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Building a better future

Name: Rosemary Ross
Position: Director
Organisation: Ross Tang Architects Pty Ltd
Years in construction industry: 11

Briefly describe your role, your position or job and what you enjoy about your role on a typical day/week? As director of an architectural practice I guide clients through a construction journey, from a first meeting on a bare site to a cup of coffee on the deck of their new home. I love the variety and human contact. I do everything from conceptual design work on butter paper to discussions with builders on site about specific construction details to negotiations with clients on preferred schemes.

What challenges and opportunities did you face in choosing your current position, how did you deal with them and what challenges remain?

The opportunities outweighed the challenges. The opportunity was to set up my own practice, which meant I could lead a professional life and have children. Working in a full time job, was, for me, not going to work with a family. Part time work, in my experience, is problematic, as you end up with less responsibility than your experience warrants. With my own business, I work when I want, and am in control.

The challenges included learning how to run a business, how to gain commissions and how to run a successful, profitable business. Although we are busy, making a reasonable profit for the time spent remains our greatest challenge.  Nonetheless, starting my own business was the best decision I ever made. I am able to spend time with my children, and I practice as a professional architect.

What initially attracted you to this job, career or industry? The combination of science and art. And the sheer variety of work that can be encompassed in the word “architect” interested me.

Briefly describe your first job in this field and what career path has led you to the job you currently have? My first job was as a junior architect in a firm which specialised in hospital design. I was taken under the wing of a draftsman, who I remember thinking knew far more about how to build a building than I did.

How has being a woman in a male dominated industry impacted or influenced your career?

Not that much. As a 26 year old Project Architect I was working on a job in Adelaide, where I was running consultant meetings with 6 or 7 blokes, and me. They were all in their 30’s or 40’s, and I remember feeling very nervous, and very naïve. I was fortunate to be dealing with 6 or 7 knowledgeable people, and I had a supportive boss. If anything, being female has made me want to do better, to perform better, and to exceed expectation. 

The impact of construction sites is greater, where builders, in general, do not expect a young female architects to know anything about building. Much about building is not black and white. There are many ways to do the same thing. It takes time to gain this knowledge, and inevitably some builders get the better of you as a young architect.  However, this experience, is, I imagine, not much easier for a young male architect.

What is your office or site environment like and who else works with you? We work from home. Our office consists of myself and Waihan Tang. Waihan also has young children. We work from an upstairs mezzanine area at my home, with lots of natural light. Our nanny and the children are downstairs.  We hear them, but go somewhere else if we need to make a private call or need quiet. We have learned to completely ignore the daily routine downstairs.

Architecture involves many meetings with clients. builders, and other parties. We usually hold these on site, or at a local café. We have meetings at any time, from 7am in the morning to 8.00 at night. But because we arrange the meetings, they are organised to suit us and our children.

The future:
a) what do you hope to do next within the construction industry? and
b) where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

I hope to do more and better buildings. The older I get the more I realise how much I don’t know. I hope to keep learning more, and become a better architect as a consequence. I certainly now know how little I knew 10 years ago! One of the greatest things about architecture is that you can never stop learning: there is an endless amount of historical, technical and design information out there. In 5 to 10 years I see myself running the same practice, on a larger scale, with a few employees to help us along the way. I am really looking forward to it.