Celeste Cafra Project Co-ordinator Lexicon Co  / 
'Untitled'

story / Interview / February 22, 2016

I think I was maybe ten or eleven when my parents were looking at building a new house. I remember sketching this, now looking back, entirely impractical stairwell inside this tower. I was just obsessed with getting this curve right. The architect on our house was quite a good family friend of ours. I think from that point I had in my mind ‘architect’. I moved through high school with that in the back of my mind. Even today, my family friend has remained a mentor to me.

After I graduated from my double degree in Architecture and Construction Management in 2012, the job market in architecture was pretty dead. This being said, at the time I had every intention on entering this field of work. Having worked at a couple of architecture firms already, I spent a bit of time compiling my folio and thinking about where I really wanted to go career-wise because architecture firms were laying people off.

It was disheartening, having completed an arduous double-degree, and to have directors of architecture firms tell you directly that you’re going to do well in your career, but somehow that was not translating into a job. For that three to four month period I was thinking, I’ve worked hard, I’ve been searching and pushing for a foothold, but I might need to change tact.

I started at Lexicon Co in an administrative part time role, where I really didn’t need my architecture skills. Within three months I went from part time to full time, then progressed to estimating. Currently I’m project managing a large luxury house build, assistant project manager on a 13 apartment project and a contracts administrator on another larger apartment development. The learning curve has been massive, but I’ve been fortunate to be given a lot of opportunities and a fair amount of autonomy relative to my level of experience.

A couple of my girlfriends work in the construction industry; typically working for ‘tier-one’ or ‘tier-two’ builders. No one is in a similar firm to me. It is interesting to reflect on how different the day-to-day is, between their roles and mine. Having this discourse with a number of women who graduated with me has been beneficial in gauging different roles within the building industry and comparing company structures. My title very much depends on the role that I am to play in each of the projects that I am involved in at any one time. Recently I had a conversation with one of my directors about my job title. He announced with good humour, “You can just be ‘Untitled’ because you’re doing so many things!”

The things that come easiest can often be your weakness in other ways. I appreciate the detail in projects, but I naturally see each project from a global, overall business perspective. I strive for efficiency in my day-to-day interactions with a project’s participants and I push them to achieve a high standard of work and commitment. I have been learning and developing this fine balance between firmness and understanding. Integrity is key; doing and following through with what I commit to and promise.

I often hear people question the importance or relevance of a university qualification, especially in our industry because in many ways it is largely skill based. However, I found the varied problem solving and self-learning skills obtained during the course of my studies beneficial. How you organise your time, workload and assignments. Plenty of people go to University and don’t come out with these basic skills. Good grades don’t necessarily mean you will excel in the work place or guarantee you a good job, but I think it does reflect in your work ethic and approach to challenges. From my experience if you go to university with the right attitude, and carry it through, then you’re going to have the right attitude in the workplace.

I loved University. I don’t think I would have done anything differently. During my 3rd – 4th year I undertook an exchange and studied in Helsinki. It was an incredible experience both academically and personally and I’m so happy I completed a year of study there. Reflecting now, I think the main thing I would now tell my younger self is to pay a little more attention in the construction subjects! And keep an open mind about entering the construction industry. I think this is very important in work and life; to remain open minded to the possibilities.

I don’t think there are any barriers holding women back from entering into the construction industry. From my experience, it appears that gone are the days when a female would be a second choice after a male going for the same position. However there are still times where one feels there is a stigma attached to being female. If as a confident woman you phrase something in a firm manner, I think that you can be treated differently than if a man said the same thing in the same way. I think a similar principle applies with age. If you’re only just starting out, male or female, and behave in a certain way, someone who is senior to you may not appreciate or respect your contribution. I also don’t think this is specific to the construction industry; it appears to be universal. I am learning to work around these particularities and to use them to my advantage. And I have by no means achieved this yet.

I have a very close family and am lucky to have a husband, siblings and parents that are supportive of me, each in their own unique way. My husband is an architect and understands my work and we talk each night about our daily experiences and projects. My parents are very good listeners and have helped to teach me to have a mindful approach to relationships, work and life. My parents own and run their own business. I think that that this has been an influence on me without my realising it. Growing up in that environment, with the pressures that surround small to medium sized business, has helped to set-up my business mentality and work ethic. Watching how my parents have grown their business has shown me that it is not easy and it is not necessarily better at the top. There are rewards of course, but being successful is constant hard work. Knowing this and now being out in the workforce myself I see the importance of working as a team, recognising and balancing together the strengths and weaknesses of each other.

 

Danielle has known the Cafra family for some years. Celeste, the oldest of her siblings, has always been brilliantly strong, opinionated and passionate. When we first approached Celeste to take part in the blog, she was tentative. Through our journey so far, we’ve discovered that like Celeste, many of our peers feel like their story isn’t ‘worth’ sharing yet. What is becoming clear to us here at Gazella, is that it is the voice of young women who are starting to see the change within the built environment, who are owning the dialogue best. And whilst it is exciting to hear from our mentors and inspirations, shared experiences from young women in our industry is also important to share too!

We met Celeste in the apartment that she shares with her husband Richard, in North Melbourne. Both architects, their home is thought out, calm and considered. Celeste is a woman who understands that being part of the industry is about engaging and giving back, as much as it is about ones own career path. She also has that brilliant knack for introspection and self awareness, that allows one to grow quickly both personally and professionally. We are super glad that Celeste took part in our project and can’t wait to see what the next year brings her.

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