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DesignInc celebrated International Women’s Day on 8 March, recognising the achievements of women in architecture, design and construction, and hosting a panel discussion about the experience of women in the industry.

Our panel discussion, “Lean In: Courage, hard work and determination,” explored the journeys of three women and the challenges faced by women in architecture, design and construction. Catherine Hart (Project Manager, Event Hospitality & Entertainment and Director NAWIC) and Mary Anne McGirr (Principal – Urban and Landscape Design, DesignInc Sydney) shared their journeys to the top with attendees.

DesignInc Sydney Managing Director, Sandeep Amin, and Registrar of NSW Architects Registration Board, Tim Horton, shared their views on how the industry has evolved during the last two decades with increased female participation in the workforce and growth in female leadership.

DesignInc embarked on a journey to increase female leadership in 2015 and has since recruited and promoted highly skilled and talented women to senior leadership roles within the practice. We now proudly buck the industry trend in architecture and maintain a balanced gender ratio of 50:50.

We spoke to four women at DesignInc about their experiences in the industry and the advice they have for young women interested in architecture.

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262_jacqueline-urfordJACQUELINE URFORD, Associate – Education, has been in the architecture industry for more than 25 years.

What change have you seen in the architecture industry during your career?

When I started studying architecture at university, 20 per cent of the class were women. When I

finished the degree, 10 per cent graduated with me. Today, there are far more women studying architecture and actively participating in architecture. Women are gradually gaining acceptance in the profession. Many more women are directors of large commercial practices or even leaders of the profession.

Women architects are a recent addition to the Pritzker Architecture Prize: Zaha Hadid in

2004; Kazuyo Sejima in 2010; Carme Pigem in 2017. Since its inception in 1979, 3 out of 44 winners are women.

What is your most rewarding project?

I have been most fortunate to be involved in many rewarding projects. All projects provide an insight into another profession or approach to life and the environment. My involvement in schools and education projects has been indeed enlightening, allowing me to learn how people learn and interact. It has enabled me to understand how to create environments that are truly flexible and responsive to various ages, teaching styles and future technologies.

Other aspects of my career that have been rewarding are my involvement in AIA (NSW Chapter) as Chapter Councillor and Heritage Committee Chair; writing books on architects such as Peter Muller; contributing to encyclopaedias and publications on architecture; and teaching at university

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It is a celebration of women’s achievements.

What are the challenges and/or opportunities of being a woman in architecture?

Challenges: Work/life balance

Opportunities: I don’t believe there is a difference between men and women in this profession. We all create our own opportunities. Sexism may sometimes make it more difficult to prove ourselves and we may need to expend more energy in doing so. In the end, if we persevere and immerse ourselves and we are fortunate in meeting and working with people who are equally passionate, then we may be given the opportunities we desire.

Do you have a message for young women in architecture?

Architecture is a thoroughly stimulating and absorbing profession. It possesses more facets and tangents than most: art, design, law, management, finance. Like all professions, it demands a great deal of application and dedication.

As I have told my previous first-year students: Architecture is not a 9-5 career. It is not necessarily a profession that is highly regarded by the community or one that is well remunerated. It is however incredibly rewarding. The greatest satisfaction comes of realising your contribution to the improvement of the built environment for future generations.

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263_maria-rigoliMARIA RIGOLI, Associate – Landscape Architecture, has been in the landscape architectural industry for more than 25 years.

What change have you seen in the architecture industry during your career?

Workplace and construction site health and safety rules have changed dramatically since I began in the industry. Though I understand why, I think some aspects of(?) have gone beyond what is really necessary. Another notable change is that more landscape architects are taking the lead on major projects previously led by engineers or architects.

What is your most rewarding project?

My most rewarding project would have to be Barangaroo Reserve. It was great being project landscape architect on a project that completely re-created a headland park on Sydney Harbour. It is now used and loved by many, many people.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day reminds me of an influential high school teacher who first explained the importance of the day. She made a bunch of Year 7 girls feel they could do anything. It always reminds me of how she inspired us to think beyond the stereotypical careers.

What are the challenges and/or opportunities of being a woman in architecture?

Challenges: there is still significant gender inequality in architecture when one looks at the ratio of male to female directors in architectural firms.

Opportunities: though equally capable of producing great work, men and women do look at things differently. I think both have an important role in design. Women should embrace their sometimes-alternate view to design to bring more diversity to the built environment.

Do you have a message for young women in architecture?

My message to all young people is this: the decision about what career path to choose can be very daunting, but it is just one step. If you are passionate about something, go for it. If not, choose something you are interested in. You never know – you may love it, or it may open doors to something that will suit your skills and interest.

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267_mary-anne-mcgirrMARY ANNE McGIRR, Principal – Urban and Landscape Design, has been in the architecture industry for 20 years.

What change have you seen in the architecture industry during your career?

Urban and landscape design has become important and integral to the success of projects.

What is your most rewarding project?

Any project where we have been able to add value and provide an improved public domain outcome for the community.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It’s a time to reflect on how far we have come, to celebrate achievements and understand what and where inequalities still exist.

What are the challenges and/or opportunities of being a woman in architecture?

Working on large transport infrastructure projects can mean being the only woman in the room sometimes, however it has also meant that I have been given opportunities because of that too.

Do you have a message for young women in architecture?

Don’t be afraid to speak up and be heard; everyone’s voice and opinions are valuable and relevant. Volunteer for the tough projects not just the ones that seem more interesting as you will learn more and create more opportunities for yourself.

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268_megan-walkerMEGAN WALKER, Associate in Urban & Landscape Design and Transport Architecture, has been in the architecture industry for almost 20 years.

What change have you seen in the architecture industry during your career?

I studied two years of architectural drafting where we used only pen and pencil before studying architecture at university, so the introduction of digital software for documentation and design is the biggest change. It has influenced the way we design, the way we work with consultants and the geometric complexity of the architecture we build.

What is your most rewarding project?

The urban design of the M7 Motorway, mainly due to its scale (40km long), its influence on the big-picture urban development and improvement to the connectivity of Sydney’s outer suburbs. Some of the bridges have become major landmarks for Western Sydney.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It’s important to celebrate advances in gender equality because we still have a long way to go. Women contribute to the architecture/construction industry in so many valuable ways and much more now than they used to be able to.

What are the challenges and/or opportunities of being a woman in architecture?

It’s still a male-dominated industry but it is changing slowly. I honestly don’t think of myself as a ‘woman’ in the industry. I think of myself first and foremost as an architect. My gender doesn’t drive my professional behaviour, interactions or choices. However, I do think that women operate with less ego than men in the workplace. They’re better team players from my experience.

Do you have a message for young women in architecture?

Go for it! Just do your best. There are so many roles and niche areas of interest. I know so many architects who have ended up moving into other industries and taking those design skills with them. I love the variety of projects I work on and that I’ve ended up focussing on transport infrastructure. The industry however needs to be much more flexible in working hours and options such as working from home. This is as important for men as for women.

 

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