Camilla Block on becoming a registered architect after decades in the profession, and the new process that enabled this.


So, I have agreed to out myself. A little while ago I was reading something about the endlessly depressing under-representation of women in architecture and realised, yet again, that as an unregistered architect, I was contributing to this negative picture.

I didn’t mean not to get registered. It was the combination of a rapidly accelerating and demanding small practice with three children that made it difficult to prioritise. And the longer I put it off, the less the registration process seemed to be applicable to me. The information that a two-year graduate learns by supervised work, study and courses, I had been learning on the job for over 20 years.

My lack of registration became increasingly embarrassing to confess. That throat clearing ‘ahem’ when I got asked to speak or contribute and I would have to say ‘happy to take part, thank you for thinking of me but just so you know I am not a registered architect’. And at 50, calling myself a graduate architect seemed more and more silly. I am proud to contribute to our profession and no longer wanted to explain this shameful anomaly. And I continued to ‘not count’ as an architect.

Mine is not an uncommon story. I know many talented and senior people working at the highest level in our profession without being able to call themselves architects.

So I channelled my most vehement self and spoke to Shaun Carter, the then-President of the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects.

In essence my pitch was this – bring back mid-career registration. It used to be available after 10 years of practice. It was canned when I got to 9 years. Registration builds our presence, consolidates trust in the profession and protects the public interest through defined competencies. And more architects in the world can only be a good thing right? It would be a process to encourage those who have slipped through back into the fold. Make it generous, open the gates, encourage everyone in a similar position to get registered. A mixture of an amnesty, an acknowledgment and a welcome.

And the best part… It would not need to be pitched as a gender equity initiative but, by default, it would have this effect. Although the broken career path, the unusual twists and turns of balancing life with work, affects both men and women, the evidence is overwhelming that it affects women more.

Direct attempts at redressing gender inequity are often treated with charges of discrimination under a different heading. Undermining merit and questioning motives, a more subtle resentment and misogyny emerges. This registration process didn’t even have to say it was trying to solve this imbalance! I had grand visions of the numbers of architects slowly growing and the gender balance correcting, a wave, a tsunami! And yes, I was probably raving by this time.

The most miraculous part is that it happened, and in a comparatively short timeframe!

Shaun is the most charming and receptive human being. Shaun and Callantha Brigham took up the cause. Serendipitously, Emma Williamson of Australian Institute of Architects National Committee for Gender Equity had the same thought. With the drive of NSW Registrar Tim Horton and Kate Doyle of Architects of the Accreditation Council of Australia, the initiative is now a national pathway to registration. This builds on the earlier initiative that Kate had developed for the AACA to fast-track registration for experienced overseas practitioners.

The process is both rigorous and welcoming. It aims to see and acknowledge work and contributions, support study, value and sometimes commiserate with experience. The pathway wants you to succeed. As of late last year I added myself to the over-50s women architects after I completed the registration process. Twelve people completed the process in total, four of them women. So it is with small beginnings.

I encourage everyone with more than seven years’ experience to try this registration path and increase our numbers generally. I support the generosity of the AACA in continuing to widen the doorway, broadening the definitions of what constitutes the work of an architect in practice, in teaching, in research.

Dedicated architects choose this life for its joys, and despite its difficulties. Women fight to stay part of the profession for the divided years of raising families with less hours in lesser roles. It is time for us to embrace generosity and openness and reward our profession, to watch the numbers grow. And to balance.

Camilla Block is a Director of Durbach Block Jaggers Architects and Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology Sydney. This article was first published on the NSW Architects Registration Board website and is republished with permission.