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Raffaella Rospo of Weston Williamson: ‘Keep a sketchbook in your handbag and use it as much as your lipstick’

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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?
I was lucky to start my career at Claudio Silvestrin/John Pawson (former business partners) and I am now working for Weston Williamson + Partners.

What inspired you to go into architecture?
There was a mill near my home. It was a stone and brick building with a heavy wheel, creating a fantastic sound of waterfall. I used to go there after school, playing with my friends while their parents worked around us. It was a great place where doors were never closed, where the smell of food came out from the kitchens. It was a place that promoted social life and stimulated my imagination. Unfortunately, when I was a teenager, the mill was demolished to make space for very poor commercial development.

I got into architecture thinking about that mill, thinking that if I was the architect I could have saved it or at least reproduce, through a new building, its quality. I got into architecture thinking I could make a positive contribution to the lives of people, to their environment.

Is there anything you would have done differently in your career so far?
In my years of practice I have had the opportunity of working on a wide range of projects all over the world: from luxury minimalist residential and retail projects to public competitive schemes and finally to complex efficient infrastructure projects, which are now my passion. I can travel and get to know other cultures. I am exactly where I want to be, so there is little space/no time for regrets.

I’m often the only woman at meetings and sometimes feel a little isolated or misunderstood

What impact do you feel your gender has had on your career?
I am often the only woman in the room at meetings and sometimes feel a little isolated or misunderstood. This is not because I am Italian, but because there remains a tendency on large civil projects for others to assume that architects in general, and, even worse, female architects, aren’t appropriate for taking a leading role in a project’s design

Luckily, in the last few years, gender equality has taken enormous steps and not just in our industry. It is now clearly recognised that gender diversity leads to better business, and the UK government has launched an initiative to have females occupying one-third of senior management by 2020. I am sure, though, that no woman would want to have a promotion and gain a senior position just because she is a woman.

For example, I aspire to become a role model for the present and future generation of architects: a woman who is succeeding in her career, leading one of the biggest projects in the capital, and without having to give it up to have a growing family.

I aspire to become a role model for the present and future generation of architects

What could be done to make the architecture profession more welcoming to women?
In this country, the male-female ratio of architectural students is almost equal, but the number of women reaching director level, or those still working after 10 years of experience, is shockingly low. Women still leave the profession, or they do not progress, after starting a family.

In this country, the government and companies still have a lot of work to do around childcare, benefits and salaries, for women to be able to take up the opportunities they deserve. With the technology we have nowadays, flexible and remote working is very easy and should be encouraged. Return-to-work schemes should be in place in order to have better work/life balance.

What advice would you give to any young woman who is about to start a career in architecture?
To be curious and to look around, to always keep a sketchbook in their handbag and use it as much as their lipstick, to master collaboration, to care for their project as they care for their children.

Who is your role model or mentor?
I constantly seek opportunities to be inspired or to learn: from those around me or through reading, studying, exploring. Because of this I have different role models/mentors, depending on what I am doing or want to achieve or where I am.

What is the most exciting scheme you are working on?
Paddington Elizabeth Line Station. This is one of the largest and most exciting projects being constructed in London and will be vital for the success of the capital.

Raffaella Rospo is senior associate at Weston Williamson + Partners

Paddington crossrail weston williamson (1)

Paddington crossrail weston williamson (1)

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