We all different paths in life, some are bumpy,some set in stone, some float with the breeze. For this weeks “My Trade Story”, our resident architect Amelia Lee from Undercover Architect, shares her journey into architecture.
My Trade Story with Amelia Lee
I actually chose architecture as a career when I was 16 … and I recall that I thought it would be a good career for a mum as I could work from home. (So strange, but true! – I think I’d been deluded by Peter Brady on the Brady Bunch, who was always working from his groovy office whilst the kids ran around!). I had visions of sitting at a drawing board with a baby at my feet (I was a very clucky 16 year old – but was 33 before I had our son!). I loved that it married creativity to a pragmatic and functional outcome.
The beginning of my working life in architecture, at age 21 (whilst still at uni), involved all-nighters, working weekends, and big, big hours. As I completed my degree, I was also working on the Sydney Olympic Project … (I was involved in the lighting towers down the main boulevarde, and all the public domain elements) … and I worked ridiculous hours – but I was young, and I was loving what I did, and so I wanted to get as much experience as I could.
The pay was ridiculously low though – my first year out of my 6 year degree, in 1998, I was on $22,000. I had friends from my year getting jobs with big businesses like Andersens and Coca Cola, on $50,000. I remember the recruitment day at uni – they thought if we’d persisted for 6 years at uni, they could teach us anything, so architecture graduates were really attractive employees for many businesses!
I tried to leave architecture in 1998, and headed overseas – where I met my (now) husband whilst working in a USA Summer Camp. Living in London for a year, I finally succumbed and got a job in architecture for a few months because it was better than the other non-qualified work on offer.
I tried to leave architecture again in 2002, whilst doing some studies in Property Economics, and starting with Mirvac. I planned to move into development, and be better paid, and get a bit more balance in my life. Even though it was offered to me, I ended up finding my groove working as a Project Architect in Mirvac Design, and seeing my work get built. It was fantastic. Still big hours though, managing a big team and big projects worth big money – and lots of fun.
Working in a male dominated industry is not without its challenges. I certainly experienced my share of chauvinism and some serious moments of discrimination. However, what I found unique to the way I worked was that I am a great listener, and very willing to admit when I don’t know something, and ask for help and advice. In addition, I love working collaboratively, and building great relationships with those I work with. These skills – which I think can be particular to the female gender – certainly helped me navigate my career well, and climb a steep learning curve, as well as earn the respect of those I worked with.
In 2008, I had our son. Whilst I couldn’t wrap my head around the workload I’d been doing before he was born, I knew I didn’t never want to work again. So when he was almost 5 months old, I took on an administrative role within Mirvac Design, and worked mainly from home – small, flexible hours, just to keep a toe in.
Three kids and 8 years later, I’ve been very fortunate to maintain a career in architecture – but it’s required zigging and zagging so I can be the kind of mum I want to be too.
I can’t manage the big residential projects I did pre-kids, as well as be at home with my kids. Over the years, I’ve changed roles to help with programming workflow of 100 staff, and managing the financial side of the architectural practice I co-owned. It’s been about finding roles where I’m not managing a big team or big project really closely, and can work remotely.
As well, I’ve done lots of work for couples and families, renovating and building their homes … because they never minded if I brought a baby to the meeting, and sent them emails late at night.
Like any mum, I just did what I could to balance it all in a way that made sense to us as a family. Meanwhile, my husband also zigged and zagged in his working life and between us we figured out the juggle. Doing our own renovations was certainly part of this juggle too.
Now, in this latest incarnation of my career with Undercover Architect, I’m seeking the ultimately flexibility that working online gives … location, time and team … whilst still helping as many people as I can, create great homes that make their lives better.
It’s really exciting (and daunting!) to be creating something new when I’m 20+ years into my career, but I’m having fun so far (in amongst the terror of trying to figure things out!)
I especially love that I’ve built up this expertise and experience over so many years, and have found a way to share that knowledge so it helps so many more people than just my individual clients.
In Australia, the stats still show that, even though around 50% of architectural students are female, less than 1% of director positions in architectural practice are female.
I know my grandmother wanted to be an architect, but it was out of reach for her as a woman in the 1930s and 40s … things may have a long way to go, but they’ve come a long way as well. Each woman who has trailblazed her way (and each man who has supported and endorsed her) can be proud of that.
If you’re planning on architecture or design as a career, or you’re in the midst of it, don’t let these stats put you off.
Instead, know that as long as you’re passionate about design, and the difference it makes to how we all live, then you’ll find your niche … and you’ll find your way.
And if you ever need a chat, ideas or advice about how to navigate your journey in the industry, just shout out – I’m here to help.
Another inspiring installment of “My Trade Story”. Thank you for sharing Amelia!
Have you got a trade story you would like to share?