Sub-standard housing is a social issue. Big statement, I know. But at the risk of sounding like a massive lefty – it’s true. Since the industrial revolution each generation has experienced a better quality of living than the last. But it’s often said that the millennial generation will be the first to live worse-off than our parents.
So, basically given how shit everything is, I find it completely amazing how little we invest in good housing, particularly in Australia.
We have some pretty poor housing stock. I mean ‘poor housing’, in the sense of just generally crappy, draughty, cold in winter, hot in summer, energy guzzling houses, that are poor performers for the lifetime of the asset. Couple that with climate crisis and the rising homelessness, (particularly impacting older women over 55) and it’s no wonder that as an architecturally trained professional in the construction industry – I find it constantly depressing that I can’t do more to foster the changes necessary to bring about better housing.
So, why don’t we build better? It’s something I agonise over quite often and having gone to the South Pacific Passive House conference, it’s something I will now agonise over even more. But then I’m highly altruistic and therefore to my mind it’s a no-brainer to build for the greater good.
The SPPH Conference jogged memories of my childhood. I lived in a brick skin house, with large full height, single glazed windows. I’d wake up as a kid to play with the condensation on my window as I sat on the duct of our in floor heating. No wonder I had asthma growing up. No wonder our heating ran for three quarters of the year. Australia has a housing stock of single glazed, poorly insulated, often poorly oriented houses, that use energy at an alarming rate, particular for heating and cooling.
Without getting technical in any way, Passive House is based on five fundamental, research based and lead principles; thermal insulation, passive house windows, comfort ventilation and heat recovery, air tightness and thermal bridge free construction.
At the conference we had a very apt discussion by a researcher and evidence agitator, Jess Berentson-Shaw, on ‘how to talk about passive house’. Having built one now, I still feel like explaining what it is, is an absolute nightmare. Particularly because I still feel like I know none of the technical aspects well and there’s always that awkward moment when someone is more technical than you and asks you a question you can’t answer. I mean, mate… I just built it.
We assume that if we explain the logic and the info behind Passive House, basically an instruction manual for how to ‘build better’, people will just get it and this will lead to action. But facts bounce off people. People have preconceived notions about how to build and about the world in general. And these can be hard to shift. We let emotions dictate the narratives we accept. Until we get the story straight, the social pressure, and the emotional push behind the drive to build better, no one is going to step out of the status quo and take up the mantle. There’s little imperative (money) for a builder or developer to spend more in the short term, for an end user that may save dosh in the long terms and the few that are doing it, have to throw serious cash behind the initiative. Cash heavy, custom design projects are themselves perceived as elitist (hardly design for the masses!)
But this is just plain wrong. Because bringing good design to the masses, will drive the costs down…and therefore democratise a performance driven standard for building better – whether that be Passive House specifically or something else.
To get a little technical again, a CSIRO report looked into the draughtiness of Melbourne houses and found that the average Melbourne house has 19.7 ac/h@50pa (that’s almost 20 air changes per hour at 50 pa of pressure – or in other words; bloody draughty). The building Multiplex just completed at Monash Peninsula achieved under the Passive House standard of 0.6 ac/h@50pa (or super, duper air tight). The tighter the building (provided there is a good ventilation and a heat recovery system), the less time (and money) spent heating and cooling. The less energy consumed. Since the media often panders to the political wrangling over energy prices, surely someone can get on the bandwagon here and offer better building as a viable solution.
At the moment the Australian market is immature with regards to building to the Passive House standard. Supply is tough, with windows and doors needing to be procured mostly from Europe. Air leakage isn’t a thing we are used to. And most of our buildings have serious thermal bridges. Our climate has been so temperate, that we have been complacent when it comes to driving innovation and performance through our built fabric.
In Europe, North America and now in China, this hasn’t been the case. The City of Exeter has been building social housing to Passive House standards for the past ten years (yes, TEN…that’s how far behind we are). The City of Vancouver has incentivised the standard so that in the past four years, their projects number in the thousands. Arguably more trying climates than Melbourne, which has perhaps prompted the greater need for a solution, but Melbourne prides itself on its livability…which won’t last long if we keep building rubbish performers.
I’m passionate about Passive House, not because I’m a convert, or a devotee, but because in a society trying to find new models of housing delivery, I see it as a way to help the most vulnerable and the most at need, to live healthy, productive and perhaps even more financially stable lives.
The legacy we leave when our millennial generation retires, should be a legacy of housing stock fit for the twenty-first century. We have the research. We have the technology. We need to get on board and build better.
We had brilliant feedback on Justine’s piece from last week. The figures are shocking and yet fact. Today we bring you Sophie Dyring’s talk from the Symposium. We hope you find both comfort and inspiration from the fact that people are taking notice and actively out there trying to make a difference to the lives of women. We thoroughly thanks Sophie for sharing this piece with us. J & D x
An individual’s personal domestic space should be a place of comfort and security, designed thoughtfully and with care. Too often this is not the case for women. A safe, secure, permanent and affordable home provides the stability women need in order to flourish. It is a catalyst for significant, positive social and economic change that can break the cycle of poverty.
In the financial year 2016-2017, 60% of Victorians needing help with homelessness were women, most often with children. Family violence is frequently a cause of homelessness for women and their children. Social housing is required specifically for women, because women are often financially disadvantaged due to casual or low paid employment, and the gender pay gap. They also frequently have lower superannuation and savings for a variety of reasons, including time out of the workforce.
I’d like to begin my presentation today with two quotes from incredible women as I couldn’t say it better myself. First Jeanette Large, CEO of Women’s Property Initiatives (WPI) wrote in a paper we presented together on this upcoming project,
“design gives control over the result and the inclusions that are important for the housing of women”
and secondly Truus Schroder, a liberated architecture client of the nineteenth century, said;
“one must construct an environment as one constructs a way of life, thoughtfully and deliberately”
At Schored Projects, we want to provide women with the best possible housing money can afford, while balancing the project budget and building as many livable homes as possible.
The Coburg Townhouse is a social housing project, which we were the architects and landscape architects for with our clients WPI. This is a project for women and their children and is ideally situated in Coburg close to amenities and infrastructure such as public transport, primary schools, shopping and park land.
The site has been planned to increase residents’ safety and security. The building abuts the western site boundary with a wall 1½ storeys high to prevent people accessing properties. The wall is masonry with minimal openings, which contributes to acoustic separation from the passing trains. All townhouses have an independent entry from the shared access way along the east section of the site, which is accessed through a secure front gate.
The shared landscape area is an important design feature of the project. It is a communal space to gather, to relax, to garden, to enjoy and it fosters a community on site. We designed this space beyond the function of access, aiming to facilitate connection and occupation. The space is generous in width, with bench seats sited individually and clustered in groups and under-cover bike storage. Lighting is designed to guide the resident’s home safely but be unobtrusive once they’re indoors. In the common space, residents have replaced native grasses and some productive planting with softer foliage and more colour to make the space their own.
There are seven townhouses comprising five 1 bedrooms and two 2 bedrooms for single women and women with one child. The townhouses are 10% larger than average Melbourne apartments. The architecture and landscape architecture have been fully integrated in consideration of the quantity and quality of the open spaces for residents. Each property has a private courtyard and service terrace, and the two bedroom properties have larger, child friendly courtyards, spaces which can help women nurture and guide their families within their homes.
Design can create a home for a person – a sanctuary and a retreat which individually caters to their needs, therefore livability is at the forefront of the design of these townhouses. Livable Housing Australia wrote the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, a set of practical, common sense guidelines to livability. Each guideline can achieve a silver, gold or platinum rating depending on effectiveness. During the early design stages, WPI established that elderly women could represent a portion of the future residents, so the design achieves most of the seven core livable housing design elements to a Silver Level.
The townhouses deliver;
- a safe continuous and step-free path from the street to property entrance at the same level
- comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces
- a toilet on ground level for easy access
- a bathroom with a hobless shower recess
- reinforced walls around the toilet and shower for safe installation of grab rails
- a continuous handrail on one side of the staircase
In addition to achieving these core principles we have also:
- provided Gold Level circulation in the kitchens
- achieved Gold Level installation heights for switches, power points and door handles
- and ensured stair lifts can be easily installed in the future
These simple initiatives ensure future-proof livability.
Passive design principles have been integrated into the townhouses to reduce ongoing costs for residents. On the first floor, east and north facing glazing is shaded by screening and at ground level by the cantilevering first floor above. West facing glazing is set well behind a deep eave to regulate sunlight in winter and summer. Operable windows on both the east and west façades ensures cross ventilation and passive cooling, and operable clerestory louvre windows above the stair allows summer night purging.
One reoccurring question in our social housing projects is how do we create individuality for residents when we don’t know the future occupants at the time we are designing? This question is at the forefront of our work as we’re acutely aware that no one wants to be identified as the same as everyone else. Design can embed flexibility and adaptability into the fabric of a building that residents can then author minor configuration changes to make a space their own. We also often use colour to create individuality within projects.
The internal material palette is an important design consideration. Though we don’t know the specific future residents at the time we are designing a material palette should not be generic and never institutional. We approach the material palette and colour selection for women with warmth and neutrality. The external material palette was selected with careful consideration of planning requirements, initial cost to build and ongoing maintenance. The ground level is constructed of face brickwork and the first floor façade uses a lightweight panel with little need for ongoing painting.
We’ve had great feedback from a resident living in one of the townhouses. Things we got right through a process of thoughtful design are; soft close drawers, maximum storage, walk in robe, the living room where she can entertain guests, toilet down stairs and low running costs. She called it a home because it provides a place for everything. From the resident’s insight, things we can improve upon in the future; better sound proofing between townhouses, low allergy materials, more robust materials/products and plant selection in softer foliage and more colour. Things suggested we consider in future projects were a welcome pack which could include a furniture plan to give residents suggested layouts and a condensed version of the operation manuals for appliance for ease of operation.
I’m are proud to say that this project was awarded leading housing development project Victoria at the 2017 Australasian Housing Institute Awards. To receive this award a project is an exemplar model to the sector for its outstanding quality or innovation.
Reflecting on my work for women clients and renovations of my own home my design objectives are to increase functionality with appealing aesthetics while delivering on budget.
Justine spoke at Women Design + Housing Symposium last week, along with previous GAZELLA interviewee Sophie Dyring. We thought we’d bring you Justine’s talk here on the blog. Enjoy!
I want to share a real life example that struck a chord with me as I was lazily scrolling through Instragram on the long weekend. As an avid follower of influencer Amy Molloy, I stumbled across her post in my feed.
A visual description of this picture for those of you listening, shows Amy Molloy and her girlfriend, all dressed up, sitting on a tiled floor pumping breast milk in what appears to be a tiny, claustrophobic space. Their faces however show an overwhelming sense of joy.
The caption reads, On #internationalwomensday this is womanhood in all it’s #real glory…In a (very public!) hotel hallway (the only place with a plug socket), pumping in between the speeches at a kid-free wedding. THIS is what female solidarity looks like. Laughing, connecting, uniting, embracing. And I’m grateful for it every day.
As I scrolled further, many comments that followed cooed in echo; “Woohoo!”, “Brilliant!” “This is bloody awesome!” Another comment follows with “#beenthere! Nothing like that sound in a public space! Thank goodness for the sisterhood! I had an old job where the only place with a socket to pump was the men’s toilets.”
Now I put this to you, where are the buildings made by women, for women?
Why is it that our homes, apartments, hotels, hospitals, schools, universities, public spaces and more broadly speaking infrastructure, all the places in which we as women inhabit, seem to be lacking with women at the forefront of consultation, planning, development, design, construction and impact.
The shaping of our cities, buildings and homes have all been heavily influenced by the majority of male decision makers, realising the way in which we, as women, live, work and play.
Today, I want to focus on breaking down the make up of women in our current workforce, and the way in which we as females are influencing how we develop, design and construct our buildings. How is the significance of gender diversity within our workforce affecting the outcomes of our built form?
Where are all the women? Let’s look at the facts.
The latest statistics prepared by Parlour and Gill Matthewson suggest women play an important roles in Australian architecture, and their numbers have significantly increased over time. However, there is still a large gap between women as graduates and as registered architects.
Women still cluster in the junior ranks of the profession despite having comprised nearly half of all architecture graduates since the mid 1990s. Women leave architecture at higher rates than men. The number of women in architecture peaks in the 25 – 29 age group then declines.
PCA and EY’s ‘Grow the talent pool’ report suggest men continue to hold the majority of senior leadership positions in the property industry with women holding 25.9% of senior leadership positions.
Despite the significant progress made since 2016, there remains a general feeling that the “boys’ club mentality” is a barrier to women working in the property industry. In fact, 61% of women and 34% of men still believe this attitude discourages people from pursuing long-term careers in property.
A third of women also identify the “boys’ club” as the biggest barrier to career progression (33% of women, compared to only 11% of men).
UNSW’s research Demolishing Gender Structures report, shows the construction industry is the most male-dominated sector in Australia: in 2016 women represent only 12% of the workforce, a decrease from 17% in 2006 (ABS 2016, ABS 2006). Among professional and managerial roles, women represent 14% of staff (ABS 2012).
Men dominate senior ‘technical’, operational careers, while women congregate in junior, support roles and non-fee-earning professions such as human resources and marketing.
Early enthusiasm by women about construction professions and their future careers in the sector decreases with increased exposure to the workplace as they experience relative disadvantage and inequality in pay, development and promotional opportunities compared to their male counterparts (Dainty et al., 2000).
These experiences take their toll with women leaving the construction professions almost 39% faster than their male colleagues (APESMA, 2010).
What does this all mean?
At a University level, we are seeing the uptake of women completing architecture, property and construction degrees increase dramatically. However, what is clearly noticed across the board, is the lack of career progression that suggests, with an increase in age, the number of women in senior positions in the built environment professions are dwindling.
The Blind Spot
Without women involved at the heart of planning, developing, designing or constructing, we are really limiting our ability to provide adequate, safe and comfortable spaces for fifty percent of the population.
A female focused gender lens enables a greater perspective on not only gender but social issues. Women’s involvement allows a more inclusive tendency toward collaboration often influencing a more complex approach to design and interpretation of the brief.
There is recognising physical differences:
- the experience of being pregnant or
- needing to breastfeed a baby, like shown in the example of Amy Molley,
- or of feeling unsafe after dark.
A woman’s approach to design, management of a collaboration of ideas brings a heightened sensitivity to differences, we are often reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, engaging with all stakeholders through sharing and decision lead design. What is currently lacking in the industry, is the skills to listen and observe before we take that step in doing.
I believe buildings made by women, for women, would create a more porous delivery of our cities. It is only inevitable that the divisions between home and work would become less rigid, ultimately benefiting both genders.
What is Gazella?
Gazella is an independent publication co-founded by myself and my dear friend and ally Danielle Savio offering insights into inspiring females in the built environment. We publish stories of women celebrating their successes and increasing the overall awareness of women’s contribution to the industry. To date, we have interviewed in excess of over two hundred women. We aim to actively break down barriers between women working in different organisations, promoting the opportunities available for women to advance their careers.
We aim to provide a unique window of insight designed to foster retention of women within the industry. For those wanting a change in pace, a different scene, a lateral movement, or climbing that ladder, there are plenty of options within the larger built environment industry. It is imperative that women should be encouraged to stay and find roles or fight for roles tailored to them, as many of the more senior women featured on the blog have done so.
What can we do to change this?
How do we ensure that our women keep pursuing their careers to plan, develop, design and build our communities? It is as simple as becoming aware. Question, listen and start the conversations. Where are the women? Where are the women designing our buildings? Planning them. Developing them. Where are the women on the executive teams or boards making decisions that represent our voice? Where are the women on the ground constructing our buildings? The only way to cultivate change is to ask the question. Where are the women?
I was about to turn thirty and I thought ‘So, now what?’ Everything was good in our life, we had good jobs, a nice apartment. Is this it? Or should we challenge ourselves? That’s when my husband and I decided we should leave and see what other opportunities exist on the other side of the world!
I always wanted to live in Italy. The easiest way to go and live there was to apply to University. I love to study, so I thought why not? I left everything. It was difficult. For someone who has worked for several years, has a marriage, has a life, and then suddenly to leave everything and start from zero…and I couldn’t speak one word of Italian – nothing. But looking back at it, I wouldn’t change it at all. It’s one of the best things I did. I moved to Italy with the intention to expand my knowledge in architectural engineering but living alone in a small town in northern Italy thought me a lot about myself, who I am and who I want to be, it also made me realize that I am more interested in looking at cities at a macro level and the interactions between people and their built environment.
I’m originally from Iran. My first year I studied electrical engineering, but I just didn’t like it. I knew that I wanted to be an architect. I was accepted into an associate degree of architecture. Engineering has a very big profile in Iran and the job opportunities were plentiful. Most people said to me, ‘Why would you do this? Stay in engineering!’
My Dad was the only one who said ‘Don’t care about what everyone’s thinking and what they are saying. If you want to be an architect, go for it!’ He was probably the only one that really pushed me to just do it.
I’m very happy with my choice to work in architecture and urban design. You either love it or you hate it. You can’t force yourself to do the course. The first assignment where you stay up all night until morning…!
I moved to Australia after my husband decided to move to here as a skilled migrant. It was difficult as a migrant to find work in a new country. You don’t know anyone, and no one knows you or the work that you have done. You’ve lost your network and you have to start over again. After applying for several jobs, I realised that I may need to expand my knowledge of the culture and what was happening in my adopted country, rather than just applying for jobs. I think the best way to expand your knowledge in a new place is to do volunteer works and to go back to uni if you have the opportunity and I did both with support of my husband who always pushed me and encouraged me not to hold back.
I started volunteering in five organisations doing different things from supporting diaspora communities to teaching English and social skills to asylum seekers to supporting women in prison who wanted to get back to workforce but the highlight of my volunteering works was my involvement with Architects for Peace. I started as a volunteer, then I got into the steering committee and in 2015 I was elected as the President. It was a great opportunity to meet and work with like-minded people advocating for social justice in the built environment.
Now I work as a project manager at Stonnington city council in urban infrastructure. The projects that I work on are a combination of landscape projects, urban design, place-making and some master planning. I love my job. . I’ve always wanted to make a difference for many, not just for one person and I think I’m doing so by working for local government I like to stay connected to academic environment and that is why I try to teach at least one subject at the university of Melbourne each semester. Last semester I was leading a place making studio. It always motivates me to see the young generation whit their bright ideas to create better cities for future.
I strongly believe that we all know there are inequalities in workplaces especially in Architecture and construction; however, I think knowledge is power. If we want people to respect us we should have the knowledge and we should be confident in what we know. It’s a process of understanding and getting to that position in your life where you can say ‘I don’t know everything, that’s okay, but there are things that I do know and I’m confident about them.’
The house that I was living in in Iran with my parents, we didn’t have inequality. The roles were kind of blurry. No one had a traditional role as a mother or a father. My mother never told me ‘you can be what you want to be,’ but she was there showing me as a role model that I can, and I should There was no difference between me and my brother. My parents were there to support us challenge us and teach us equality. I think that gave me a lot of confidence in pursuing whatever I wanted to do in my life.
My brother and I are very close although we live far away. He’s in Paris and we are working on a project together that is about activating public spaces at night in Paris. It’s great to work on something we both love, and bringing the community together in a space that belongs to them, that they may not generally feel safe to use at night.
It takes a lot of strength and it’s not easy to leave your comfort zone. It’s difficult but it is worth it I think maybe that’s the advice that I have…it takes time. Patience and time. Accept that it’s a journey and you’ll get there, when you are ready. Nothing should stop us from following what we want to do.
We interviewed Targol some time ago now (we have been so snowed under with brilliant content, but too time poor to get it out into the world!) She came recommended through a dear friend of the blog and therefore we knew we were in for a treat. Targol has a quietly, powerful manner. Considered in her words, and yet self-assured enough to know how to make it in any new endeavor, through years of throwing herself at new adventures. How can one not be inspired by her drive to give back to the community that she takes part in? Working on our own blog, we understand the sacrifices that go into giving up ones time to give back. But also the great reward in making a difference. Targol showed us that equality is a pursuit and partaking in our community, the journey. We wish Targol the best of luck in her endeavors through 2019! J & D xx
So a friend (thanks mate!), sent me a article aptly titled ‘Fight for your Right to be Useless’ by Pilita Clark. In a nutshell Clark, cleverly articulates why she harbours an urge to see an International Crap Women’s Day.
You see, IWD has a habit of raising up those who are already propped. Those staunch, remarkable women who have made it in the world of men. Women who have done the extraordinary. But let’s think about it, does this actually reflect a cultural shift, or some new age of equality in our society today?
Or are we just perpetuating the image of the Super Woman who can do it all? The spectacular women who somehow manages to make it to the top of her field, whilst having a brood of kids and supporting her husband’s career goals at the same time. Reinforcing the idea that women have to ‘be the best’ for them to be considered equal to the Mediocre Man.
I’m going out on a limb to say that this was great reading and from my own reflections, very true. Dear reader, surely you’ve experienced this!? Having to be the absolute best in your game to make it! The constant, tiresome need to feel like you have to prove yourself. So often, I have found myself consciously making sure that I have explored every facet of my job description and more, just so that there was no excuse that I hadn’t tackled every aspect or hurdle that could be thrown my way. I often feel I have to be ‘the best’. I find myself asking, if I was a male would mediocre suffice? Maybe not… but hey, I can’t seem to get away from the internalised, or perhaps external pressure to be the best.
IWD is VERY geared towards superstar, super-women. These role models for young females are fantastic and inspiring to see. However, more often than not, for the average women aspiring to make it into a senior leadership position, their careers seem SO unattainable. You hear stories about how they often had a lucky break, or are well connected – and hey good for them. However, this doesn’t help us out here in the multitudes. Those of us who are trying to understand why there seems to be a underlying barrier to women at the top. Sometimes you can work super hard but not all of us are set for superstardom. Even if we feel the pressure to achieve it.
I find it irksome that we see one super star female and say ‘…see women can do anything and be anything, here is proof…’ and then we forget the unconscious bias, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and misogyny that keeps the rest of us ‘in our place’. It’s an excuse for everyone to maintain the status quo, because one female made it in a man’s world.
Perhaps I seem cynical and jaded. Don’t get me wrong, I love IWD. But I also see past the fanfare, and see a need to acknowledge that true equality in all facets of diversity (not just gender), is still miles away. We can’t be complacent – we need to crack on and keep the up the good fight. And stop the super stars and their shiny glow, blinding us to the systematic inequality that still exists.
Don’t forget to share your opinion below. Happy IWD week all!
Photo by Jesse Graham – from his 1000 Portraits Project ( @1000portraitproject)
We hope that you have enjoyed Rosie’s adventures this year. We couldn’t be prouder of her for …well trying to actively make the world of some of the most unfortunate a better place! If I said that I hadn’t felt a little (very) guilty at not doing more whilst reading her stories this year, I’d be lying.
So here lies the final excerpt of her trip to Kenya, which we haven’t filled you in on so far. Rosie construction managed a hospital ward in a very rural part of Kenya. I’ve put a little map below of where she was:
The build had similar sort of precarious safety standards as her work in India. Compounded by the complexities of building an actual building rather than a playground. But the impact on the community cannot be understated – projects like this are life changing for a whole region.
Hello from the finish line!
Since my last email we have been busily working away to get the project done in time for my departure. The finishes trades have thrown no real curveballs, yet every day there is something to be in awe at. Plastering of the walls is by far the most intriguing and skilled process, something I have never been exposed to from my usual world of drywall. Power tools have only appeared once or twice with grinding the window frames or drilling for fixing. The majority of the works are ultimately man power and skill. Every trade is a lengthy process, such as carpentry, hand sawing and hand planing of timbers, while frustratingly slow are mesmerising to watch.
Outside the building, we have been digging for a placenta pit, unfortunately we hit solid rock. The MVP (80 year old, digging labourer) collected an old car tyre and lots of timbers, placed them all into the hole and set it on fire. The heat helped to break the solid rock up, who would of thought, pure African randomness and genius!
In reflection, my time in Mbita on the ward project has presented a range of professional and personal challenges. The overwhelming factor being the patriarchal society, the bias, disregard and objectification which comes with it. Women in charge are rare (one person even asking if women can be engineers?!!) and adding that to the nature of an outside organisation coming in to aid another, the internal politics and hierarchy issues that creates, there were some challenging times. While I am used to dealing with men with ego issues in construction, this is where I really noticed the absence of fellow women in the workplace, it is no lie that strength comes in numbers if only for moral support.
The other major hurdle was with authority approvals, ridiculous processes and the resulting bribery. We had the ministry of health essentially reject the finished building design even though they had reviewed and stamped the concept design. This lead to arguments, redesign and the NGO being forced to spend additional funds (oh and the MOH official asking me out to dinner and drinks among the unpleasantness, no sir, no).
As I mentioned previously, safety concerns are hourly and I use the sentence ‘recipe for disaster’ so much the labourers now refer to me only as that as I stroll by. Thankfully, I have been incredibly lucky with the contractor we have on site. He is truly knowledgeable, professional and a genuine legend in his approach. Maybe it is due to him being the father of 4 women, or being of a younger generation but there was never any underlying uncomfortable gender (or other) issues in our working relationship.
Living alone in rural Kenya (as you might have guessed) generates a certain level of isolation. I have lived in remote communities before and being an introvert it has never really bothered me, but the added level of language and cultural barrier was something I hadn’t expected. Even in crowds or over the lunch table, there is a loneliness which comes from not understanding the conversation (which here, is a combination of local dialect, Swahili and English). My housing compound has 4 homes, but I am the sole occupant (with the exception of the bloody monitor lizard which lives under my house).
The power goes out most days so I spend a lot of time ‘indoor camping’ aka sleeping when it goes dark and waking when the roosters start in the morning. It is particularly problematic when the power is out for multiple days; the absence of my phone, lights for reading or laptop and Netflix can get pretty boring. This probably also ties into the gender thing, because rarely do I feel safe walking alone in the evenings or going down to the local hotel for a drink.
Women here have very traditional roles, mostly spending time in their homes, doing domestic duties and raising huge families – the largest family I have come across is 32 siblings, 4 wives (polygamy is legal) with one wife having 14 children! When I am out alone in the day, men watch me like a hawk, constantly cat call and often ask for my number, relentless doesn’t even seem appropriate. Even the man at immigration wouldn’t stamp my new visa without getting my number.
This all ties into how beautiful, friendly and lighthearted Kenyans are though. They couldn’t be more welcoming to their country, hoping to marry you off so that you will stay. In the community they have been particularly welcoming to me as the excitement for the hospital ward builds. Currently women walk quite the distance to deliver babies, this facility will be a game changer for health services and employment in the area. The workers are constantly laughing away at each other, while I don’t follow the conversation often, it is a trait w
hich reminds me of Australian banter. Knowing my fear of night runners, which are essentially a tribe who run around naked at night scaring people in their homes (WHAT EVEN), the workers are often making fun of my fears, having a laugh at my inability to successfully eat without cutlery and pushing my distaste for their favourite meal ugali.
As my time on the project was coming to an end, I decided to leave another little stamp on the community, a playground! Due to the presence of the mortuary, you can purchase a coffin on your way into the clinic, which is incredibly morbid. With ambition to counteract this and the skills I learnt in India, I thought it could be fun to self-fund a little bit of joy in the grounds. ‘Rosie’s Rainbow’ has not only created some fun for the children visiting, but also reminded the adult staff that you are never too old to play. Now all the workers want to get some tyres and build one at home. Perfection!
Saying goodbyes are never easy, especially when you have come to the end of an incredible, challenging, rewarding and humbling project. But with an awful hippo attack claiming two lives and a murder occurring in the village the week of my departure, it seemed like a fitting time to be moving onto the next adventure. I will miss the pure joy of the local children yelling ‘muzungu’ as I walk by, the friendly smiles of every stranger you pass, the incredible community at the clinic and network of friends I have created. When I set out on this year, endeavouring to leave a little positive stamp on this world, I could have only dreamed of this opportunity in this community and for this I am incredibly thankful.
Hope you are all well, miss your faces, stay legendary.
In light of our mantra to be positive, the piece below isn’t intended to represent the negative experiences some women have. Instead, it’s intention is to highlight the unconscious way many of us (females included) act every day. And how we can tackle those biases. What follows here in this intro is my opinion and mine only.
Speaking at an MPavilion event a while ago, one of the audience members asked the question ‘How can I change the men’s-club culture of my 30-something year old peers?’ (largely paraphrased here by me). It’s a question I’m sure many of us ask every day. My response is that it’s actually our responsibility to remain vigilant and ‘pull-up’ people when they say the wrong thing. Many think this is the responsibility of the interestingly termed, ‘male champion’, but if you want something changed, in the wise words of my jazz dance teacher,…’do something about it!’…
How many of us are guilty at laughing along with a joke that offends a minority? I remember when I entered the industry, some of my male peers saying something largely sexist and then saying ‘Oh it’s ok, Danielle can take a joke.’ Yes I can. But having more confidence in my voice now, I no longer see sexism, or racism, or anything else that attacks a minority as a real joke. That’s not being PC. It’s just a case of no longer receiving enjoyment out of seeing others upset, suffering, or voiceless. Our language and our voice is powerful; it’s our individuality, our show of freedom and our way of personal expression. A reflection of our mind. Use it wisely.
Another point raised at the MPavilion was the prevalence of the boy’s club and whether it still exists. Whilst our male panelist argued that at his company, they were very vigilant on this and he believed it was becoming a thing of the past (perhaps at his company it is?), when I asked the audience whether they had ever felt the ‘boy’s club’, the show of hands was, I’d say, near 100% (the show of hands included the smattering of men in the audience). We tend to forget that not fitting in with the male norm, even as a man, you can be excluded from the boy’s club.
So the story below, by Rachel Savio, is a show of casual sexism. And how we can tackle it. I hope you enjoy. And remember you can leave comments below. We love to hear the thoughts of our readers! Conversation is important!
STORY//Accepted as the Norm
I thought I would share a story which I believe highlights some of the issues that I regularly face.
As a Graduate Engineer, I was attending a 2-day workshop with around 25 colleagues – both peers and managers, all of whom were male. Being the only girl in the room did not faze me from the outset, as I have confidence in my abilities, however the fact that I was the only girl in the room was pointed out frequently by the instructor.
This frazzled me a little to begin with but I let it slide, assuming that it was reading too much into it (which is an issue in itself, saved for another time).
At one point, the instructor told a 10 minute story of how there was an issue with a piece of equipment that no one could solve. He divulged that after many weeks, the error was found and the machine began to operate correctly. This was a helpful account of how we could use what we were learning to diagnose issues with equipment and overall it provided learning elements and really added to the course.
Then he made one final comment “Oh and Rachel, you’ll be glad to know that the person who found the error was a female, so that should make you feel happy.”
I was in disbelief. This instructor, in my opinion, had made such a condescending comment that was completely unnecessary. I am an intelligent, diligent and proficient engineer, but this person felt the need to “boost my confidence” by letting me know that a female solved a problem.
After the initial shock, I then realised…. Why did everyone laugh? Why didn’t people react like I did? Did they not realise how horrible that comment was? Do people really think that I am less capable at my job because I am a female? Afterwards I questioned that if instead of “a female”, the trainer pointed out someone’s race, or religion – perhaps “an Indian” solved the problem, or “a Buddhist”, or anything else for that matter. I feel like if this happened, the room would know that it was out of line. But the casual sexism in the room was accepted as the norm.
I brought it up with my managers. Once I explained to them why I thought it was out of line, they understood, but it really shocked me that it required an explanation. I guess what I’m trying to say is, there is the obvious challenges, but then the ones that require a bit more work communicating. We need to make it clear; what is inclusive language, and what isn’t.
I personally believe that if businesses focus on inclusion and not just meeting gender diversity metrics, then the diversity changes that business try to implement will have greater “stick factor”. In essence, simply hiring females will not solve the gender diversity problem if females are made to feel as though they are the unwelcome guest at a men’s-club. In my opinion, the key to achieving gender diversity is to foster a truly inclusive workplace environment where all employees can reach their full potential.
Rachel happens to be Danielle’s sister. As sisters they have both chosen to work in challenging fields, which are male dominated. Rachel has a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering/Science double degree from The University of Melbourne with First Class Honours in Chemical Engineering. During her time at university, Rachel completed a semester abroad at the University of Michigan.
In 2012 Rachel was awarded the Pratt Prize and the Jacobs Prize for the Best Final Year Design Project in Victoria and Australia/NZ respectively for the project Production of Ethanol from Biomass. She has travelled extensively for work, around Australia and New Zealand, and living in Sydney for some years. She is now now living in Melbourne, with her husband Dan and whippet Mack.
In high school I always had an interest in journalism and writing. I used to read magazines like Dolly and Girlfriend and cut out the editor’s page and put my photo in there for school projects. I knew I wanted to be involved in magazines. There was all these shows back then about working in magazines. It was all so glamorous (even though it’s not!).
I studied journalism in Brisbane. Straight out of university I landed a Editorial Coordinator role for a trade magazine publisher called TMPC. That was a massive learning curve. My partner and I moved to Melbourne in 2010 and I got the job with Architecture Media, first as assistant editor for Artichoke magazine, helping then editor Penny Craswell and editorial director Cameron Bruhn. I became editor five years ago.
My introduction to the built environment, architecture and design, came through this job. I wasn’t just working for Artichoke I was also sub-editing for Architecture Australia and Houses magazine. I had to learn all the jargon. Now I can’t see myself working for a magazine in any other industry.
The people that you meet in this job, the architects and designers, they’re a good bunch. Especially in Melbourne. They are cliquey, but it’s one big clique. There’s a lot of collaboration in Melbourne, rather than Sydney. You see that on Instagram too. Melbourne people all encourage each other’s projects. It seems more competitive in Sydney.
Architecture Media does six print magazines, we do an architecture news website and we do events. Of those six magazines, Artichoke is the interiors title. Not residential interiors, but commercial interiors; hospitality design, retail design, education design and hotel design. I’m always on the lookout for projects in Australia, or projects overseas completed by Aussie designers. We are a quarterly magazine, so it’s always about filling the pages with the very best. I only get to publish 30-40 projects a year so I am pretty ruthless!
It’s difficult out there now for print. A lot of people get their architecture and design news from digital media and Instagram. So it’s hard to exist in that context. We haven’t seen much of a drop off of subscriptions and readers, but we have to be a bit more ‘on-the-ball’ with projects, because our lead times are so long. It can be five months before something makes in into the magazine. We need to try and stay relevant.
I think architecture, when I first started, seemed to have a real boys club mentality. However, I think organisations like Parlour are really calling out all-male panels and practices. The men who work for our organisation won’t accept a position on a panel unless there is gender equity and when when we create our own panels for events, we work on the balance, so that is something we are active about. There are also still the architecture firms which are run by all men. You go onto their About page and it’s all male faces at a senior level.
Start work experience and interning as young as you can. I was at a newspaper at fifteen. They didn’t give me anything important to do, but just to be in that environment. It’s just about what you put in is what you get out. Work hard, but don’t get taken for a ride either. You don’t need to work for free, forever. In publishing, there’s a lot of interns that work for free for a long time. Someone is taking advantage of you.
This past year I started pottery and I am so hooked. I need to buy my own wheel so I can do it at home, even though there’s nowhere to put it. I was at a bad stage in my life when I started, but it’s been better than a therapist. It’s the time. The committed, meditative act of sitting at a wheel, and trying something over and over again until you get it right. You look at the clock and an hour has passed and you didn’t even realise it.
My mother always told me to finish my food. My mum is a very lovely women, who cooks and cooks and cooks. She’s retired, but she used to work at the Arnott’s biscuit factory. Dad has passed away now, but he was a bus driver for 55 years. And absolutely loved it.
Editing a magazine as formative as Artichoke must be no easy task, and many of us have probably spent many hours pouring over it’s pages. When you do know what you want to be when you grow up, and you have a drive to achieve your goals, that can be a powerful thing. Especially if those around you can support you on your mission. It’s an important lesson though, not to be taken advantage when you have a one-minded goal. Cassie is warm, relaxed and down to earth. Her focus and determination and her enthusiasm for her work is amazing to behold. We wish her all the best for the last bit of 2018 and look forward to what she brings in 2019.
Since being in grade four, I always wanted to work in construction. I thought the only job a women could do was become an architect. My grandfather, uncle and dad were all in the building game, in one way or another. Even with two older brothers, I would do all the renos around mum and dad’s house.
I went to an all girls catholic school, so teaching, nursing, accounting (maybe) were our options. I went into the careers office and was flicking through the material and under ‘Architecture’ there was ‘Building’. It was just called ‘Building’ back then, it wasn’t even called ‘Construction Management’. I was like ‘Can I just do a degree in building and not become an architect?’ Sweet!
I got into the graduate program at Walter Constructions. My project manager didn’t talk to me initially because he was furious that they had hired a woman. He didn’t need someone useless, he needed someone who could do the job. It was after four weeks that he turned around and said ‘I thought you were going to be shit because you’re a chick, but you’re actually pretty good.’ He turned out to be one of the best mentors I ever had.
When I started in 2001 it was completely different. The toilets and sheds were foul. There was pornography everywhere. You got treated like crap. My first Project Manager banned two guys from site because of their lewd behaviour towards me. After he kicked the second of the two off site, he pulled me into his office. I thought he was going to give me a big hug, but he tore shreds off me. ‘If you ever sit there and take that shit again, I will kick your arse myself. I shouldn’t be the one that has to stick up for you…’ It stuck with me. He was right. You shouldn’t just sit there and cop it (easier said than done sometimes).
I spent some time in London where I was a fully fledged contract administrator (Quantity Surveyor for them) and got a job with HBG, which were the second largest builder over there at the time. I spent three years there, then my liver said I needed to go home. London was a really different way of building. If I was at my desk after 5pm, my boss kicked me out. They were all out and seated at the pub by 5:30pm!
When I got back from London I moved to Kane. I was there for twelve years. I went from Contracts Administrator, to Contracts Manager, to Project Manager. Over that journey I started building hospitals. I built my first about eleven years ago. I loved that we could build something good for the community. You can see how much it means for them. I decided to specialise in hospitals and they’ve been my bread and butter for a while now.
When I came to Built they offered a very true career path. They said, you work hard and do all the things you say you can do, we’ll see you into a Construction Manager role. The whole idea was to bring health into the business. I was promoted almost exactly a year after starting here.
I think the future is really positive. We have this amazing network of women. You start to see networks growing, and as people come up in the years and are promoted within these networks, our stock and our value at the table becomes more and more valuable. Men are networking constantly, unconsciously and often we just don’t get invited to the table. So we need to create our own. That table of women, gives you access to a lot of men as well.
Some of the women I’ve grown up with on the Client side, they are now being promoted to positions of power as well. Often it’s like some of the men haven’t noticed that’s what is happening. All of a sudden it’s like ‘We need you to come to this interview, as there’s three women on the panel. And we need to show we have women here.’ I mean, where have you been? Did you not see that they were toiling away in the background?
Some challenges have been fairly obvious. Women often have to work twice as hard to get to exactly the same place as a man. And anyone that says we don’t is lying. The frustration of watching people who haven’t earned it, get promoted, and then seeing them on projects doing nothing.
If I hadn’t specialised, I wouldn’t have stood out as anything different or special. I’ve created value. I had all these clients and contacts. It left people with no choice. The challenge is we always have to come up with creative ways to make us stand out. It shouldn’t have to be like that. You want to say, ‘If you just do your job, you’ll be rewarded’ but it isn’t the truth.
I see what women bring to the table and others are also seeing it too. Projects with women are more successful. The dynamic is different. You get rid of that toxic masculinity. You create a better environment. More of our clients and consultants are women as well. As you have them sitting across the table, we need to reflect that.
Having my little girl was a challenge. Coming back full time. The way that I am, I knew I could never be part-time. That’s my problem, I am a recovering micro manager and am a work in progress. But honestly I love being at work and missed the action while on maternity leave. It got to the end of the day and I said to my husband, ‘I’m just not going to be happy if I’m not building my jobs.’ We ended up deciding together that he was to stay at home (to be honest he hated working). Being away from her is a challenge. At four, she lets me know how much it hurts not having me at home, but I have open and honest conversations with her. This is the reality. I’m your mum and I do my best. I am hoping one day in the future she will look back and be proud of what I did and tried to balance.
Most of the advice that my Mum used to give me is not appropriate for print. She lead by example rather than with words of wisdom. Being 1 of 5 kids my poor mum was stretched pretty far, but she did so much to get us where we needed to be. Even making the decision to move us from our primary school to another, just to ensure that she secured us entry into a really good secondary school. So early on in our lives she’d already started making decisions to help us succeed. Mum always reflects on the fact that she would have loved to be a builder like her dad, but that wasn’t an option when she was growing up. I feel like I get to live out one of Mum’s dreams and I can see just how proud she is of me along every stage of my career. She always just wanted her girls to get every chance she didn’t and do what we wanted to do. I just hope I haven’t disappointed.
If you don’t know Monica – you should. She is a fantastic leader, advocate and empower-er of women in construction. Dedicated to changing the game for women and making her own path. Many will remember her wonderfully genuine NAWIC speech when she won the Crystal Vision award in 2017. A speech that rendered her the heart and soul of women in construction. Monica is witty, self-deprecating, challenging and downright one of the warmest people you will ever meet. Kinda like an old friend you never knew you had. We were so happy to finally meet up with her and undertake this interview and feel very proud to bring this to our audience. We wish Mon all the best at Built in her new role and hope that we meet again soon! J & D xx
1. The Party Wall Neighbour. Email received 8 January.
After my tenants complained to me about rising damp in the corridor and some water damage in kitchen, I investigated to find that your builders neglected to seal the front section of roof prior to the second story, hence allowing a deluge of water to enter down the joining wall, and saturate the footings. This has lead to severe rising damp in my corridor leading to wall damage and a almost unlivable smell in the house. My tenants are very upset and threatening to leave if issue isn’t resolved soon.
2. Council infringement notices.
3. Broken boundary trap.
4. Storm water entry point full of hard concrete.
5. Receiving that anonymous handwritten letter stuffed under the front door. Dated 2 April. I cannot stress enough. This is not a joke.
Next time you harass an elderly women get your facts straight! The house near my parents’ on lease dumped all this rubbish and I thought it was you – because rubbish dumped near my parents! Once renovation starts on your house. Basically, my parents don’t dump their rubbish on anyone – if anyone dumps on their house. I WILL ACT.
What the actual F**k. It doesn’t even make sense?
6. More council infringement notices.
7. That time your sister calls you on her school holidays (she’s a teacher) to ask whether she can practice her tap dancing inside the house on the yellow tongue floor.
8. Windows installed without flashings.
9. Bamboo. Everywhere.
10. The Nosy Neighbour. The text message received 22 May.
Hi Justine, hope all is going smoothly.
Just had an elderly neighbour drop in anxious about your overlooking. Can I please kindly remind you about the amended permit conditions. All obscured glazing is to be manufactured and not stuck on ‘film’ and timber screen is 25% transparency. You’ll need to ensure builder orders the correct window frames and glazing!! I guess this is an immediate issue as they should be ordering windows very soon? Thank you!
11. The time you ask your dad to pay the structural engineer. 17 June.
Justine: Hi Dad, can you please pay the engineer? I need it for a certificate.
Dad: What engineer? Who is he? I spoke to the roofer he’s not able to quote till after Easter.
12. Rising damp.
14. The time you receive several urgent calls from your brother.
I don’t mean to alarm you, but an old man has driven into our front fence at Rathdowne. Police are here. He’s fine. The brick front fence probably isn’t.
15. The Party Wall Neighbour.
In addition, I believe trades people have been walking over my section of roof to install and nail all the side planks on the second story. I have now developed a roof leak in my kitchen. My tenants have to collect the leaking water using buckets otherwise they have water in the pantry spoiling all the contents.
16. That time you receive a text message from your sister.
A plumber just walked in on me tap dancing. You and Laurence both said no one was going to be there! I AM DYING! I ran out of there! I’m like to him sorry I tap dance and needed space. He was so awkward. I WAS IN A CROP TOP! Ugh!
17. The time the local black cat Liza runs through your house. Carpenter asks Superstitious much? I can only respond with Nah nothing scares me anymore.
18. My most frequent conversation. But don’t you work for a construction company?
19. The Party Wall Neighbour.
As your second storey addition has no provision for guttering on the north facing wall all the run off is now collecting in my drain canal and flooding it. I need action here immediately and am requesting a site visit ASAP to address these concerns. Your Dilapidation report will clearly show no rising damp prior to construction. Will call you in the morning to arrange a site inspection.
It just keeps giving.