My journey has been long. A door opens and I say, ‘I’ll do that.’ I always wanted to own my own practice. I spent maybe 6-7 years working for other people and often the dream felt more and more distant. Now I’ve had Schored Projects for four years. I’m the sole director. Prior to Schored, I had a practice with Graeme Gunn for 6 years.
I’m an architect first and foremost. I went back to University and completed my Masters in Landscape Architecture a few years ago. My practice works in both disciplines and we integrate both as much as possible. I started my architecture course at Deakin, completed a couple of subjects at the University of Melbourne, then graduated at RMIT. Melbourne was about catching up on subjects so I could graduate a little earlier. Deakin, I didn’t enjoy the location in Geelong and I wasn’t getting enough out of their design approach and at the time I had my eyes set on being a design architect which RMIT offered.
The only time I become nervous running a business is when the finances get a bit low, or I haven’t had a new job in a while, but I do absolutely love it. You’re a master of your own destiny. My time is my own. It allows great flexibility in life. I just bought a house with my partner, so I do a couple of days renovating with her now. I have a full-time staff member and a part time student in the office.
I’ve worked on trying to build up my Client base with housing associations and we now work regularly with about five of them. I try to touch base with them every few months. Word of mouth is important. The most recent job we won was because a CEO talking to another CEO of a housing association and recommending they speak with me.
My social values come from the way my Mum has bought me up and her influence. She was a nurse. Thinking about other people and not just yourself. The social work we do is to bring good design to people, regardless of their socioeconomic position. It’s really easy to design a house for someone who has money and can spend it. I want to get really good design out there for everyone whilst enjoying working to a budget.
The biggest social housing project we are working on at the moment is a design for Launch Housing on VicRoads land, designing transportable housing on Ballarat Road in Footscray to house people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. I had designed a transportable unit about five years ago for a competition, and we were shortlisted. I went around and showed housing associations what we had achieved. Launch Housing came back to me last year and said ‘Can we still do that?’
To get it off the ground has taken a little longer than we had hoped. The planning system hasn’t worked in our favour. There’s been a bit of the ‘NIMBGs’ (not in my back garden). There’s 9 sites, across 14 Titles. We secured most permits before Christmas and were trying to stay out of the media loop. But The Age got a hold of the story and we received about 80 objections on each of the last five applications. They tried to argue it was about amenity and neighbourhood character. Really it was because they don’t want perceived drug addicts, ex cons, whatever they can think of, living in their area. We have secured all the permits now, we just have to complete the delivery.
You’ve got to try and find your path, don’t listen to the bullshit and don’t get caught up in someone else’s path. That can be difficult, particularly in architecture. Not everyone is meant to be a design architect, winning awards and be published in magazines. I tried doing that for a few years, but it just wasn’t my path. I felt insincere, like keeping up with the Joneses. Don’t keep up with the Joneses, would be my advice. I found my path in social and affordable housing. It was hard to pull away from what I expected from myself. You get to a point where you can reject the idea.
I’ve always been good with work-life balance. There is often a whole expectation of being a martyr and doing overtime. My whole approach was to be out the door at 6:00pm. Time management is a skill.
My mum always told me to be honest. I’m honest to a fault at times. I’m the worst liar ever. In the industry, sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it. I’m hopeless at that. My honesty has gotten me to where I am today. And also probably Graeme. Who taught me ‘You don’t say yes to every job.’ Always get the client in first, because these projects take so long. You have to be able to get along with the people we work with.
Sophie plays a strong female voice in our world of social architecture today. Not only is she a driving force behind Melbourne’s urban environment, she is also promoting how we as a society have the capacity to change our community development. She certainly embodies a fearlessness role model to all women in the architecture industry. Not afraid to call it like it is, her success is a result of her honest, no bullsh*t attitude. Thank you for meeting with us Sophie, it was so refreshing to hear such a genuine perspective on life. All the best with your renovation!