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Joanna van Heyningen

Women in practice profile: partner, van Heyningen and Haward Architects

WHY YOU BECAME AN ARCHITECT It wasn’t until I had completed my first degree and been in work for a year that I decided to be an architect. In the end, my reason was a love of buildings and scope to combine the artistic and the technical

FIRST PROJECT A crèche for the college where I did my first degree

SECTORS YOU WORK IN Community and cultural buildings of all sorts

BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION That we are great listeners. We are, but so are men…

WHY WOMEN LEAVE It may be down to lack of confidence about how to build

WHAT WOULD MAKE THEM STAY? Schools of architecture in Britain don’t teach you how to build. They should help their students understand that, when they go into a practice, they cannot be expected to know what they haven’t been taught, and they shouldn’t be ashamed of this. It is the responsibility of those practices that employ students (on a low salary) to fill in the gaps left by architecture schools

HOW TO MAKE IT WORK Work with other women. Our practice is 50:50, and that goes for the partners too

ON CHILDREN I got round this by starting my own practice. My advice to those for whom this is not on the cards is to take full advantage of the protection and support that the law gives returning parents and share the responsibilities of childcare with the father. Returning mothers are our favourite employees; they are exceptionally focused

CURRENT CHALLENGE The same as those facing men: achieving quality in a culture of low budgets, daft programmes and low fees

ON SEXISM I haven’t suffered much except in petty things. When I started, the proportion of women in offices was eight per cent, so it has improved, but there’s a long way to go

BEST DEFENCE AGAINST SEXISM Not letting it sap your confidence – and going to the top to complain if you encounter it. In all businesses the ethos comes from the top

BEST ADVICE EVER RECEIVED It was many years ago from Jamie Troughton, in response to my anxiety about a possible building defect. His philosophy was: Do your best not to be negligent and make sure you are properly insured, then leave it to them. Architecture is by its nature a mistake-making profession, and one can only do one’s best

INSPIRATION Eileen Gray for the lasting strength of her design, carried out in a male milieu

Place of study University of Cambridge
Current projects Several schools, a visitor centre in East Tilbury, university buildings, a performance building and masterplanning
Clients Range of private, public and charitable clients
Featured project New North London Synagogue (NNLS)
Client NNLS
Completed March 2011
Budget £4.7 million
£/sqm £2,626
www.vhh.co.uk

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