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 first job at Acanthus Clews Architects was at the peak of the recession in 2009. I learned a valuable lesson about the impact of the economy on the construction industry as well as the practice of architecture.
I am now an associate at Stitch, working on housing, regeneration and mixed-use projects across London. Over the last three years, I’ve led several large-scale estate regeneration projects, achieving planning permission for more than 600 new homes in London.
What inspired you to go into architecture?
I’ve always been passionate about designing and making things but it wasn’t until I started applying to university that I was inspired by the way architecture shapes and informs the world around us. For me, architecture is about bringing together multiple skills and disciplines in a creative and thoughtful way and it was this challenge that appealed to me.
Is there anything you would have done differently in your career so far?
I worked and travelled throughout my education and while these separate experiences were valuable and rewarding in their own way, I would’ve liked to spend more time working and living in different countries and cultures.
I would also tell my younger self to make more friends outside of architecture. The people I meet now, both within the construction industry and through hobbies and sporting events, have been so valuable to my personal and professional development – I only wish we had met sooner.
What impact do you feel your gender has had on your career?
Perhaps I am lucky but, so far, I don’t feel that my gender has defined my career path to date.
What could be done to make the architecture profession more welcoming to women?
The long hours traditionally associated with architecture are in conflict with family life. Like a growing number of practices, work/life balance is important for the whole team here; with no late nights or weekends in the office. However, the profession as a whole requires a wider shift in culture to support both men and women to have the time they need to raise a family.
The profession requires a wider shift in culture to support both men and women to have the time to raise a family
What advice would you give to any young woman who is about to start a career in architecture?
Get out there as much as you can. Get as much work experience as possible, but also don’t forget to take time out to travel and appreciate architecture first hand.
The best advice I was given: invest in yourself, never forget to take the time to stop and sharpen your sword.
Who is your role model or mentor?
My ultimate role model has to be Jane Jacobs. I don’t think anyone has changed the way we think about urban life as profoundly as Jacobs. Her critique and observations on the make-up of the city right down to how individual streets are successful influence and inspire my work in housing and estate regeneration.
I would also add that my peers are often my most valuable mentors; being part of the Urban Land Institute group mentor scheme for the last year has been endlessly insightful and rewarding.
What is the most exciting scheme you are working on?
We’ve just completed the masterplan for a large opportunity site along the Old Kent Road (pictured) as part of the revised Area Action Plan. Working on such a large and significant project has been incredibly exciting and a great opportunity to work as part of a larger team of masterplanners creating something that is ultimately larger than the sum of its parts – a whole new piece of the city.
Joanna hnasford stitich old kent road
Joanna Hansford, associate at Stitch, partner practice to the Women in Architecture programme