Women in Architecture – Julia Barfield

WHY YOU BECAME AN ARCHITECT

At school I resisted the choice we were expected to make between the arts and sciences. I enjoyed both and architecture seemed a great marriage between the two.

FIRST PROJECT

Design of a self-build housing and a community centre for Barrida in Lima, Peru. While at the Richard Rogers Partnership, the Lloyd’s Building as a model maker, and the Inmos microchip factory, Newport as an architectural assistant.

SECTORS YOU WORK IN

Open to all.

ADVICE TO ASPIRING FEMALE ARCHITECTS

Define your own future. Concentrate on the job in hand and being the best architect you can. Assume gender blindness.

WHY WOMEN LEAVE

It’s a combination of factors – inflexible / family-unfriendly working arrangements, the long-hours culture, low pay, the ‘glass ceiling’ and macho culture in some practices.

WHAT WOULD MAKE THEM STAY?

Many factors reflect persistent gender inequalities in society as a whole, not just the construction industry, such as the assumption that women should be the principal child carers. It would be good if architects took a lead, however I have noticed that the most innovative, forward-thinking architects are not necessarily forward-thinking socially. For more than 20 years, MBA has had 50 per cent men / women without really trying. It’s not hard! It would be useful if the RIBA pooled ‘best practice’ and published advisory notes for practices.

ON CHILDREN

There are no easy answers; work/child balance is an impossible circle to square. When my children were young, I constantly felt I should be in the other place – the ‘child pull’ always being the stronger of the two. However, we did find that au pairs lightened the load. Good running shoes also help!

CURRENT CHALLENGE

The cost of childcare in relation to salary makes it hard, and it’s not an easy profession to do part-time or take five years out and then return to.

ON SEXISM

There is definitely less than when I started. I remember ads with scantily clad women inexplicably reclining on fire doors and those calendars in engineers’ offices, not just on site. However, there is still a long way to go.

BEST ADVICE EVER RECEIVED

Embrace what you cannot avoid.