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    What it's like to be a female director with Hayball's Sarah Buckeridge

    Stephanie McDonald

    Sarah Buckeridge, director at Hayball, joined the company in 1998 and became a director in 2007.

    She has a strong interest in the future form of the city and how to effectively respond to challenges and advocates an approach that involves integrated, mixed-use design solutions that respond to changing demographics.

    Architecture and Design spoke to her about roadblocks for women in the industry, matching housing type and amenity to community needs, and demographic changes in Australia.

    What do you think are the main roadblocks to women advancing in the architecture industry?

    During my career, architecture has grown in leaps and bounds in providing a framework that supports the advancement of women in the profession.

    I recall at university in the 1990s the head of the school standing on the table and saying that architecture was ‘an old man’s game’ and that architects didn’t hit their stride until they were in their 40s. As an 18-year-old woman, this didn’t resonate or fill me with optimism about how I might fit into this model of a successful architectural career.

    Fortunately, there’s been a real shift in culture since that time.

    Women regularly lead their own architecture practices and hold senior positions in larger firms. However, while women have been equally represented at university and at the graduate level for many decades, there remain high attrition rates for female architects as they progress through their career. For example, research by the Australian Institute of Architects has indicated that they continue to be significantly under-represented in ownership and directorship of architectural practices.

    Women generally start to feel this in the mid-career point when they are seeking more flexibility to balance requirements of work and family. Long hours, long-term projects and intensive deadlines and workflows are common in architecture – but it doesn’t mean companies can’t work harder to support women in flexible roles where they can still be highly valued, effective and progress in practice.

    How could these roadblocks be overcome in the industry?

    There’s a number of organised mentoring programs in the industry that provide women with strong role models, like the Property Council of Australia and the Australian Institute of Architects. The PCA program is valuable because it fosters an ability to make connections across the property industry, not just in the architecture profession.

    Role models are invaluable. They show younger generations that having a family and a successful career is possible. If younger architects see there’s a pathway for them in the profession, they have more confidence to continue to create change and make it easier for the next generation. I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm and growing profile of younger women in the profession.

    Are there any other countries around the world Australia could learn from?

    In the most recent Women in Architecture survey, it was found that 97 percent of Australian women felt that having children put women at a disadvantage in their careers. Other major economies had a similar sentiment – 89 percent of women in the UK, 79 percent of women in Europe and 84 percent of women in the U.S. and Canada feel they are taking a step backwards in their career if they had a baby. Clearly, the issues women are facing in the industry are a global challenge.

    You have an interest in the form of a city and how to respond to challenges. What do you think are some of the main challenges facing architects today?

    It has been encouraging to see that the debate about the form of our cities and affordable housing is finally resonating as an important issue at both a state and federal level of politics.

    Working in the sphere of multi residential housing, it has been apparent for many years that there is a significant challenge in designing medium and high density housing, in any form, that can be successful within the commercial parameters of rising land prices, construction costs and financing models.

    Matching the housing type and amenity to the real needs within the community is particularly challenging. For instance, we see young people trying to access the property market in locations where they wish to live, like the inner-city or school zones, or older generations seeking smaller accommodation within their local community.

    As architects, we often see the tension between designing spaces which will be valued by the end user versus what will bring value through a sales and marketing phase. For example, designing day lit and ventilated building entries and corridors and well configured indoor and outdoor spaces with thoughtful incorporation of storage is not always the highest priority in a marketing campaign but brings delight and functionality to the resident.

    For us, success is in embedding real value by designing well-crafted architecture which is commercially viable and marketable while also incorporating those elements that make a successful home.

    How do you think architects are responding to changing demographics in Australia?

    Clearly, strong population growth, particularly in Victoria, is driving demand for new denser models of development. We are seeing this across several sectors, for example, in the development of more compact urban schools incorporating community assets and in vertical mixed-use schemes, including aged care and child care across multiple levels.

    In the residential sphere, there is no doubt that we are seeing an increasing response to growth in the older demographic groups. Downsizers are seeking apartments that provide a viable alternative to their detached family homes and allow access to social networks both within their apartment buildings but are also well located within their local neighbourhoods.

    This shift in demand means that architects are increasingly designing to respond to the needs of these cohorts, and creating apartment models that are suited to a broad range of occupants. Crafting apartments which are liveable and accessible as people age is important, but so is ensuring apartments can be flexible for a range of occupants such as young families. 

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