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Our parenting survey lays bare architecture’s ‘glacial progress’ on improving working conditions

Emily Booth
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An uncompromising culture of long hours and presenteeism still pervades the profession, writes Emily Booth

There is something of a stand-off in the architectural world between the old and the new.

From inside architecture, an industry that has so much progressive thinking at its core, there is ‘glacial progress’ (according to one respondent) on improving working conditions. The AJ’s first Parenting in Architecture Survey finds that a large percentage of employers are still entrenched in an uncompromising culture of long hours and presenteeism. 

A new generation of parents is pushing for greater equality. Interestingly, 10 per cent of parents working in architecture who responded to our survey applied for Shared Parental Leave – far above the national average of around 1.2 per cent. Here, the new is pushing at the old.

Practices need to work with, not against, their talented employees who also happen to be parents

From outside the profession, the ‘style wars’ debate seems to be making an unwelcome comeback. Housing secretary James Brokenshire has unveiled the new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, chaired by arch-traditionalist Roger Scruton. 

In a time of housing crisis, when there is very little incentive to build enough affordable housing – and when what is built is often of variable quality – a focus on the subjective notion of ‘beauty’ seems to miss the point. 

So often when the government is involved, beauty is addressed at a skin-deep level, at the ‘style’ level, and comes with strings attached. Beautiful buildings need to consider quality and context and there needs to be money to maintain them. Beauty is also in the eye in the beholder: beautiful can be bold and modern; it certainly does not need to be traditional – or look like a Neoclassical federal building in Alabama. Here, the old is pushing back at the new.

How to resolve these tensions? To the first point, practices need to work with, not against, their talented employees who also happen to be parents. They need to sell what they do and how they do it; to keep talented staff and ensure a new generation wants to come and work in architecture and with them. To the second point, the profession needs to make its case better to communities, government and councils about the merits of strong design, and just what ‘beauty’ can encompass.

Both points boil down to quality and investment – in people and our built world. It shouldn’t be a fight, it should be a partnership.

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