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Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: A Win for Australia’s Female Architects

The Australian Institute of Architects has just appointed its first female president of the AIA WA Chapter.

  • Suzanne Hunt



BY David Congram

May 8th, 2017


Approximately a little more than a year ago I was at a friend’s graduation ceremony at the University of Sydney. The general air of the day was buoyant, carefree and suffused with an electricity of excitement and becoming (which, naturally, is the order of the day for any graduate-cum-fledgling-professional). My friend had just completed the second round of qualifications in her architecture degrees, and was understandably over the moon (and very overdue) for a much-deserved holiday. After the ceremony, a few of her peers and I banded together over tepid champagne. Prima facie, there was nothing particularly remarkable about this: it is generally the way things transpire at these quasi-awkward forced mixers. Staling finger sandwiches and flat Yellowglen aside, however, from that day to this I have not forgotten the conversation we all shared.

“I couldn’t believe it. It’s sad, absolutely. And, I suppose, while I think it’s disgusting, I know it is far worse that I am not surprised. I’ve spent over six years here and not once has anyone spoken about it”.

This was the response from one of our party to my question about how she was enjoying her internship at one of Sydney’s boutique architecture firms. Her tone was more crestfallen than irate – and how disappointing it was to hear her litany of sexual inequities from not only within the firm itself, but rife in the discipline broadly. I looked around the room: and a seeming majority of her fellow graduates of architecture were female and I couldn’t help thinking “surely this ratio reflects a positive correlation in the industry. Surely she must be mistaken”. Sadly – and I am sorry to report it – she was not.

In a recent report on what is an atrocious indictment on the architecture sector, less than 30% of the female graduates in that room last year will practice at a tenured level; less than 8% will ever reach a senior directorship position; and every single one of them will be paid less than 70% of their male counterparts’ salaries. This year, the pay gap between men and women in the profession has doubled since 2015, a damning statistic that accompanies a rise in women leaving the profession at an alarmingly increasing rate. Sue Carr of Carr Design recently remarked that “for over a century, women have played an important role in shaping the architecture and design industry in Australia. Today more than 40% of architecture and interior graduates are women. Yet despite this, women leave the profession at a much higher rate to men and are significantly underrepresented in senior and leadership positions. Australian research suggests the reason for this point to work/life demands and negative perceptions about women’s leadership abilities”.

 

The Old Boys’ Club is obviously endemic to A+D – no matter how much we like to deny it – but need it still be the mono-disciplined male business this data infers?

 

In the past decade the diversification of architecture has come quite a long way. We’ve made impressive headway to be more discipline-diverse, project-problem-solution-client diverse, even more aesthetically and culturally diverse. But while we have seen improvements in gender-diversity, we’ve evidently still got a very, very long way to go.

I am happy to report that the cause for gender equity in this industry – while very much still on the road to improvement – has recently achieved a significant milestone. Award-winning architect Suzanne Hunt has been elected the first female president of the Australian Institute of Architects Western Australian chapter – marking an important moment in the industrial relations history of architecture in Australia.

As part of her new role, she is keen to pursue increased advocacy for members, collaborate with associations in the design and construction space, and promote opportunities for architects in tourism, which is vital to the sustainability of the Western Australian economy.

As an advocate for driving the value of equity and diversity in the discipline, Suzanne Hunt of Suzanne Hunt Architect is inspired by the fact that architecture nourishes people’s lives physically and emotionally. As a driver for more gender equity across the profession, Hunt’s dedication to raising the professional standard represents a big step forward in shaping capital-A Architecture to become the forward-thinking discipline it always should have been. As a fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects, her involvement in championing the richness and depth of involvement for women in the profession has had a positive impact on encouraging further participation in architecture’s public culture. Recently taking home AIA Awards for Residential Architecture and Interiors, the HIA Australian House of the Year (2015) and Best of Houzz (2016) Design, Hunt’s Bedfordale House stands for not only forward-thinking sustainable contemporary design, but is also a encouraging emblem of the high calibre of innovation which a great number of women in small and large practices are achieving – irrespective of gender.

Supporting the cause for greater integration and inclusivity in the profession, in Hunt’s own words: “[t]here’s only 7 female Fellows in AIA, the Australian Institute of Architects WA Chapter. There’s 121 men. I’d like to see that change to more accurately reflect the numbers of women working in our industry”.

And yet, this commitment to bettering the identity of architecture as a discipline marries with her practice’s investment in the way architecture is, conversely, also an active shaper of identity. Following the announcement that our heritage buildings (especially throughout Western Australia) will undergo considerable redevelopment in the years ahead, the public discussion surrounding the role of architecture in our lives (not to mention public architecture) has become heated. With the redevelopment of many of our oldest structures underway, and a whole host of new mega-structures on the cards, grappling with questions of local and national identity have squarely become the concern of our architects.

Influenced heavily by the breadth of stakeholder engagement in these debates, Suzanne Hunt is invested in conserving, adapting and celebrating the heritage icons of our cityscape alongside the new additions to our architectural identity. As a specialist in contemporary and heritage A+D across the state, Hunt is also on the Board of the Rottnest Island Authority – the Authority protecting the flora, fauna, architecture and facilities of one of WA’s most breathtaking natural environments. With over 25 years’ experience in the industry stretching over all sectors, Hunt’s involvement with architectural conservation and adaptive reuse is an inspired approach to harnessing the resources of our heritage structures for sustainable and future-proof purpose.

 

All of us at Indesign Media wish to congratulate Suzanne Hunt on her recent appointment to the Presidential Chair of the AIA WA Chapter.

 

A version of this article was previously published on ContemporaryAU.com.


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