The Life of a Lady Architect

When we asked Barbara to write a piece telling her story and detailing the help provided by the Architects Benevolent Society we had something else in mind!  On International Women’s Day however, we should remember all the female architects who like Barbara bring their competence, professionalism and problem-solving skills to the profession. We helped her only briefly, with the cost of a second-hand mobility scooter but this was evidently much appreciated and Barbara applied her sharp wit and active mind to the initial request that we made.

"An architect should never draw a line unless she knows what it is made of and how it is fixed; how it relates to other lines she has drawn or may draw. Where it is in space, how it may contain the space or separate it from other contained spaces. How it relates to the sun and the immediate landscape.

All the while, programmed in the back of her mind is the cost, the predilections of the client (and the client's husband), the critical mindset of the plumber, electrician, structural engineer, bricklayer and carpenter. And of course the regulatory authorities and the possible lawyer.

With a new building this is easy, because she is in charge of the whole. But with an existing building (often the realm of the woman, because men seem to prefer new, and taller schemes) the dangers are increased because she has no idea what lies beneath the paintwork, the floor, and what sort of foundations are holding up the walls. When the inadequacy of the structure is revealed, remedial strategies have to be thought of and the whole scheme modified because the cost of remedial work is exorbitant. A modified scheme seldom works so it is back to square one.

The client discovers she cannot afford to pay the fees demanded, which were in accordance with the RIBA scale, so the architect reduces them and now goes in fear of being “struck off”, but the client is really nice but very poor and really in need of help, and being brought up as  a Brownie, the architect remembers to “help other people at all times….”

So not being rich or famous the architect retires and needs a buggy to help her get about because the arthritis is agony, and who helps? … Not her rich and famous architect husband as they are divorced, and she doesn’t even qualify for his pension after his death.


Luckily she has been paying the odd donation, and did go to all their balls (she liked balls) when she was married to the rich and famous architect. So she is ever so grateful to them, and would like to commend them to all the painfully needy architects, and now they have visited her with an elegant minimalist Bouquet (good enough for a wedding), she commends them HIGHLY and recommends you help to fund them so they can look after you, like they look after this lady architect."

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