Women In Architecture: Shelley Freeman / MAKE Architecture

Katerina Vaseva by Katerina Vaseva,
12 September 2011

Shelley Freeman (to the right) & Melissa Bright / MAKE Architecture. To the left: a peak into the witty Found Object House. Photos: MAKE Architecture

Shelley Freeman was the first to contact me only a couple of days after we announced that we'd like to talk to women about their experience in the architectural industry. I got very excited, having already seen a number of her and Melissa Bright's works under the name of MAKE Architecture. Their projects are fun, original and have a thing for persistently questioning typologies that are usually taken for granted. The common cliché that women designed spaces are intuitive, conscious of their inhabitants and the environment in a broader sense plays at best in their work. Its scale is relatively small, yet extremely refined in terms of detail and concept. 

Shelley is involved with education, community practices and a wide range of smart and fresh projects. Here is her essay of being a woman in architecture, as well as a few of MAKE's diverse and innovative designs.

Shelley Freeman on being a woman in architecture:

When I started studying architecture at the University of Sydney in 1990 the conversation around the lack of women in architecture was something that occupied a great deal of my and much of the student body’s time.  As a young woman I was looking for female role models and not finding many.  Amongst the teachers there were a handful (some of whom I believe are still there) but there didn’t seem to be many ‘big name’ ladies out there.  I couldn’t understand why over 50% of students were women but in practice we only represented less than 10% (I can’t remember the exact statistic but it was shocking).ZahaHadid was starting to be a recognised name, but certainly Denise Scott Brown and Marion Mahoney Griffin were only the wives of the famous architects??

I devoured ‘Sexuality and Space’, ‘The Sex of Architecture’, ‘The Architect: Reconstructing her Practice’(anything with gender, sex or woman in the title) looking for answers and inspiration.  And as I moved through architecture school – from Sydney to the Academy of fine arts in Vienna and then finally settling at RMIT in Melbourne I made friends with many women I studied with from many different backgrounds.

It is my connection with these women that has given me the false impression over the past 10 odd years that there is NO issue about women in the profession.  This group of close friends, mainly in their 30’s and 40’s- with and without children – are all successful practicing architects and all women.  There is one in a high powered corporate job, a couple of sole practitioners, one who is director of a completely alternative practice (ie no buildings), most teach as well and some are involved in pro bono work or other volunteer organisations.  Where do we find the time?

Well, I am not quite sure! It is extremely difficult to juggle the demands of a practice, teaching, volunteering, mothering and housewifing.  I do not pretend that it is not hard and that I am not exhausted at the end of the week but I LOVE working (I also love being a mother, the housewife thing I could probably do without though).  One way I manage is that I do not work a traditional 9-5 day Monday – Friday, in fact no one in my practice does – and that includes a man.  It appears the desire to ‘work’ less hours and enjoy many aspects of life and architecture is not confined to women.  Perhaps it is a practice with 2 women directors however who encourage a broader approach to practice and life? We also get in and get the job done!

Found Object House: For this extension of a small heritage house, MAKE were inspired with the clients' collection of found and restored "stuff": doors, windows and other found objects were implemented in the design to create bright, eclectic and personalized spaces with a pinch of wit. Images: MAKE Architecture.

St Kilda House Renovation: MAKE transformed the heritage house of a grown family by fitting new bedroom and bathroom spaces into the existing envelope. Clean, modern lines and spaciousness were used to bring a certain durability and ruggedness, yet with the right amount of family warmth and comfort. Images: MAKE Architecture.


Bird Hide: Created in collaboration with the non-profit community group Friends of Westgate park and "Architects for Peace Pro Bono Service", MAKE's alternate walkway connects to the existing paths and provides bird-watchers a comfortable, yet carefully concealed point for observing the rich bird life in the area. Images: MAKE Architecture.

Big thanks to Shelley for giving the fresh start to our new series of publications. See more of Shelley & Melissa's works on MAKE's website. And if you have something to say, don't hesitate at all.


empty avatar
You ( Login or Register )Today