Jess - Architect / Kaihoahoa Whare

I will always remember when I was in year eight. I was given a project to design a hotel and really went for it. Every single room had a unique and elaborate wallpaper. I spent hours creating all these incredibly odd characters to live in the Victorian/Edwardian themed building. That tiny little project had a big impact on me. It got me thinking about a career in architecture.

At high school I took pretty stock standard subjects, from english to calculus, physics, chemistry and biology. I really loved physics and maths, but a part of me also loved art. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school, which I think was probably healthy and quite normal for that age. My guitar tutor suggested I take music further, so I went to Jazz School. That was great for a few years, but I wanted to be challenged in different ways, especially in maths. I realised the one thing that would satisfy me, in terms of both my scientific and artistic minds, would be architecture. So up to Wellington I went!

You know when something satisfies you because you want to work really, really hard. That’s how I felt at architecture school. It felt so right. I discovered there are multiple avenues. You might be the sort of person that who excited by the theory behind it all, or the aesthetics, or there’s the form and proportion of buildings. There are many pathways within the one career.

Five years later, I’ve found myself back in Christchurch. I had big plans to go to New York, but when the earthquakes happened, I realised I needed to come back. It was the perfect time to return to help fix my poor wee broken home town.

My friend Nic said something really lovely to me the other day. She said she left and went up to Auckland for a bit, but all she wanted to do was to come home. Everyone here has lived through massive stress and they’ve lived through it together. She felt like everyone was on a little boat and she wanted to hurry home and get back on that boat, with all the other people that understood what was going on. I thought that was a beautiful analogy.

Post-earthquake, there are a lot of damaged buildings and obviously there’s a lot we can’t control. It’s frustrating because we can’t save them all, but I’ve realised that my little bit is still important. I guess Nic did too.
More than half my class at uni were women. When I started at working, it was just me, a woman receptionist and 10 men. I think there are issues in hiring women because we work a lot with the construction industry which is male-dominated. It can be pretty rough and I’ve heard a few stories.

One woman went onto a building site and an old guy asked her, “Where are the scones, love?” There’s a woman painter working next door, along with some male construction workers. They give her stick and she gives it right back. She has to be pretty brutal, you know? The funny thing is, when the men in our office overhear her they go “Oh, god! She’s pretty rough!” Even though the guys have been acting and talking in the same way. As soon as a woman starts, suddenly she’s a bad sheep. No one bats an eyelid when the guys hurl abuse at each other.

I’m vocal about feminism at work. I used to give my boss stick and say, “Hire more women! Hire more women!” The next person he hired was a woman, which I like to think I played a part in. Her name is Jess, too.

There’s one man who doesn’t work for us, but often comes in. I’d been warned that he was pretty derogatory and that I’d have to basically just suck it up. But one day I’d had enough. The other Jess had dropped something on the ground and was down on her knees sweeping it up. He walked in, stood over her and looked down his nose, “That’s where you women should be,” he said. I turned around from my desk and I said, “I beg your pardon?!” I thought, you know, here’s this 70-year-old man, he’s paying us massive money, and I’m meant to shut my mouth. But no, I decided not to. I couldn’t. There’s just no excuse and people need to understand it’s not acceptable. Society needs to move on.

People need to learn that feminism isn’t a dirty word.
There is still something to fight for. There is still gender inequality in our society. The frustrating thing for me is that I was brought up thinking we had equal opportunities. Mum set up her own private practice, worked full time, and brought up a family. She was basically superwoman, you know? A real role model.

I thought I’d be able to work full-time and run a household too. But I’ve since realised it doesn’t work quite like that. My partner Hamish is away sailing a lot. Our idea is that he’s going to be a stay at home dad. I’ll try and be there some of the time too, of course. We believe that our relationship and family dynamic will be really strong if we’re both around during different parts of the week.

We talk about how these issues are just as much social as they are economic. These days it’s a luxury having a stay at home parent, whether that be the father or mother. Everything is so expensive. To buy what you need, to maintain a good quality of life, it seems to me that both parents have to work. The irony is you’re spending ‘x’ amount of money having someone look after your kid because you can’t quite manage having only one of you working, or both working part-time. It’s gotten really bad.

Fundamentally, there is a real maternal instinct in all of us. You want to be with your kids, but working full-time and paying for full-time child care isn’t financially viable for so many people. Besides, most people don’t want someone else bringing up their kids five days a week. It’s going to be hard for us to find a balance.

Have you read about the idea of leaning forward? There’s a woman who is the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. She wrote a really controversial book which challenged male-dominated corporate culture in the U.S. Her theory is that the reasons women aren’t in high profile jobs is because they have at the back of their head a voice saying, “I’m going to have children soon.” A job might come up, but they are subconsciously disengaging from moving forward and moving up. Her point is that if you’re going planning on having kids in the future, that’s great, but always be involved at work up until the day you go on maternity leave. Be at the board meeting. Lean forward and talk. Get your opinions out there. Be assertive.


How do I get into this career?

You have to get a degree in architecture in order to practise:

- Try the Careers NZ website, the link will take you straight to more information about being an architect. Their 'How to enter the job' section has a lot of really good info.

- You might like to follow up by emailing or visiting tertiary providers and asking them more about their courses.

- Another idea is to research local businesses, call them, and ask if you can go in for a day or a week to see what the job is actually like. This will allow you to quickly figure out if this sort of job is for you. This is called 'informational interviewing' and there are some great online resources on how to approach this.