Studio News

International Women's Day - Chloe Coles


Three things come to mind when I think about how I ended up in architecture.

Firstly, my main childhood pastime was creating a village of cardboard homes for my toy families: I painted the houses and furnished them with found and homemade items. My favourites were little grey mice; their house was full of ladders and other species-appropriate features.

Secondly, my parents renovated my childhood home around me; it was an old villa on a peach orchard. I’d be cutting up cardboard boxes for my toys' houses while they were doing work at a 1:1 scale. My siblings and I each got to help fit out our bedrooms. Thrillingly, mine had a mezzanine (and a ladder, just like the mouse family).

Finally, my mum studied architecture (and practised before she had us) and my dad was a planner – I still ask him for advice about resource consents. There were always sketches and plans lying around, and I made pocket money typing dad’s Assessments of Environmental Effects.

I studied spatial design at Massey University in Wellington, then transferred into second year architecture school. When I finished in early 2014, I worked in Christchurch in the post-earthquake building boom. It was a crash course in city-making. I had the privilege of working on multi-unit housing within the East Frame and the wider Christchurch suburbs, and Tūranga, the new central library. These formative years and early projects gave me a passion for residential design; in particular, medium density development. I’m fascinated by how people can live fulfilling lives in suburbs and cities close to other people.

This International Women’s Day it’s interesting to reflect on being a woman in the architecture and construction industry, because I'm so familiar with my mum’s truncated architectural journey. I know I have had it easier than her 1970s cohort. She was one of a handful of female students; in my year, we were slightly in the majority. But the number of women becoming registered architects is still much lower, which shows there’s still a way to go. It has always felt like there weren’t enough women in senior roles, but that is gradually changing – thanks to women who studied in the decades following my mum. I had a female mentor in my first job who had such a positive impact on my development. But sometimes the visibility of a woman in a senior role is all a graduate needs to feel like she's in the right place. The norm now looks very different than it did in my mum’s time. It’s exciting to wonder what will be normal in another fifty years.


Photo of Chloe: Hazel Redmond

Photo of Addington Townhouse: Sarah Rowlands