Our People here at Allen Jack+Cottier Architects are key to our continued dedication to delivering high quality buildings and urban spaces for our clients. In order to do our best work we understand that the people here need to be supported to have balance in their lives. Striking a perfect balance can be difficult.
This 2017 edition of our newsletter was instigated by our recent involvement with Australian organisation, Parlour.
Parlour is an online platform for discussion and research focusing on topics of women, equity and architecture in Australia. Parlour’s reach has expanded since its inception, with both genders at all levels contributing to the conversation.
AJ+C profiled a handful of our people who were showcased on Parlour’s social media platforms, from students and recent grads, through to our Associates, Senior Associates, Directors and Principals. Each person drew on the theme of ‘Balance’ and what this meant to them - professionally and outside of work.
The response to our contribution was fantastic, as balance in life is something we all experience and can relate to, so we decided to package it into a newsletter.
This whole project has highlighted to me how much my colleagues value their careers and are passionate and dedicated to their respective professions. Architecture is a demanding profession and it takes real commitment, passion and a relentless drive to make things happen.
I think most of us keep going because the outcome is highly tangible: a physical building which contributes to the enjoyment and lives of others.
I know that there is still an attitude in the industry that working long hours is associated with being more committed to your work and striving for architectural greatness (a hangover from uni days?). And I don’t mean this to discount the hard work it does take to do great work. But I do hope that this is starting to phase out as people become stronger on what they want and need for their lives. Luckily in our office we get told off if we are seen working overtime too much!
I really do believe that what we all do outside the office; be it raising families, studying, pursuing creative/sporting/other outlets actually adds richness and experience to our work.
And it’s important for this to be supported and respected, especially if we want to keep the best people in the industry.
I’ve juggled life and work, family and career for about 29 years. Yesterday my son finished his HSC and my daughter finished 2nd year at Uni. I feel a huge load has lifted.
Life has been demanding and I have never given the time I wanted to my family, however I believe that I have set a good role model for them to understand that if you are dedicated and passionate about your work you will achieve the rewards.
I’ve managed to squeeze architecture, sport, adventure, family and love into my life, sometimes in a hectic and manic fashion, sometimes to the success of one over another. I’ve spoken at length to my children about this and suggested they choose a career that will give them an easier relaxed life.
My daughter chose fashion…
It’s been a wild ride and I hope that the younger women coming through the profession will find a balance that gives them happiness, respect and a sense of completeness.
I hope there will be significant changes in the profession that enable us to slow down, get the details right and also have a life like everyone else.
JULIEN VAN DEN BERG
AJ+C is a mixture of all sorts of people, whose collective knowledge and abilities allow us to produce highly creative, innovative and sustainable work. And it takes understanding for us all to work well together. I think it’s that for the individuals in a practice to all put their best work forward, they need balance in their life.
This is why balance is so important, and everyone’s equilibrium is a bit different… For me, the creative and professional pursuits of my work are fascinating and demanding.
So the balance in my life is not more creative pursuits outside of work, rather it’s my young family and another passion I have for sport. Nearly every commute to work for me is a chance to keep up my triathlon training without having to miss the joy of breakfast time with a 15 month old at ten to seven each morning!
People and Culture Manager
One of the (many) attractive things about AJ+C is its willingness to show flexibility with employee’s travel requests – several people (including myself) have taken the opportunity to take long absences of leave to travel.
I took a year off to travel around Europe with my husband and our two young children in 2014, something I believe benefited AJ+C as well as myself.
We have a great culture but I don’t take this for granted and we continue to look for ways to help our employees feel engaged and valued.
Everyone contributes in their own way to the spirit of the office, it’s what makes AJ+C great. I am privileged to be able to work with a group of such amazingly talented and diverse individuals.
Balance is an interesting concept – one that has always been difficult for me. I tend to focus on only a few things in life and do those things with absolute dedication. This can be a struggle as I am an introvert and a perfectionist, so I invest in everything emotionally and personally.
Currently my day job is intense and I spend a lot of my time directing projects and staff rather than immersing myself in the work to the degree that I like.
My other passion is flamenco. After 16 years, it still requires constant work and application.
There are many similarities I find with architecture that appeal to both contradictory sides of my personality – the combination of the creative expression and defined structure, for example.
Most importantly flamenco is the most direct and honest translation of who I am, my experiences and what I am feeling in that moment.
"WORKING HARD FOR SOMETHING WE DON'T CARE ABOUT IS CALLED STRESS: WORK HARD FOR SOMETHING WE LOVE IN CALLED PASSION."
Like most people, I truly dreaded public speaking. So, deciding it would be a good idea to improve this situation, I joined my local toastmasters club.
What was waiting there you ask? Surprisingly an intensely positive, supportive & constructive environment to rethink how we communicate with others.
Who knew that it could help in so many unexpected ways & be the perfect antidote to years of uni critique/client presentation dread [who hasn’t had a presentation that went particularly awry & still harbor the scars!].
How has this helped re work/life balance? I am much more comfortable speaking than I have ever been before, which helps with day to day job stress. The more crucial improvement for me personally - is the ability to listen - really listen - to where someone is coming from. It sounds so basic, but what a different place we’d be in if we could all do this a little better.
Of course, we all struggle with balance. We all have to manage life and well-being on top of work and personal pursuits. But adding that extra thing to your plate is not easy and much of the time, it’s not even possible without giving up on something else.
I’ve learned that when I’m juggling too much, I can’t do anything particularly well.
The concept of balance for me is less about finding time to have all the things that I want, and more about learning to prioritise and compromise. But I’ve also learned that sometimes, I have to be a bit selfish, because when things get really tough and busy, the first plans I tend to give up on are the ones for myself. Me time is fundamental. You can do a great deal of learning, thinking, dreaming, growing and healing in solitude. I think that when you give a lot of time to other people, it’s critical to keep something that’s just for you.
CEO, Principal Design
Balance!, balance! When I think about balance, I think about the Chinese athlete holding 24 spinning plates while standing on an upturned chair, or Phillipe Petit between the two towers. It’s the art of merging different strains of life into one consistently calm mileu.
Our passion at AJ+C is to be creative, sustainable and innovative, while balancing the conceptual, technical, economic and artistic. It becomes a constant stimulating flow, like a racing boat cutting through the waves consistent, fast, and professional and only just in control!
Finishing my 20th Sydney to Hobart this year confirms that balance comes from having a professional team of friends and colleagues, who are all experts at what they do, at the same time as being hilariously funny, irreverent and great company!
So Balance is easy when you are part of a strong team that you enjoy working, and being with, every day.
I realize now that as I was sitting in the Year 10 careers office at school telling my teacher I wanted to become an Architect, that she did not properly prepare me for who I needed to become. It’s just about drawing buildings, right?!
Being an architect has become about learning the right balance of also being an engineer (all of them), an artist, a marriage counsellor, a project manager, a builder, an accountant, a public speaker, a politician, an office manager, an IT expert, a mentor... you get the picture.
If all that wasn’t enough you have to remember that you are still a daughter, sister, wife, aunt and friend who also has other interests apart from architecture. Some days I struggle to balance but every now and then there are those amazing ‘aaahhh’ moments (insert angels singing here) when you realize it may all still be worth it.
Balance = juggling, being flexible, being fluid, trying to add humour and not take yourself too seriously…yes somewhat akin to a circus performer.
I am not sure I have found the perfect equilibrium. I recently explored various career alternatives in search of the perfect balance but what I learnt is that for me being in a creative, collaborative and supportive environment like AJ+C enables me to enjoy both work and family and let the two cross paths.
A big challenge for me is not only balancing the physical side of working and raising a family but also the emotional side.
Balancing a stressful and frantic day in the office against the need to be a patient and calm mum a few minutes later is a challenging task and something I aspire to master.
It’s funny that whilst I go on about the difficulties of balancing life I also complain about not doing more, more creating, more exercise, more travel…
I chose this photo as I think it captures the idea of always having my hands full, never having clear headspace, and balancing the things that are important to me (whilst trying to see the funny side).
There is something to be said about balance in architecture when you look around on site and realise you are the only female for as far as the eye can see. Let’s face it, the construction industry has been largely a man’s world up until this point.
When on site, I am always met with respect from the builder and the client, however I’m forever conscious of the fact that I am usually outnumbered 10 to 1.
I’m not sure what the future construction industry looks like, but I think it would look a lot better with some more women in fluro.
Balance - if you get it, it only takes a small distraction to lose it, but it’s absolutely something to aspire to.
I have been privileged in being able to find a degree of balance within architecture because my creative process centres around drawing. When drawing my ideas, it seems time is suspended and my thinking and drawing meld into something in harmony, a creative balance.
Travelling brings balance too. When on the road, I always keep a diary and sketch book. Drawing a place, a scene, or a character requires observation and a considered pause. For me, unlike photos, even a simple sketch triggers my recall of the journey in much more detail.
More recently, I have attempted some work with oil paint, something that I’ve not done for what seems like a lifetime. It’s come about as a result of spending time in our shack on the South Coast.
This is where balance comes into its own, and the day’s events are determined by tides and prevailing weather rather than emails and a meeting calendar.
Here, I can be rejuvenated by a swim in the ocean or watching the beauty of afternoon light through the spotted gum forest. Even the physical tiredness that comes from working in the yard or demolishing an old concrete slab can feel balanced.
The issue of balance is often portrayed as a struggle which has negative connotations - I don’t see it that way.
For me it’s a matter of perspectives and choices.
Fortunately most things we deal with on a day to day basis do not involve life and death.
Knowing what drives you, what gives you joy and what is important in your life provides a compass.
I have lots of different things happening on a daily basis: raising my 3 wonderful girls, often alone as my husband travels frequently, building our new house (that is nearing completion!), as well as working on a variety of projects, definitely keeps me busy.
Knowing what my priorities are provides the frame in which I can operate.
AJ+C gives me the flexibility to do this, working alongside a supportive, talented team makes all the difference.
Ava Rose gives Dad some hands on design advice.
SO: Do you know what mum and dad do?
AR: Yes, the same thing.
SO: What’s that?
SO: Do you know what architects do?
AR: They draw pictures of houses all day!
SO: Would you be an architect?
Flexibility is the key.
Being able to coordinate calendars especially when deadlines are due; having access to our office machines from home so you can burn the midnight oil when we need it while still being able to have quality family time. The girls take great interest in what we are drawing and occasionally give (helpful?) criticism. I believe having two architect parents makes them more aware of design and the built environment.
This year has definitely had its challenges in finding balance in my life. With the pressures of starting a new job, my dad passing away, and finally completing my master’s degree in urban design (it has been long overdue!!!), I haven’t really given myself the chance to take a moment and focus on me.
In the past few years, I’ve given more priority to studying and working, and that I let my personal life fall by the wayside. But in light of the events of this year, it has put into perspective the importance of taking a step back and finding a healthy balance between accomplishing my professional goals and not forgetting to enjoy life’s moments as well.
While life is always going to throw its challenges, I’m looking forward to 2017 being about me finding a happy medium between my working life and my personal life.
I worked from home for nine years while my kids were young. My son once asked his kindy teachers for Antique White USA coloured paint. My work has always been part of our home life and vice versa.
Architecture is very accessible to children and there is nothing like kids for putting a ‘crisis’ at work into perspective. Working for myself gave me a lot of confidence to make decisions but I believe my best work is done as part of a team. My co-workers make my job a joy and having people you trust around you makes the work family juggle easier. In earlier years I found it harder because I felt I was not doing a good job at home or work, until a friend helped me understand that there is no such thing as perfection.
Pursue excellence and be a bit kind to yourself.
Somehow I thought I could improve my work-life balance by getting involved with the surf club where my son does nippers. I thought that my love of the beach had found an outlet; I imagined relaxed summer days frolicking in the water, maybe having a drink and chat at the club in the afternoon, watching the sun go down.
To my horror, I found that the carefree atmosphere of this mythical Aussie space has been colonised by regulations and red tape and now my weekends are just sunnier doppelgangers of my weekdays; the only significant difference is that my work for the club is unpaid. Oh, yes and I get to wear a ridiculous uniform (see picture).
When I see the kids having a great time and learning something useful along the way, all the effort feels worthwhile.
This again reminds me of practicing architecture; how doing something that you’re passionate about is its own reward.
Senior Interior Designer
Ok. Balance. Well, nearly 6 years ago my balance seriously shifted when I had my first child. Wow, nothing prepares you for that! After a year of no sleep (at least that’s what it felt like - I can’t quite remember) I was offered two days a week working for AJ+C interiors and the equilibrium was restored.
My creativity had an outlet again.
Not only did I get my career back, I got to work with a great bunch of people who are passionate about what they do. Now 5 years later (and another child to boot) I work more days but I think this makes me appreciate the time I do get to spend with my family. We took 3 months out this year to travel to Spain and this was not just approved by AJ+C but encouraged. Now if I could just do that every year... that would be a great balance!
When I started at AJ+C 9 years ago as a second year student, AJ+C supported my studies and was interested in helping me with my development in the profession. Fast forward to now – I’m recently married - and AJ+C is still supporting my life away from the office.
I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be understood as a person throughout various life stages, and that as my ‘equilibrium state’ between work and life has oscillated, I have worked in an environment which has catered to this just like a big extended family.
Graduate of Architecture
I’ve worked part time at AJ+C throughout my masters which was a great way of cementing what I was learning at uni- and attaining advice on my own projects! HR and my team were very flexible and understanding, especially in my last semester where I was able to take the time off I needed.
Graduating a few months ago, I’ve loved having my weekends and social life back as well as the extra energy I have at work.
Senior Architect / Urban Designer
I’m a senior architect/urban designer working four days a week, a mum of two young children, and an only daughter of my aged sick parents. I’m at a stage of my life which requires a lot of responsibilities and efforts.
Keeping my life work balanced is essential and I was fortunate to get two things right at the beginning: I married the right man and i’m working with the right team!
Family support: cooking, shopping and washing, looking after the kids… these are not the exclusive duties for women. Once the loads are shared my work capacity is extended.
Work support: The great thing about AJ+C is that it’s human focused rather than project focused! I can work from home when needed. I was always supported when I requested leave for travel due to family reason. Surprisingly, the projects didn’t suffer from such flexibility. Why? When people are well looked after, they’re more capable and willing to contribute back to their work. The projects benefit from great team work. What we called “the buddy system” ensures the projects could always be covered by our teammates without a hiccup.
Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Bernie, Office Pup
I have always been driven to work within a creative industry. A foundation in Jewellery & Object Design has led to an interest in architecture, and I have found over the years that the two disciplines are actually quite similar.
What keeps me inspired and motivated is the ability to create balance and variety, inside and outside of the workplace. Whether it’s here at AJ+C, at my workbench creating bespoke jewellery pieces, or a freelance floral styling gig that gets me out of bed at 3.30 am, it is a mix of interchangeable skills that weaves a creative thread through everything I do.