The Doyenne Interviews

By Bridget Nathan

After graduating from the Melbourne School of Design with a Master of Architecture in 2015, Bridget Nathan’s experience in the workforce led her to develop a curiosity to discover the past experiences of women in architecture, and from this The Doyenne Interviews were created.

Bridget Nathan
Bridget Nathan

What is your academic and professional background?

I’m an Architect currently working for Kosloff Architecture on public and educational projects, a design focus I developed at MSD through undertaking my final thesis with Dr. Pippa Soccio in collaboration with LEaRN.

What was the motivation behind starting The Doyenne Interviews?

Something that assisted my growth as a graduate architect was the support of mentors, who helped me consider the industry from several vantage points. An aspect of this mentoring has been the encouragement to engage with the industry through networking at conferences and alumni events. I often interacted with senior women in the industry during this process, and it was often pointed out to me how positive it was to have a young female presence in the room.

This planted a curiosity in my mind to learn more about what the careers would have been like for Women in Architecture in the past, so I started to meet up with these women to ask questions and gain advice. It occurred to me that a podcast could be a way to both engage with figures I admire, and to share this information with my peers.

What perspective does The Doyenne Interviews provide to listeners?

The podcast provides listeners with a variety of female perspectives. Sometimes female voices aren’t heard as frequently as others. I’ve found there are no shortage of stories to share, and the podcasts provide both a narrative in terms of the interviewees career pathway, and also their expert knowledge as a leading industry figure.

It’s crucial for minority groups to have a safe space to exchange ideas and experiences and sharing female experiences more broadly raises awareness and invites others into the conversation. One great thing that’s come from this podcast is my male friends expressing their interest in the issues raised and it’s opened up a line of conversation that we didn’t have before.

Line sketch of Dean Julie Willis by Grace Yeo.
Line sketch of Dean Julie Willis by Grace Yeo

Has there been a particular exchange that left a lasting impression?

I like to ask interviewees to reflect on the challenges of their career. As architects we’re contractually not encouraged to admit fault, and this can block us from questioning the past as a way to strengthen the future. The last face-to-face interview for the project, held with Catherine Duggan at her Robin Boyd home, left a strong impression because I reflected on how far I had developed alongside the project, compared to my first interview a few years ago with MSD Dean, Professor Julie Willis.

With Julie I was a graduate fresh out of University, whereas with Catherine I had achieved registration, changed jobs and the podcast was gaining traction. I feel my conversation with Catherine reflected this as our exchange moved into a more critical discourse around women, architecture and self-empowerment, which has given me a great direction for season two.

What is the future for The Doyenne Interviews?

The project has received such positive feedback that I’m realising I’ve tapped into something that has the potential to become much larger than I expected. Originally, I saw it as a project where I would be engaging with women locally, and now I see it as a much more international project. Whilst this is extremely exciting, I’m considering it’s evolution very carefully, as I would like it to continue alongside my professional career in a way that’s meaningful and authentic.

I’ve had so many remarkable experiences now that I’m considering collecting the interviews in a book. Grace Yeo, who graduated from Melbourne School of Design with a Master of Architecture in 2014, has assisted the project with such generosity and enthusiasm with her illustrations, giving a tangible presence to the interviewees and the project; opening the project up to a visual format.

Do you see opportunities within architecture and design industry becoming more accessible for women?

There are amazing groups such as Parlour, Gazella, The Women of ABP and Madame Architect putting the achievements of women in the limelight, and what we’re experiencing is how this work is feeding back into practice and strengthening the industry as a whole.

Access and opportunity are tied to the other changes we’re seeing in the industry, such as redefining who architects are and what it is that we are capable of doing, as well as when and where we can do this work. Many women I know are creating opportunities for themselves through acting as catalysts for change, they’re asking for what they need and they’re making things happen. As industries change, they allow room for those interested to find their place. In that sense, I do feel there are more opportunities becoming available for women and for everyone.

What changes would you like to see in the industry over the next decade?

I would love to continue to see more diversity, and greater flexibility in the workplace in a way that still explores and values creativity and design. It would be great to see more women receiving accolades, and also to see more public buildings acknowledged and awarded to female designers. Currently only three of the 40 winners of the Pritzker Architecture Prize are women, and only three women, of 65 recipients, have won the Australian Institute of Architect’s Gold Medal.

Alike to the opinion that’s voiced by many others, I’m looking forward to being in a space where the term ‘female architect’ doesn’t need to define us, I’d like to just be talking to architects, of varied genders, and learning about their craft. Until then, I’m enjoying this fabulous opportunity to engage with the profession, and I look forward to sharing the knowledge and stories of this demographic.

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