Claire Scorpo / Director Agius Scorpo Architects / Sophie’s Salon Series  / 
Community Connections

story / Sophie's Salon / September 14, 2020

We thought that it would be very interesting to talk to women in the industry about how COVID-19 will change work for all of us and how they have found life and design in the current crisis. GAZELLA editor Sophie went out to speak with female leaders to bring you their experiences and thoughts on the changes that are undoubtedly going to make an indelible mark on our industry. It has been an amazing undertaking and we can’t thank the women who took part enough, for their time and for speaking candidly on what they think we can expect. And how COVID-19 has already made a mark on them as individuals. Stay tuned…

 

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I went to a girls school and I was quite rebellious. I always managed to have disputes with the principle. She instilled some pretty strong beliefs in us at the time, that as a woman, you can do whatever you want. She always reiterated, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me!’. It sounds like something from those small books you buy on the front counter of bookstores, however It’s a very clear message that has always stayed with me.

I started off working in smaller architecture practices. From that experience I found, in architecture, a varied scale of work available. When you’re leading a team, you do get to interface with a broad range of environments and people. I’ve always had that kind of impetus to try to drive something.  I love stepping back and thinking strategically. So I started my own practice. Importantly I’ve always maintained teaching and ideally, this folds back into our practice.

I’m an architect and I’m the director of a practice Agius Scorpo Architects, which I share with my partner, Nick. There’s currently four of us in the practice and we work on a mixture of residential and commercial projects, quite broad in scale and we tie this into research through teaching.

The increase of virtual meetings has had some positive outcomes. Our consultant meetings involve our traffic engineer with her skateboards hung behind her, our landscape architect has the kids bikes out and is broadcasting from an outbuilding. You get insights into each other’s lives that disarms everyone in a positive way. It brings in a humanist element to some serious meetings. Everyone’s tolerance of change and all these little new things that we are trying to use to be able to communicate and share information is really positive.

There’s something about the whole idea of vulnerability. It’s not a bad thing to show some vulnerability. I’ve been having to breastfeed my 4 week old during consultant meetings. Luckily, you can turn the camera and microphone off for a bit! But it means that you can still participate and still try and balance what’s going on in your life. People are just being more open to a life happening around us. I think knowing a little bit more about the people you are working with builds a sense of trust. If you drop your guard a little bit I think you can also be more open and understanding of what people are putting forward.  It creates a more collaborative environment.

However, it presents its problems as well.  We are people and we do try and really segregate ourselves, in the office as this one person, at home another. I’m professional and I’m straight up and I’ve got a game face, whereas at home I’m this other person. Having yourself into two halves is a tricky balance. I think possibly reconciling that a little bit, can be positive for both your home life and your work life.

Working from home (WFH) gives you time to connect with the community around you and your local infrastructure. Previously working the whole work week at the office, you barely spend any time at home! I never liked commuting. I always want to live close to where I worked, and we were lucky enough to be able to do this. The city is incredibly expensive in terms of housing stock. As a macro idea by design, it might mean that we do start having a more nodal city as people spend more time in their neighborhood, WFH and not having to commute.

Housing affordability and decentralisation in Melbourne are big topics we need to be thinking about right now. The economic divide between inner and outer cities is enormous and it’s not getting better. We must try to make suburban areas more amenable. The whole idea of people WFH in suburban areas, means infrastructure is going to need to become more accessible in those areas. That’s going to be a real challenge, but one that could bring about positive change.

The statistics show that traffic now is down forty three percent in Melbourne during peak hour because everyone’s WFH.  Even if people continue to work one or two days from home it is going to completely change the way our cities are going to operate. This is an opportunity for people to decentralise. If an average person lives an hour’s commute from the CBD in peak time, that gives you two hours extra time if you’re WFH.

The negatives that I believe will come out of working in isolation are those incidental encounters and conversations that are valuable in a creative environment. I love having an office environment with people around from diverse backgrounds that spur you on. In our office we’ve got all our models around us, or you look at the spine of a book and can get you thinking about something.

We’ve got a younger, almost recent graduate and mentoring is such an important part of our practice. When I was in practice shadowing your seniors or seeing what they’re doing was an important way of learning. We’ve been thinking about how to create points of collaboration in this virtual world, so we do not feel isolated at our desks.  An environment that encourages further flexibility is what we’ll be pushing towards.

 

The team at GAZELLA thank Claire for sharing her thoughts with us. It has been wonderful to sit back an listen to her speak about how design in the time of COVID will change the way we do things. And her honesty has been refreshing – we’ve all been there with our work ‘game face’, or our no-video Zoom meetings!  We wish Claire all the best for the last part of 2020 and into a (hopefully) brighter 2021. You can visit Claire’s work in the links below. As always we’d love you feedback on how COVID-19 has impacted you – you can leave comments below! Always, S, J & D x

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