Q As the first woman since 1896 to be elected as president of the WA Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects, what is your top priority?
Increasing the profile of our profession by clearly explaining and demonstrating the value of architects and architecture to our community and elected members.
Q Turn back the clock to 1986 when you graduated from Curtin University, and you were told “architecture is an old man’s profession”. What did you think at the time?
I don’t think I thought the phrase was sexist; it was just that architecture was a man’s profession. My dad, Peter, was an architect, and at that time I didn’t know one registered female architect, famous or not. When I was at university there were very few women. I had never been lectured or tutored by a woman, so after graduation I headed to London and sought our practices that would expand my experience but also where I could work with and for women.
Q Who are your mentors?
When I returned from overseas, I worked at the state government’s Building Managing Authority, along with a handful of other women in their 20s. Former MP Cheryl Edwardes, a wonderful advocate for women, started a Leadership Mentoring Program with senior male architects. It was career defining for me, and suddenly we were “seen” by senior management. Ms Edwardes, former MP Katie Hodson-Thomas and Professor Warren Kerr are wonderful mentors and sounding boards. I am naturally loud and gregarious, but also at times insecure and shy, so without mentors and some wonderful women supporters encouraging me, I would never have had the confidence to put my hand up and run for the position of president.
Q Tell us about your family.
In 1996, I left to have my first child, and twins followed in 1997 and my youngest son was born in 2002. For most of my 30s, I was the primary care giver, a stay-at home mum, working part-time doing back-room jobs like chasing payments in a small design practice. At times I was really disillusioned as I watched the trajectory of my male colleagues rise while I felt that I was just treading water professionally and feeling guilty because I loved being a mum.
Q Where do you live?
I live in Swanbourne with my partner, Neil Cownie, who is also an architect, and my four teenage children, my stepdaughter and two dogs. We designed our house together to suit our blended family and our specific needs.
First Published The Subiaco Post 2017