Master of Architecture students Sarah Mair and Bronwen Main discuss Midday, Monday, a new series giving students and graduates an opportunity to reconnect during this time of isolation.

What were your motivations for creating Midday, Monday? Why is it needed?

Sarah: I met Bronwen on the phone two months ago, thanks to Justine Clark. We were both feeling the effects of isolation and having someone new to talk about the experience was really refreshing. From the get go it was clear that there was a need for more conversations like these – for support, discussion and community building. With the decentralisation of our work and study, we, students and graduates, are missing out on the all-important connections that are a natural by-product of face-to-face environments.

We wanted to facilitate friendly and informal discussions about challenges and strategies, while fostering new connections that we were missing in our own lives during this period of isolation. I have benefited greatly from the plethora of events held across art, design and architecture in Melbourne and, most importantly, the conversations that come out of being present in those physical spaces.

This is where Midday, Monday comes in, as a fortnightly practice. Like its physical event counterparts, it is a new digital space where you can swap stories, collectively reflect, learn from others and seek motivation in a time when all the rules are up in the air.

How does it work?

Sarah: As the name suggests, we meet fortnightly at Monday lunchtime. We start and finish with the whole group in one online space, but most of each session is spent in a Zoom room with four or five people from across Australia. They look somewhat unrestrained, reflective, easy, and spontaneous, but there is a background structure of support. Hopefully it will become as familiar as bumping into a few familiar faces amidst the architecture lecture spill over or campus cafe. We want to support the kind of conversation that comes from routinely being around like-minded people, new people, and unexpected minds.

The reality is, in moving online and throwing a handful of unfamiliar faces into an online room is unpredictable. In the many cases we have seen it is wonderfully successful, free flowing and full to the brim of passionate storytelling, but sometimes the mixture of participants need a little nudge, something to catalyse the conversation. By involving guest moderators we are hoping to ensure each ‘room’ of 4 or 5 people can cover important common ground and that conversations involve everyone.”

What are your own experiences of studying at this time?

Bronwen: Shifting to an online setting in isolation has not been without its challenges. Many students have expressed their concern with subjects delivering pre-recorded lectures, much like Netflix or Stan. While we are of course still adapting to the online format, it is imperative that new modes of learning continue to be guided by highly skilled teaching staff who are able to develop creativity and innovation. This human element of engagement cannot be replaced.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of resources available, from online libraries to remote access of design programs. There is still significant opportunity to thrive, and in many cases better than before the virus. During our most recent Midday, Monday event, many students expressed their appreciation of online learning. They discussed an increased involvement in public lectures, less time commuting to classes, with more time available to study. It was also interesting for me to learn that many students feel more confident in contributing to a Zoom class than a lecture theatre.

At this time last year I was working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and similar possibilities are also emerging in this world. As museums respond to the pandemic by making their programs available online, I have continued conversations with the art and design community in New York, and engaged with live events that would not have been possible beforehand.

What have been the key challenges felt across the student and graduate community?

Sarah: COVID-19 has meant a number of things for me. It has required me to change direction multiple times, it has challenged my judgment, exposing the edges of my emotional flexibility, shaken my goals and called into question both my motivations and my decision-making process.

Hearing from those attending Midday, Monday, this rings true across the board. And these experiences parallel a number of key challenges. Those looking for work, those commencing study or work in isolation, those investigating avenues to employment and those seeking out mentorship are all confronted by the disarray of familiar paths, which have fundamentally shifted.

What do you think students and recent grads would like the wider architectural community to know about their experiences?

Bronwen: Throughout our discussion groups, students and graduates have expressed their concern regarding employability and being able to meet with role models and mentors during this time. This has contributed to a sense of disengagement and bewilderment for many that I have spoken with. In combating this feeling of alienation, there is a strong desire to develop professional engagement through digital platforms. Several discussion groups also expressed that given the opportunity, they would be interested in online internships and ongoing work.

Drawing from just two sessions, it is already clear that there is great enthusiasm for engagement in both practice and education around Indigenous sovereignty and environment. For instance, opportunities for collaboration as well as rigorous analysis of real issues in relation to future practice and the future of the profession.

How do you anticipate Midday, Monday developing?

Sarah: I imagine that the fortnightly and small group based discussion format will remain relatively stable. It is our hope that the format is flexible and inclusive enough to accommodate the mix of challenges that it encourages participants to bring to the digital table. How it will develop is likely to be outside the routine of the event. Already we have seen the seeds of new relationships forming amongst our participants. We have been blown away by the generosity and willingness of participants to not only participate in the event, but extend that support for one another outside our lunchtime slot.

What do you hope will come out of the pandemic?

Bronwen: It is my hope that our return to a new normal will include a better ability to engage and share with a wider community, not just internationally but also to include members of the community living with chronic illness and disabilities. Although the pandemic certainly poses many significant challenges, the movement towards online delivery is an important opportunity to rethink how we consider accessibility and engagement.

Bronwen Main and Sarah Mair lead Midday, Monday. 

Sarah is a Melbourne-based architecture student, editor, events curator and furniture designer with a passion for sharing ideas, public engagement and equity in the built environment.

This ethos led her to take on the curatorship of PROCESS in 2018 and become an editor for Inflection in 2017, the student-run journal of the Melbourne School of Design. Alongside her architecture studies she has her own furniture practice, has played an important role in the delivery of exhibitions, most notably with the Robin Boyd Foundation, and her furniture work has been invited to exhibit at the Salon de Mobile.

Sarah’s professional experience has been defined by her work on public architecture and the complex needs of communities in rapidly expanding areas of growth.

Her current focus through her work with Parlour is on creating a nationally connected student and graduate community to help navigate these unprecedented times.

Bronwen has extensive experience working across the museum and arts sectors. Her graduate studies in Art History lead her to study Contemporary Art in New York in 2018. The following year she worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an Ambassador within the Visitor Experience Team, across both the main museum and later the Met Breuer. While working at the Met, Bronwen also studied at the Pratt Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design and undertook research at the Pratt Consortium for Research and Robotics. 
Prior to her time in New York, she worked across Melbourne’s pre-eminent arts and cultural areas, including the Immigration Museum, Mossgreen and Seventh Gallery. Bronwen also has experience working in a corporate environment in Accounting & Advisory at Pitcher Partners. In 2014 she was awarded an Australian Government scholarship to study Mandarin at Tianjin University, China. Her understanding of Chinese culture and language has guided her practice, working across sectors committed to welcoming broader audiences. 
Bronwen is currently completing a Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne.