ARCHITECTURE, PARENTING AND SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT
Dear President Karl,
Thank you for your invitation to beat a path to you on issues (President’s Foreword, Architecture Australia vol 99 no 4, July/August 2010). I have sole practised from home since leaving my directorship of a firm here in Brisbane some eight years ago to take my turn at parenting, housekeeping and supporting. We are both forty-eight years old this year. My partner is a lecturer at a Queensland architecture school.
We don’t maintain two memberships at the current time. We have one, Elizabeth’s, which is a full practice level (M1). I decided to offer to opt out when I was nominated to Fellowship at the time I left my city practice eight years ago. At that time we were both members and I realized that Elizabeth would not be offered this status for many years as we had maintained only my membership (the male one, like most folk) through the early tough years of raising our three kids. Our current plan is to wait until Elizabeth is eventually a Fellow and by then I hope our kids will have stopped bleeding us dry. So I am not a Fellow or indeed a member at the moment. I am associated with an Associate.
There are many more good reasons why there should be a family membership category and why those in our position were disappointed by the practice-oriented broadening of membership categories (are there six?), which didn’t recognize architecture families, the relatively large number of us (that’s a result of the six-year incubation) and the particularity of our situations. There is no logical mix of memberships to choose without choosing a lower or inapplicable status for one partner or both to reduce the fee to a manageable and justifiable range of, say, around $1,200. It typifies the “burnt chop” phenomenon, often experienced in parenting and partnering those in work.
The experience of working at home has been an eye-opener for me – I have been pretty much continually president of “this and that” – after school care, P&C suburban sailing clubs, etc – lots of unpaid, locally based work of one sort or another. I have been surprised at how far away one subtly feels from the architecture action and I have realized that this is what women feel when they leave, as I have, for parenting and financial reasons, for up to ten years. It is a very different experience – confidence and direction can be lost, registration may never be achieved and so on. It is a fact that women still experience the subtle structuring of our society differently – in the same way, for instance, that our Indigenous people experience a different justice system from the one we do. I’m sorry, that is a shocking analogy and not meant to belittle the latter issue. But it’s for the same reason: simply that systems tend to work better for those in the groups that devise and control them.
If there is anything that this little issue represents more broadly, it is that architecture as a whole is not very engaged on the social plane. It has been part of, even an aspiration of, a socially conservative era. After the two decades of the wonderful boom, the internationalization and success of the profession driven by the seemingly endless blessings of the digital revolution and not least the total eclipse presented by our environmental challenges, this is hardly surprising. There are many issues which architecture could be imaginatively engaged with – for instance, helping to rebuild real communities via the inherent engagement with space and territory, and applying the advances in the social sciences which have more or less passed us by. Another is our gift for imagining and demonstrating actual ways of living and working (as against ways of displaying same). Stuff that could refresh us and at the very least help us make cool and groovy retirement homes fit for our baby boomers.
In a quieter, less frantic time: reflect, find some forgotten parts of our future, and beat a path into them.