Building a career as a female architect 

October 3, 2018

After a bad experience at an architecture firm in Switzerland, Laura Ruxton almost left the profession but instead decided to join Newcastle-based Dunwoodie Architects, where she has since thrived in the welcoming and inclusive environment. Here, she reflects on her journey

As with most professional services, architecture often sees an equal female-to-male numbers enter the profession, but fewer women achieving management and board level positions.

Laura Ruxton, who became a director of Dunwoodie Architects in 2017, recognises this as an ongoing issue facing women who are ambitious to achieve senior positions in the profession.

Born in Colombia and graduating in Architecture from Medellin UPB University, Laura subsequently moved to Switzerland to carry out further studies in architecture, deepening her understanding of the construction methods used in Europe.

“I worked in Switzerland in a small rural practice and even then I was very surprised at the secondary role female architects played in the running of a practice,” she says. “The only qualified architect was one of the two directors, the other being a senior technician. He had the ego of a frustrated Le Corbusier and didn’t let his fellow director go to meetings without him. It was indicative of the practice’s approach to women, that he used to send me to do his food shopping during my lunch break.”

Following the completion of her Masters in Business Management, and having met and married her ‘Geordie’ partner, Laura moved to Newcastle and started working for Dunwoodie Architects.

“I was very disillusioned about the architecture profession when I moved to the UK, and I was even considering a change of career,” Laura reveals. “I was therefore pleasantly surprised when I started to work at Dunwoodie with the inclusive and respectful attitude of the directors and my fellow co-workers.

“This approach has allowed me to expand my reach, and further develop my interest and expertise in the healthcare sector. There were no barriers to stop me from achieving my full potential, and this has helped move both the business and my career forwards.”

Laura attributes Dunwoodie Architects’ ongoing achievements with the positive and inclusive nature of the practice.

“Since I became a director, I have been able to build on the practice’s successes, developing what we do at Dunwoodie and how we do it.”  Laura continues: “We have built on our expertise in healthcare, adding additional sector experience, and we have done this by employing the best people, irrespective of gender. By nurturing and developing our talent in the business, we are able to expand the service we provide to our growing client base.”

The practice’s approach is evident in the often sensitive work Dunwoodie Architects does within the healthcare sector.

Laura explains: “A well-considered and planned healthcare project can become part of the care to patients, offering spaces for self-awareness, reflection, distraction and social interaction, during the different stages of a patient’s treatment and care. This allows them to heal and recover in their own time, not only physically but also mentally.

“With the current trend and awareness about mental health, it is becoming increasingly important for healthcare buildings to provide an environment that allows for a more comprehensive and inclusive route to patient care.”

Moving forwards in her directorship role, Laura is keen to further develop the nature of the work her practice undertakes in people-centric spaces, and to continue being a vocal and supportive advocate in helping more female architects move into senior positions within the profession.

Dunwoodie Architects

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