here in 12 months’ time, what would be the most important achievement that you would like to be celebrating? 

That we, as architects and designers, are recognised as a respected industry attracting the worlds’ best and brightest talent, with equality and empowerment to be their true selves, creating some of the world’s best places and spaces. And to know that I was able to be some small part of making that happen.


This interview forms part of a UDIA D&I Committee initiative series to encourage and highlight more diversity in UDIA and the property industry. It is intended to highlight diversity by profiling our members through industry publications on a regular basis throughout the year. Thank you to Karl May, Managing Director, Turner.

Since 2018, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee has been one of the key Business Advisory Committees for the UDIA NSW, focussed on improving and promoting diversity and inclusion in the UDIA and our industry. This year, we launched the ‘One Thing’ campaign – celebrating and sharing the ‘one thing’ that we’re doing to empower people by respecting, supporting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, and education. What’s your One Thing?