Justine Clark architecture editor, writer, critic and researcher / PARLOUR  / 
Black, White & Grey

story / Interview / October 16, 2017

I trained in architecture. I graduated in 1991. There was no work in New Zealand. So I did various things to make money, all connected to architecture in some way. Perhaps I might have become a practising architect if I had graduated into a better economic climate? Architecture and construction is so cyclical, you need a complex view of what a career might be.

I went to an architecture school that had a very wide-ranging curriculum. Being a practitioner was one option, but the school also opened up the idea that you might graduate and go into other areas. This also relates to the statistics of the high number of women leaving the profession. It is one thing for women to leave because they feeling pushed out, it is quite another to leave because you see more opportunity to use your skills elsewhere. That’s growth. Architecture has quite a narrow view of itself – I think it would benefit from a richer perception of what being active in architecture could look like.

I curated and designed an exhibition with a friend of mine, Sharon Jansen, in 1996. And part of that we found lots of photographs of post-war architecture, which I was really fascinated by. So I applied for the National Library Research Fellowship to look at these photos in more detail. This led to a book, Looking for the Local: Architecture and the New Zealand Modern, which I co-wrote with my partner, Paul Walker.

My partner is an academic, and we came to Australia for his job at the University of Melbourne. I was looking for work and I saw Architecture Media advertising for an editorial assistant and I knew they published Architecture Australia. I had just finished our book. I went along, and they said ‘You’re kind of over qualified for an editorial assistant’ but I got the job. Six months later my boss took over as editor of Architecture Australia and I became his assistant. A couple of years later, I was made editor.

I was there for ten years. And had two kids while I was editor of Architecture Australia. I could work part-time and flexibly because I had a fantastic assistant editor, Katelin Butler. I was made editor the day before I told them I was pregnant with my first child. To his credit my boss said it wouldn’t have made any difference, which I have always really appreciated.

I didn’t know much about making magazines when I started, or about Australia, but I knew a fair bit about architecture. I think one of the reasons I left is that I started to feel too embedded in Australian architecture. It was all too cosy. I needed something fresh and the magazine needed something fresh too. At the same time I became involved in a large research project led by Dr Naomi Stead and funded by the Australian Research Council, looking at women in the profession.

My generation had graduated in a time where it felt like roughly half the  graduates were women. (Maybe it was around 40%). We were pretty well versed in feminism and we thought it was going to be fine for us. Young graduates still feel like that. But we looked around decades later and thought ‘What happened?’

So we set up this research project. People kept asking what we were doing, so we thought we’d set up a website to tell them. And I was an editor without a magazine, so I got carried away. In addition to essays from my academic colleagues I started commissioning content from many others.

I started by asking a whole lot of people from the profession to reflect on the research we had done to date. It became a way of building quite a large community. We also knew if we wanted to have an impact we had to find a way to spread the work beyond academic publications, and generate new grassroots demand for change.

Gill Matthewson, my colleague, did fantastic statistical work on women’s participation in the profession. That gave people the ability to locate themselves in the profession. The realised they were not alone. Previously if people were having problems, they tended to think ‘It’s just me,’ or, if they had never experienced any issues they thought, ‘I’m fine, there is no problem, what are you talking about?’ Statistics are really important because they point to general trends and the experience of the group. Of course your own experience might not match the story told by the statistics, but that can help generate empathy and understanding.

You don’t get into architectural publishing intentionally. You stumble in. There are no career paths. There are not that many editors in the country. Every one of us has a slightly different background, and every one of us has had a pretty organic career. I’ve never known where I was going. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I do think if you are focused on a particular path, you might not see the opportunities on the side, which might be more interesting.

Parlour started out as a communication platform for the research. We became a formal advocacy group in 2015 when we set up as an incorporated association. (People thought it was an organisation a long time before it was). It’s about giving the research life and impact out there in the world. But is also about drawing the knowledge of others in too.

We developed the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice as one way to activate the research, and give people the tools to make change in their own workplace. There are eleven topics – there’s one on negotiation, one on pay equity, one on career breaks, and so on. Each explains what the issue is, why it matters and what ‘you’ can do about it. It’s addressed to architectural practices, to employees and to professional bodies. Each party have different types of issues, and different types of agency, and if you can understand these different perspectives, you’re more likely to get somewhere. They’ve been remarkably successful. Particularly in the US!

Another project we’ve done is WikiD, which is writing women in the built environment into Wikipedia. This is a collaboration with Architexx in New York and colleagues in Berlin. We’ve written  guides and run workshops. We have also set up the Parlour Seasonal Salons, which came about partly because women were commenting that they know their own generation, but they don’t know older or younger women. So the Salons are informal, convivial events that encourage people to build networks across generations.  Each one starts with a public conversation between two women, which have been fantastic. The only rule is that everyone who comes has to talk to one person they don’t already know.

We started the formal organisation through crowd funding, and with initial support from the Australian Institute of Architects, but now we have a number of key sponsors – AWS supports our event programs, and a number of universities support the organisation as a whole. When we started, the core members of that research project were relatively well known. All well regarded as academics and as writers. So that helped with getting people bothered to listen. If you look like you’re grown up and you don’t look like a bunch of daggy people in the corner, it makes a big difference.

It’s a long project. People have been working on gender equity in architecture from before we were alive, and they’ll likely others be working on it once we are gone. Building on the work and of others, and making the pathways for those who come after are both really important.

The barriers to senior leadership are multiple and intertwined. It’s the idea of what a leader looks like, it’s also about the way people are perceived; (women are seen as bossy, men are seen as strong). All that crap. The tendency we all have to surround ourselves with people like us and men appointing their own image. But it’s also about career pathways that allow women to have steep climbs, then a plateau, because, like it or not, most women are still the primary caregivers.

I think the thing that shocked me out of our research is the extent to which people feel having children has impacted their careers. It’s horrible, to hear about people who were going along, really successfully, then find themselves being treated really unacceptably.

My children are 13 and 10, both girls. Actually when I get really frustrated and think I want to do something else, I look at them and I think, ‘I can’t! I’ve got to keep going.’ They are really good little feminists – they had no choice. One commented the other day, ‘Mum we wrote a story at school and I managed to convince everyone that the hero of the story should be a girl in armour, not a boy.’

When the figures came out on the pay gap for architecture and construction a few years, it was in early January on my birthday. I was reading through the data trying to figure it all out, because it didn’t seem right, and my girls were saying, ‘Mum why are you working?’ Trying to explain the pay gap to a five year old is very bizarre – she just went, ‘What do you mean? That’s ridiculous? I know, from now on boys should be paid less!’

My mother always told me I could do whatever I wanted. She was very interested in science at school and had to fight to be allowed to do it. She put her career on hold to have kids. But both my parents were always very clear that I could do anything and could certainly go into non-traditional areas. When I was at high school and thinking about what to study, I said ‘Oh, maybe I could do Interior Design,’ Mum said, ‘Or you could be an architect.’ It wasn’t a comment on the relative merits of each discipline, but more that I shouldn’t shy away from areas that were seen as the province of men.

My older daughter is an extremely talented drawer and she says ‘Can I be an artist?’ and I say ‘Well, you’ll likely be a waitress as well, but of course you can.’ Do what you want to do, but be strategic, realise that you’re in a structural system that you have to negotiate. I think that whole liberal thing of ‘Follow your passion’ is kind of bullshit as well. It erases structural circumstances that have such an influence on people’s careers, for good and ill.

 

Justine Clark was such a pleasure to interview. Not only was Danielle fan-girling massively (you can’t study Architecture and not know who Justine Clark is!), but Justine has such a wealth of knowledge and information, from which she paints such succinct and brilliant views on women and architecture. Meeting one evening (some time ago now) at City Wine Shop, we spent a great deal of time marveling at the work Justine and her colleagues at Parlour have done, to bring to the fore the systemic issues still facing women in the profession. They have created a community and hub where women can really engage with the profession and a dialogue that addresses both creative and professional life. What an initiative! We also had the pleasure of photographing Justine with her daughter in the State Library. I mean have you seen a cooler t-shirt? We can’t thank Justine enough for giving up her valuable time to speak with us. And we wish her (and Parlour) all the best in making the built environment a better place.

 

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