‘It’s an exciting time for women in architecture’, says Clare Kwok, an Associate at ClarkeHopkinsClarke (CHC) and our latest profile in the Women in Architecture series.
Clare Kwok is an Associate at Melbourne-based ClarkeHopkinsClarke. She became a registered architect in 2011 and joined the CHC team in 2012. Originally working solely on retail projects, she has recently also joined the multi-residential sector of the practice. Her most prominent projects to date include design work on the Coburg North Shopping Centre that features a ‘future’ Green Star Coles store (being used as an example Australia-wide), the South Morang Central Shopping Centre and commercial offices at York St, South Melbourne.
What do you enjoy most in the practice of architecture?
Growing up I was constantly rearranging my bedroom and playing with Lego blocks; I felt the possibilities of design were endless. Today, through this industry I get to experience this on a much bigger scale.
I enjoy starting with a blank page and eventually being able to experience my design in a three dimension built form. I particularly enjoy the challenge of working with a team of different consultants to find solutions and ensure that a project’s social, commercial and financial conditions are met.
I feel architecture is one of few industries that allows professionals to be heavily involved in multiple disciplines at the same time, such as the retail and multi-residential sectors that I specialise in. It’s perfect for someone like me who grew up wanting to do everything!
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a woman in architecture and how did you overcome it?
I think communication and understanding other perspectives is a constant challenge, whether that refers to understanding cultural issues, language barriers or being a woman in a male-dominated industry. I have always taken the approach to try and meet these challenges head-on.
I think it is particularly important to ensure you have adequate support both at home and in the office.
Like all aspects of life, there will undoubtedly be situations at work where topics of conversation arise that you may have no interest (or understanding) in. I think the key is to take this in your stride and treat each experience as a potential opportunity to broaden your horizons. You never know, you might actually come to pick up a few things and it does help when your team is going pretty well (go the Hawks!!).
Who do you look up to in the architecture profession?
Les Clarke, one of CHC’s founders, who still works in the practice today. It’s great having him in the office, seeing the way he carries himself, and observing how he just gets on with the work every day.
Les always reminds me to keep things simple and not to rely too heavily on technology. Good architecture always speaks for itself!
What are you looking forward to in your career?
Quite a lot! 2015 was a big year for me both personally and professionally and 2016 is shaping up to be even bigger.
I am looking forward to moving into a more senior role within the firm and broadening my experience into a new specialisation and sector (multi-residential).
As a new associate at CHC, I look back on all the support I received when I first started my career and think it is critical that we (and I) continue to develop and support the younger members of the firm. I look forward to being able to mentor and develop our junior staff and pass on all the knowledge I have gained over the years.
Similarly, I believe creating work-life balance is critical for a long career. I look forward to balancing my career with family life in the future and think as an industry we have an exciting opportunity to better support a growing number of working mums. I think we are experiencing an exciting time for women in architecture, with a lot more women (and mothers) achieving senior positions. I believe the opportunities are there if you take the initiative and establish what works for yourself and your office. Remember, flexibility is a two-way street.
What do you see as your core strength in the practice of architecture?
I believe my key strength is putting ideas into action and not waiting for someone else to fix the problem. I think having a ‘can-do’ attitude as well as having a curious mind is an attribute that allows me to better experience all that the industry has to offer.
Clare Kwok was interviewed by Michael Smith from Atelier Red+Black. This profile is co-published with the Australian Institute of Architects.