For Brisbane-based Emma Healy, COVID-19 isolation has brought clarity about the things that matter the most.
I live in a house originally built for returned servicemen and war widows. Some of it has now been sold off by the government but plenty of it is still social housing stock. It’s a case of life imitating art as I sit in my ‘home office’ speculating on the densification and diversification of suburbs just like mine in other parts of Brisbane. Like Kirsty Volz’s home in nearby Albion, the compartmentalisation of this home is a blessing right now – although unlike Kirsty’s place it certainly wasn’t designed with this in mind.
It’s difficult not to chastise myself about certain domestic projects that have been back of mind for years, as yet unfulfilled. The conversion of the original garage and shed into a ‘tiny home’ (aka granny flat), upscaling the on-site food production (aka veggie patch) and some radical ‘decluttering’ have as yet remained elusive. I can’t help but speculate on how different life would look right now with another likeminded person living in the backyard; someone to share responsibilities of tending the garden, feeding the animals, nourishing and educating the children. How much simpler life would be if the little room I work from wasn’t also full of camping gear, unfolded laundry and broken toys awaiting repair. And then again, I reflect on what IS working: the food co-op that operates from our carport each week, allowing me to eliminate shopping centre trips to almost zero; a true division of labour between me and my husband; workplaces that seem eager to engage in the precarious balancing act of providing flexibility and meeting business objectives; a school that values the development of the whole child, not just literacy and numeracy milestones. It’s taken a pandemic to bring clarity to where life and values are in alignment and where some definite improvements could be made.
Efficiency and productivity are a challenge. Fairly early on in the ‘experiment’ I realised (again, like Kirsty) that I can only effectively manage one thing at a time. I’m trying to embrace the opportunity to establish strong boundaries with my children and to demonstrate the value of the work that I do (at least as valuable as their NEED to locate a specific piece of LEGO). For my family that has meant me attempting to work the equivalent amount of hours of a four-day workload in three. The nuance to my ability to only do one thing at a time is that I also require fairly regular ‘invigorating distractions’ – off the cuff conversations and critiques from colleagues, a little bit of reading or research on something professionally valuable but not project specific, or stimulating meetings and events. At school they call these ‘brain breaks’ and here at home they just don’t happen. I took time ‘off’ over the ‘school holidays’ and immediately got sick. I suppose the relentlessness of parenting and working longer hours without as much downtime caught up pretty quickly. I got tested for COVID-19 and when my result came back negative I took that as a cue that all was fine – just a measly flu, no cause for alarm. Priorities and perspective certainly shift in these times.
Despite the usefulness of technologies, I still find digital communication cumbersome. I’ve inadvertently eliminated all but the most essential of correspondence in order to streamline the conversation. A simple drawing mark-up becomes a complex expedition in my makeshift home office. I probably need to ‘lean in’ more to the digital technology to improve the flow of information.
It’s beautiful seeing people using our parks, creeks and bikeways. I think we’ve all been pining for the re-opening of national parks and beaches. You really don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. What I hope for most is that this time brings clarity to all of us around what matters the most. That people unravel themselves from the notion that exercise needs to cost money, that they can very easily limit the amount of car travel they undertake and that we no longer take human relationships for granted. Maybe a bit of hardship will allow us to empathise a bit more readily with people who are isolated from their communities or loved ones (through disability, economic disadvantage, discrimination or the government’s refugee policy). I hope that when life returns to ‘normal’ our industry is well prepared to offer solutions to stimulate the economy without exacerbating the impacts of climate change. Who knows, maybe I will finally clear out the study and get that tiny house off the drawing board.
Emma Healy is an associate at Reddog Architects in Brisbane, where she has been the lead designer on a variety of institutional, healthcare and residential projects. Her particular interests are the interior experience of space and the intersection of landscape and architecture. In 2019 she was awarded the Queensland Emerging Architect prize in recognition of her “commitment to the role that architectural leadership can play in much broader community and social conversations”.