''Some people say that for a woman who is successful, life „up there“ is cold and empty, because she has to be very hard. If this is really where it goes, then I prefer not to do this job.“
Until now I interviewed established, successful elder women architects running their studios or being at the peak of their careers. Today I choose someone different - Julia Nuler, a young architect/civil engineer, one of the partners in women only architects studio miss_vdr architektur established 5 years ago.
As I see her dressed comfortably with red sunglasses on the head and ask her my initial question why do we need women architects, she gives me this look and asks, „why is this still such a crazy question.“ I realize we will focus on much more practical aspects of being a woman architect.
Conscious about being underrepresented in profession, but being realistic and pragmatic, trained civil engineer, former synchronized swimmer and international judge in this discipline actually gives me deep insights into the backstage of this women architects only studio. As she mentions her influential professors, it is obvious why the social aspect lies above form - and this is the philosophy of miss_vdr architektur. Social architecture - as Julia says - in the middle.
So today we speak about ups and downs in the studio, flexibility, babies, free time - and the stereotype of (successful) (women) architects.
What's the story?
At the beginning we were thinking: How would it be if there would be a network of women supporting each other? We were questioning why women were only partners besides a male architect and just few standing alone. During our studies we were speaking a lot about this topic and when my friend Theresa came with a project asking: are you in or out, this was be the beginning of the studio. That was five years ago. I joined in 2013 as the last one.
Why did you chose to work with women architects in the studio?
The idea was to empower women as architects. We had similar ideas about the wish to balance work and private life. The idea to found the studio was also to help each other in realizing this idea.
Is there a difference between male and female architect?
Surely it makes a difference on the building site, especially if you are young. Some workers try to flirt, make jokes or something like this. You have to be quick at repartee, make comments or simply ignore it.
But taking these incidents aside, on site we try to listen to the workers, discuss and find solution together. It is important to learn from the people who are professionals. Architects generally need to have a general overview, so the exchange with the specialists becomes a crucial moment in our work.
Can you think of some constraints in a professional life of woman architect?
Besides that men on building site are not used to see women so much? Our colleagues keep telling us that if you are over 40, they treat you with more respect, so I think it is also a question of age.
What can help women to be more successful in the profession?
Difficult question. There are famous female architects, who have their personal style and are already famous. You recognize their work because of the design. But since we are working differently, I cannot imagine, that our work will be recognized by a certain style. We work more on the social base and develop the project with the people who are included. To me more important than drawing a form and make it being realized is the social aspect of a project.
What‘s about visibility? Social aspect doesn't sell as much as style..
This is true. Maybe I will find out that the projects I am in have a certain style if we have more of them. I really hope that this way will turn out to be successful. So far most of our clients like the way we work. You can make suggestions as architect, but at the end of the day, the client will live in the house. So communication and interaction is extremely important for my work.
What kind of project do you do?
For the moment I am mostly working on reconstructions of flats or rooftops, sometimes on one - or two - family - houses. Most clients are private clients. Wealso have projects in the field of exhibition architecture.
Are you satisfied with your work environment?
Yes, I like it very much. I feel more relaxed where I am now than in the office where i used to work before. Yet it is different because we have to look for new projects ourselves which is far away from the security of being an employee in an office.
We try to work on time - basis because each one of us has a different time - schedule. One has children, the other one is teaching at university - she left for Berlin recently. We try to control our hours and deal with different structures.
Who is the leader in the studio?
Officially I am for the moment, but our idea was to be all at the same level and have no hierarchy between each other. Thats also the reason why we are changing the structure at the moment again.
Can you describe yourself as a leader?
It is funny, because I am actually best as team worker. I am a good listener. I listen, think and take other people opinions seriously.
What about decision-making?
It depends. Generally I prefer to speak about my decision with somebody else to get feedback. Of course I make decisions, but if I realize that e.g. my client wants to make the decision her-/himself, of course I will listen to that.
Do you complement each other's skills?
Actually our idea was, that everybody is able to do everything, to have the possibility to switch. Our idea was to be able to replace each other. We didn't want to say, you are good in this, you are good in that because we didn‘t want to end in a situation where everybody is doing certain parts only.
Recently we had a talk, where we decided to find project partners, who are specialist on certain fields. I prefer in the moment to cooperate with project partners instead of hiring employees.
Who is speaking to clients?
It depends on the situation. Usually there is not only one of us speaking to clients. We try to go in twos to meetings because it is easier to like that, and also the outcomes are better.
How do you get the clients?
Luckily other architects recommend us. Some clients call us because of projects which were already published. Since our former clients where satisfied with our jobs, they recommend us to their friends.
Do you do some active promotion?
Yes, we try. E.g. once a year we go to a job fair, but lately I started to question that a bit, because:
if there is a male architect between 40-55 and a female architect between 30-35 standing next to him, who do you think most people will choose?
Do you collaborate more with studios ran by women?
Recently we had some talks with other female architects about collaboration, but it depends on the situation. I am not excluding collaborators because they are male ;-)
What do you consider the biggest achievement? Is there any particular project you are proud of?
We made this architectural exhibition for the City of Vienna (Baukultur Wien - Denk deine Stadt anders, collaboration with „Heri & Salli“) which I like a lot. But actually I am proud of all the project we did.
What else would you like to achieve in your professional life?
I would like to get out of one - family - houses and flats business towards kindergartens, schools and housing projects. Also I would like to stay in the field of architecture for exhibitions.
Let´s go to organization of your work. How are your working patterns? How many hours per day do you work?
I don't know if I like it or if it scares me: Sometimes I work 190 hours in 2 weeks, then 40 hours in similar time. I organize my time myself and that is one of the biggest advantages compared to a „9 - to - 5 job“ with a regular income.
Ok, people say architect needs to work 24/7, but what you are describing is quite different reality.
I am not sure if that reality will stay like that. But we need free time, all of us. One of us has children and of course she can't make 24/7. If it is needed and the project demands it, she will do as much as possible - so would I. Always. But if I have the feeling the project doesn't need it, then I won't stay in the office. That's how I see it.
How do you compare it with previous offices?
If the project needed it, I stayed overnight or over weekends. It is a harder to do this for the office where you are employee than if it is for a project of your own. Also I did not like that I had to stay in office 40 hours a week even if I had not enough work to do. Next, you had to be there latest at 9:00, but you could go at 16:00. This I didn't understand because: If I am prepared to work until midnight, then why do I have to be there at 9:00? Of course, if the project demands it, I am there, but otherwise?
I understand you can make your free time. What do you do then?
I am an international judge in synchronized swimming so sometimes I need a longer weekend or even a whole week to go to a competition. If I wouldn‘t be a freelancer, I would have to make a deal with my boss to do this.
How does your partner/close people react to your work intensity?
My partner is also an architect so that's ok for him. He knows what it means to be an architect. But still, he is always shaking his head when I am doing competitions. But he leaves me in peace - passes by to bring me some lunch when I stay in office for the weekend. He is changing his professional life into a freelancer himself, so he understands my situation quite well. The big difference is, that he wouldn't do that many competitions.
He thinks that it is a quite big waste of energy, all this free work and try outs. He is very conscious about energy input and output.
Would you like to have children?
I like the kids of my (professional) partner a lot. Also I am very impressed how she deals with the situation of having children and working. After maternity leave she came back full of energy and started to look for competitions which we could do - it was an amazing energy. It is impressive to see how efficient the style of work becomes after you have children. She is incredibly focused on work in the shorter time which she has now and the outcomes are good.