Flexibility, persistence and a willingness to leave her home city created opportunities for Jacinda Sadler.
When I walked out of the rarefied walls of RMIT with my gleaming Bachelor of Architecture degree, full of excitement about an impending career as an architect, little did I know of the many challenges that lay ahead. If I could share some pearls of wisdom with my younger self about to embark on the world of work, what would I prioritise? What would I say?
1. Be prepared – to travel, to adapt, to be flexible
As a young graduate, walking straight into the construction abyss of a Melbourne recession circa 1990 is not easy. No jobs for architects anywhere! You must adapt quickly and change your expectations.
You become a nomadic architect working in the most remote parts of Australia, moving from North Western Australia to Northern Queensland and then to Darwin and down through the APY Lands. Though you feel some trepidation, you’re up for the challenge. You work on Housing for Health projects with HealthHabitat, you’re the architect for 2 Health Centres in the Torres Strait, do such things as a Passive Cooling School Survey on every remote school in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York, and work with Troppo Architects and Paul Pholeros on Health Centres for Nganampa Health Council in the APY Lands.
Eventually, you become worn down by the complexities of life and construction in remote parts of Australia. Your time in the north has been full of wonderful life experiences and insights. Be proud of your contribution and achievements, but aware that it’s time to move on.
2. Make the most of every experience
It’s important to realise that you can learn from every job and every project – whether you’re in northern Australia having your mind blown away by the things you learn about the First People of this country, or moving to England to work in Oxford and Bath, immersing yourself in the structures and culture of a society that laid the foundations for the Post-Colonial complexities you have just left behind in Australia.
3. Learn to communicate
Note that architecture is not a fast profession. It is often an incredibly long and arduous process of discussions and a sequence of the most intricate and complex relationships with all number of authorities, user groups, construction managers, accountants, business managers – every possible variety of human being and environment available at any point of time. It’s vital that you learn to communicate easily and effectively with the widest variety of people possible.
You will often be the lowest-paid person on a building site (think about wearing a red safety hat on site and someone may think you are a crane driver and pay you more money). Be mindful of the sharks circling to usurp the architect’s relevance in society and, importantly, maintain a high personal moral and ethical standard for the greater good of the profession.
4. Persist, persist, persist…
When you resume your architectural career in Melbourne with two beautiful children in tow and a divorce to deal with, you enter a period of extreme emotional and financial turbulence and you will need to hang on to your architectural career for grim death. As a single mother, you will need your career to sustain three lives and a dog. There will be moments of looking wistfully at a career on the retail floor – but dig your heels in and acknowledge the investment you have already made into your architectural career. Push on through with knowledge, patience and dexterity. You will need to be wily and flexible – but you can do it!
5. Take time out to celebrate
After 20+ years as a registered architect, you start to reflect on the white knuckle ride of your career as an architect. Notice that the path is paved with reams of yellow trace of unbuilt ideas. Make sure that you celebrate all of those un-celebrated architectural moments of clarity and creativity in your own private way – as they are reminders of your problem-solving abilities.
6. Be optimistic
Above all, maintain your optimism and confidence in your ability to problem-solve creatively and stick at it in whatever way you can for a whole raft of reasons. This could be ‘to be an architect and a mum’ or ‘to work on building detailing as part of a team’ or ‘striving to equalise the gender gap’. Women in architecture need to feel they are not competing for a tiny slice of the pie! Above all, value your contribution to an extremely diverse field.
Architecture can be heart-wrenching – but there can be moments of peace and happiness. Keep looking for them in unlikely places.
Jacinda Sadler is a registered practising architect with extensive experience in building construction. She has worked as an architect in the remotest parts of Australia, in inner urban locations, and in Bath and Oxford, UK. She is currently living and working on a variety of projects in Melbourne.