November 2, 2018
What was your first break in architecture?
My first experience in an architect’s office was working over the summer in a three-person office in a tenement attic in Edinburgh’s West End when I was 16 years old. It was so uncomfortably hot by midday that we went for long lunches and spent most of the afternoon playing frisbee. I was sold! A few years later, having firmly established that architecture demands tenacity, determination and long hours, I found myself working on McDonald’s University of Hamburgerology in Mies Van der Rohe’s office in Chicago. As well as assisting with the design of lecture theatres, where restaurant managers would learn how many squirts of red sauce should land on a Big Mac, this was to be my introduction to grid rigour, feet and inches, air-con and Corporate America.
What did you want to be growing up?
I’m still growing up; I still don’t really know! But definitely not the funeral director that the Myers- Briggs test I did at 17 said was the career for me!
What attracted you to your current role?
In February 1993, we were in a recession. I was acting Librarian at Newcastle University’s School of Architecture and I took a call from FaulknerBrowns, inviting me to interview for a six-month temporary position. I have to confess to not knowing huge amounts about the practice – websites weren’t yet a thing. I got the job, and am still there, 25 years later.
What is the company’s mission?
We’re innovators and collaborators at FaulknerBrowns. We make imaginative places nationally and internationally. We have an inquisitive approach, push boundaries, and always aim to exceed expectations.
You were recently named Best Woman Architect in the European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards (WICE) 2018. How did it feel winning the accolade?
Pretty special, given the number and calibre of finalists from across Europe, and particularly as myself and two other colleagues from FaulknerBrowns scooped all three of the architectural WICE awards. These awards recognise the achievements of female role models to help encourage more women to enter – and crucially to stay – in our predominantly male industry. Over the years, I have often been the only woman in the room. Diversity (in the widest sense) in the industry is increasing, with team dynamics improving immeasurably as a result, but far too slowly. It’s a privilege as an architect being able to affect change in the built environment, but our projects will be all the more rewarding, relevant and successful when teams more closely reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.
Apart from your WICE success, what has been your career highlight?
There have been lots. Being asked to join three boards within the space of a few months was hugely flattering. Fascinating, insightful and a phenomenal way to meet thought leaders, bright sparks and firework throwers.
Project-wise, the remodelling of Monument Mall in Newcastle – taking out the mall to turn the whole building street-facing once again, reformatting units, repairing facades, opening up rooftops – has been transformational for this part of the city, and a project I’m particularly proud of. Similarly, the work we have done with NE1 and NCC on developing a masterplan for Newcastle’s core retail area and seeing the public’s positive response to ideas trialled this summer has been immensely rewarding.
Right now, I am loving working with a start-up, repurposing interesting old buildings on UK high streets as food-focused community hubs. Providing a platform for emerging chefs eager for an affordable route to central locations and hearing the theatrical passion they bring is hugely infectious. We all enjoy sharing stories over a meal, and food can play a powerful role in regeneration. Everyone enjoys a good food market hall!
The most rewarding aspect of these career highlights is the collaborative process required to find innovative solutions, and the relationships made along the way. Architecture isn’t just about shiny new buildings. It’s mainly about people. And the spaces in between.
What has been your biggest challenge in your career?
Working away from home two or three days a week on a project near Bristol which ran in parallel with most of my son’s primary school education.
Who or what inspires you?
My dad, my children, TED-talkers, cities, and people who articulate complex ideas with profound clarity of thought. Joy Nazzari does this exquisitely in her recent book Know Your Place, a guide to creating places with purpose.
What would you like to achieve in your career?
I would like to contribute to the delivery of more ‘intervention’ projects in the UK’s city centres, those of the calibre that NE1 has in mind for Newcastle’s Quayside and River Tyne, so we really start using, enjoying and celebrating the cultural, topographical and heritage assets of our cities in a more imaginative and resourceful fashion.
How do you achieve a good work/life balance?
I get up early to exercise, work like crazy during the week and fiercely try to protect my weekends. They’re for making, creating, exploring and sharing. Cross-country skiing, making big shouty jewellery and machine-stitching textile memoryscapes are my passions. And if I tweeted less, I could sleep more.