‘My dad said architecture wasn’t for girls. Boy I proved him wrong’

'My dad said architecture wasn't for girls. Boy I proved him wrong'
Jane Duncan will be the third female president of Riba

I was thirteen when I realised I wanted to be an architect. It was quite sudden. During an art outing on a summer day I noticed that my girlfriends were drawing flowers – while I was busily sketching the dull red brick buildings all around us.

I suppose my ambitions shouldn’t have come as any surprise. My father was an architect. However, he never spoke about his work. When at the age of 16 I told him I wanted to follow in his footsteps, his response was uncompromising: ‘It’s not a profession for girls.’ He never elaborated.

In his world of 1950’s and 60’s construction he had never seen a woman as anything other than a secretary and I suspect he thought it would present too big a battle for me. All these years on, I’m grateful I rebelled and paid his view little heed.

He softened slightly after my first degree and once I began gaining hands-on experience as a site engineer. Despite being the only woman in my team, I enjoyed those early experiences immensely. The building teams took great care to show me how to tamp concrete, cut cast iron pipes, lay bricks and, most importantly, view a set of architect’s plans with a builder’s eye. My father changed his mind completely once I had qualified, opened a practice and asked him to come in and give the team a hand. Funny that, eh? []


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