16th March 2018

Women in Architecture Q&A: Emma Harkin

For the second week of our Women in Architecture Q&A series we meet with Associate Emma Harkin, and she discusses what first inspired her to study architecture, her interpretation of the role, and her rock-solid advice to those wishing to pursue a career in the profession.


What inspired you to be an architect?

At school I loved art classes and was always drawn to buildings more so than anything else when sketching or making sculptural pieces. It was this that sparked my initial interest and the fact that architecture offers an opportunity to combine a flair for both artistic and technical subjects. At a school careers day, a local architect once simply advised me ‘don’t do it’. I did it anyway because that’s what I wanted to do and I don’t regret it at all.

Should architecture offer a radical vision? Is it the role of an architect to be a visionary?

As an architect, we undertake many roles – designer, project manager, negotiator, mediator…I could go on! which is what makes the job fascinating. To be a visionary sounds like a huge responsibility but in simple terms I think it is, otherwise why else would someone engage an architect. We have the skills to imagine or envisage something special that can make a big impact on people’s lives.

What is your view of women’s role in architecture today?

I think there should be more women in architecture, it’s a known fact that having women in any business makes for a more productive and successful business. Unfortunately, the ratio of men and women in architecture is still weighted towards men and I suppose that this is largely due to the fact that women find it difficult to manage the challenges of work and raising a family. It’s sometimes considered that women have to make a choice between one and the other. A good employer will make the challenges of balancing work and other responsibilities easy for everyone, both men and women. It’s important that we as women are role models for young girls considering a career in the construction industry and that employers continue to promote working practices that encourage women to stay in the industry.

What type of projects have you been involved in?

I’ve generally been involved in a lot of medium to large scale projects including projects in the aviation, hotel, leisure and commercial sectors. These have ranged from interior fit outs to large scale airport developments so there is a lot of variety which keeps me on my toes.

What are the biggest challenges and the most rewarding elements of your work?

Whilst as architects we may have grand aspirations we have to work within a client’s budget and often having some constraints can be a positive thing. Working as part of a wider design team to achieve the same goal, problem solving and seeing a project completed can be very rewarding. I love the fact that it’s a job where you’re not always desk bound, you could be on site, meeting with clients, suppliers or consultants. It’s never boring.

What words of advice would you offer young girls wishing to pursue a career in architecture today?

Nothing worth having comes easy but if it’s something that you want to do, then do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.