Charlotte Pearson receives an education in sustainable architecture.
Growing up as far as Nicola Furner was concerned there was no such thing as jobs for boys or jobs for girls.
“My dad was an engineer and would always take us on sites,” reveals the sustainable architect and masterplanner. “He was always keen to show us that we could do any career we wanted to.
“I can remember drawing on his blueprints so being an architect was always something I was aware of, and my father would explain what the job involved and what an engineer does.
“I knew pretty early on what I wanted to do.”
Born in the UK, Nicola lived in a Canada and studied for eight years to qualify as an architect.
“It is a very long process in Canada, a bit like studying medicine or law,” she reveals.
“You have to have done a degree before you can do your training.
“I did a Bachelor of History, followed by a Bachelor of Environmental design before moving on to a Masters in Architecture at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.”
She then admits she spent a further three years studying in the UK to become RIBA-certified (Royal Institute of British Architects).
The long education process is just one of the reasons why Nicola thinks many women choose not to enter the profession.
“When you finish many people are in their late 20s, early 30s so it can get in the way of starting a family,” she explains.
“Many women qualify but then move into interior design or other areas as being an architect the hours can be long and it is really hard work to establish yourself.”
Since qualifying Nicola has worked for leading architectural firms in Canada and the UK, such as Bing Thom, Peter Currie Architect and Design Group 3 Architects, as well as the Sussex-based Miller Bourne architects on key projects such as Sussex County Cricket Club.
“Setting up on my own in 2009 I realised that I couldn’t be too picky about what projects I would take on,” says Nicola.
“It is very varied – at the moment I am working on Lewes Leisure Centre, an arts and crafts house, a pub renovation and a psychiatrist waiting room.”
A key part of what the Lewes based architect does relates to sustainable design, which she says doesn’t just mean employing renewable energy technology and ensuring buildings are well insulated.
“Sustainability is about longevity,” she explains. “I look to build a house that will last and last, a forever home that will see people through to their elderly years.
“You don’t have to be a tree hugger or a millionaire, but just make small and simple changes that can make all the difference.
“Buying things locally can cut down on air miles,” she lists.
“There is something you can add to your taps which is about £2.50 and pushes the water through these holes and adds air which can save up to 60 per cent on water usage. Hotels use them and, as you can imagine, it saves them a lot on money.”
It seems that working in that type of profession was her destiny, as Nicola says it was in her blood.
“John Griggs, the 16th century carpenter and builder of the Rose Theatre, on whose drawings the rebuilding of the Shakespeare’s Globe in London was based, is an ancestor,” she says.
“I am also the great granddaughter of Sybil Henley Jacobson, a well know British landscape and portrait painter.”
And the mother of two admits that she has followed in her father’s footsteps in more ways than one.
“I have taken my children on site with me and shown them how it works,” she smiles. “I’m pretty sure my eldest’s first word was scaffolding.”
According to the annual Women in Architecture survey carried out by The Architect’s Journal, Nicola is in the minority of female architects (just 16 per cent in 2015) who set up their own practice after having children, many preferring instead to work reduced hours for established firms.
“Most paint omits a chemical 11 months after it has been painted which can be dangerous when you breath it in,” explains Nicola. “It is better to use an environmentally friendly paint in that case.”
For more information, visit www.nicolafurnerarchitects.co.uk
Pictures: Caroltta Luke
April 28, 2016 Interiors and Property