In the fourth of a series of essays from the National Committee for Gender Equity, Madeline Sewall discusses the merits of part-time employment, and the wide-ranging benefits it brings to the creative design studio.
From improving staff retention to allowing for flexible resourcing, it is no secret that part-time employment makes good financial sense for all types of businesses. But in a field like architecture, where creativity and social-sensitivity are crucial, the potential benefits of adaptable work practices have a much broader reach. The flexibility that part-time employment affords can generate creative momentum and diversity that are of tremendous advantage to architects and their projects.
The creative environment and the knowledge worker
Charged with the weighty task of delivering functional and meaningful spaces for the spectrum of life’s moments, architects are some of the original knowledge workers. Whether they’re designing museums and institutions or our own treasured houses, architects are relied upon for complex, integrated solutions. Creativity is essential to the design and delivery of these varied typologies, and it takes a diverse team of minds and a collaborative environment to achieve the most successful outcomes.
Part-time work enables a practice to employ individuals who inherently bring interest and diversity into the office by the sheer fact that they are spending significant amounts of time doing other things. Consider that while many of us are sitting in air-conditioned office buildings for ten hours a day, five days a week, part-time employees are out walking along beaches or streets, caring for and playing with children, or visiting art museums. They are learning, observing and processing new information that they will bring with them into the workplace to draw upon when performing creative tasks or engaging in problem-solving exercises.
Not only does the flexibility of part-time work benefit the part-time employee, but it benefits their colleagues as well. Creativity relies on lateral and associative forms of thinking, modes of operation that are enhanced by ‘random stimulation’. Because of this, the more varied a person’s workday, the more opportunities they will have to make unexpected connections and generate innovative ideas. Having colleagues coming and going from the office intermittently gives full-time employees the benefit of being stimulated by different people, perspectives and conversations. This continual source of un-choreographed interaction is an instrumental benefit to a creative design studio.
Humans designing for humans
Beyond creativity, the design of meaningful space requires a profound understanding of people and relationships. Good buildings are sensitive – they facilitate social interaction and contribute to our daily lives. It only makes sense that sympathetic buildings are designed by sympathetic people.
All architects are other things – sons, daughters, parents, teachers, makers, researchers, writers, entrepreneurs. Our experiences in these roles add value to our ability to design buildings for others to occupy. They give us perspective, and help us understand the varied ways in which people use space. Part-time work allows architects to devote a portion of their weeks to these other roles, further deepening the value of this alternative perspective. Through the experiences of raising children, caring for elders, or establishing relationships with other colleagues and students, part-time employees are actively developing hard and soft skills that enhance the practice of architecture. As Lee Hillam points out in her essay, Go Hard or Go Home!, ‘…to be a good architect it is vitally important that you engage with the world outside architecture, that you be a broadly educated and broadly interested person, that you give yourself time and space to be inspired and to understand the communities you are designing for.’
Architecture of inclusion
Part-time employment affords our profession the ability to engage all of the talent and experience available, regardless of personal circumstances. The addition of new resources and varied skillsets has the ability to contribute greatly to the collective knowledge of our industry. Who better to design childcare facilities than parents? Who better to design universities than academics? If we continue losing members of our industry who fall outside the full-time mould, we will be acting to our own disadvantage.
When our industry reflects the diversity of the general population, we will be best suited to design sensitively to every client and every user. This means giving parents, academics, consultants, contractors, care-givers, men and women equal opportunity to practice and contribute. Part-time work is imperative to our ability to engage the broadest range of architects, ultimately resulting in the most creative, thoughtful and dynamic design outcomes.
For more information on the importance of meaningful part-time work in architecture, remember to take a look at Guide 3 of Parlour’s guides to equitable practice.
Madeline Sewall is a Victorian representative of the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Committee for Gender Equity. She also works for the Melbourne practice Breathe Architecture, where she leads a variety of projects ranging from residential to commercial.