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Harriet Jenkins of Grimshaw: ‘My best results come when I am most challenged’

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In the run-up to this year’s Women in Architecture Awards on 2 March, we asked architects to tell us about their career, inspiration and how to make the profession more welcoming to women

Where was your first job and where are you now?
My architectural career and Grimshaw have been inextricably linked. I joined as a fresh-faced Part 1 and am now a project architect within the arts and sports team. Despite having only worked in one place, my experience here has been gratifyingly varied, working on a breadth of almost 20 projects of ranging scale, budget and nature. The practice has provided a welcoming and encouraging home to develop as a professional, and cultivate my approach to design.

What inspired you to go into architecture?
Perfectly balanced logic, history and imagination, fulfilling my wide-ranging curiosity. I’ve always enjoyed the way in which the profession can combine academic knowledge with creativity, creating something that is rooted in an intellectual concept and realised artistically and pragmatically. As the world increasingly becomes more and more specialised, architecture offers a rare opportunity to retain diversity professionally.

Is there anything you would have done differently in your career so far?
Life is too short to have regrets. All the experiences I have had, both positive and negative, have taught me something. The architectural profession is a notoriously hard taskmaster and at times, I have found it extremely trying. However, often I have found that the best results come when I am most challenged.

What impact do you feel your gender has had on your career?
In an industry that still seems largely male-dominated, I’ve spent the last nine years working for a female partner, which has perhaps given me a different perspective to most. I have never found that being a woman has hindered my professional development. That is not to say there haven’t been several occasions where I’ve found myself at a meeting where I’ve been the only women at a large boardroom table of men. In these circumstances I try to make a joke to acknowledge the situation, and then get on with the work that has to be done.

The gender imbalance is an issue across the entire construction industry – the buck doesn’t stop with architecture

It should be noted, however, that the gender imbalance is an issue across the entire construction industry and the buck doesn’t stop with architecture. It is just as important to ensure that all the consultants we choose to work with have female representation, to ensure gender balance across the entire design team, as it is within each respective practice.

What could be done to make the architecture profession more welcoming to women?
Architecture is infamously not a 9-to-5 job, and therefore accommodating greater opportunities for flexitime within the workplace is critical to retaining female staff post-children. It goes without saying that ensuring equal pay across genders is essential.

What advice would you give to any young woman who is about to start a career in architecture?
Don’t give up.

Who is your role model or mentor?
I don’t really believe in having one person as a professional role model. I am continuously motivated and inspired by the people I work with. For me, the most gratifying quality of the profession is teamwork. No project is the creation of one person; it’s a collaboration of a team of people, each bringing varying skills and ideas. I am constantly impressed by the talent around the office, at all ages, levels and specialities and try to draw on these people for stimulus.

If all else fails for inspiration, I think: ‘What would Louis Kahn do?’

What is the most exciting scheme you are currently working on?
The Curragh Racecourse redevelopment in Ireland (pictured below). After four years in design development, the project is now making strong headway on site and is due to finish in the next 12 months. I’m immensely proud to be project architect on such an important scheme for the horse-racing industry and feel incredibly lucky to be working in such a beautiful site, steeped in history and tradition.

Harriet Jenkins, architect at Grimshaw, partner practice to the Women in Architecture programme

Grimshaw Curragh grandstand view

Grimshaw Curragh grandstand view

Grimshaw Curragh grandstand view

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