Women in Architecture

To coincide with International Women’s Day we spoke with three ArchiTeam members about their careers and how they were drawn into being an architect. We speak with Fiona Poon of Po-Co Architecture, Claire Scorpo of Claire Socrpo Architects and Esther Sughito of Social Design +Architecture.

What made you choose architecture, was it a particular experience, building or person that made you want to be an Architect? 

FP: I wanted to be an architect during the earlier years of high school, I can’t recall exactly any particular moment why, but was actually discouraged by my uncle, an architect in Hong Kong, who told me it’s too hard for women to be successful in architecture! How times have changed since then I think – and I’m glad to have not followed that advice…

CS: I did not always want to be an architect.  My father is a landscape architect, and perhaps in rebellion, never considered something in this field for my choice of career.  As I was fumbling through a science degree, I felt a yearning to do something more creative.  I enrolled in 2 architecture subjects and it felt like everything clicked in place. In retrospect, this connection to landscape architecture had an enormous impression on me and very much shaped how I approach projects now.

ES: My childhood was spent at open for inspections, poring over plans and thinking of how things could be changed. That would be a good Saturday!

Have you found working in architecture to be challenging for a woman?

FP: The biggest challenge for me has been juggling having a baby last year and keeping the practice running. As a sole practitioner, the responsibility involved with having ‘project’ babies and a real baby was huge. Besides this, no – I’ve been very lucky to have some great work experience and great clients who’ve trusted me.

CS: Currently, most of our work sits in the residential sector, where issues of gender equity I believe are not as challenging as in other areas. I am very aware of the difficulties in other sectors, especially at the executive end of larger practices.  There are certainly times where I have felt a need to be more assertive than you might be naturally, to get on level with some contractors and even clients, however on a whole the most challenging aspects to me currently are not gender related.

ES: At times it can be, however youth and ethnicity also play into that. It is often surprising or unpredictably challenging, or smooth sailing – you just don’t know what attitudes you may come across.

Has the profession and/or industry changed for women since you’ve been practicing architecture?

FP: Definitely. Back in my student days I was lucky enough to land a role at Kerstin Thompson Architects, who was an amazing role model, especially as there really weren’t many women out there making a name for themselves. Now though, there are so many successful local female architects doing such special work, I feel like its not even an issue anymore whether you’re male/female – its a really great time to be in practice.

CS: Starting my practice in 2014, I have become more involved in networks and events that are supportive of women.  The AIA have a constructive mentoring program, was enormously beneficial to me in the first year of starting practice.  We are also incredibly lucky to have initiatives such as Parlour – promoting equity in the profession.  It feels like a good time to be a woman in the profession, with support on the rise, however there is still a way to go.

ES: As societal shifts occur, so does the industry, so by virtue of that, there have been some changes. If anything Parlour has really pushed the agenda in the industry in Australia, so kudos to them.

What have been the highlight moments in your career to date? (Or any fascinating low points?)

FP: Actually becoming a Finalist in the Architeam awards was a really nice surprising moment at the end of a challenging year. The clients for that project were so happy with the results and the builders were really co-operative, so to be recognised for being a part of that team helped to reinforce for me what’s great about being in this profession.

CS: Winning the ArchiTeam award for the Thornbury House was a great moment – it was a very simple residential addition, low budget with some bigger ideas so was proud it was well received by my peers.  It is a project that captures many of our key values, so felt like it gave us a push to keep working in that direction.

ES:High points – getting registered and starting a values-based architectural practice; obtaining B-Corp certification as the first architectural practice in Australia, designing a game-changing cohousing project, starting Melbourne Architours during the downturn of the GFC and creating an independant voice for good design, and of course, being recognised for that in the ArchiTeam awards!

When you look into the crystal ball what do you see the professional looking like in in 2027 

FP: The role of an architect is ever-evolving, with changes in technologies and the widespread use of image based apps, so it’s so hard to imagine how we’ll all operate in ten years from now! On a personal level, I’ve been thankful to be connected with a small circle of like-minded women who are also juggling running a practice with family – who I’ve been able to share my experience (and workload) with. As working from home becomes easier, that connection is really important and it would be nice to see a more organised co-operative to assist others to do the same.

CS: A profession more accessible to our broader community.

ES: More agile, adaptable and collaborative, working outside of the constraints of built construction, contributing to systematic change through design thinking – our skills are invaluable and very transferrable. Also, our industry will be less concerned with older issues such as full service or use of other consultancies for architectural services, as we will create new services to offer and deliver value.