“Being an architect is sometimes like being the goalkeeper” – Hassell releases mental health in design podcast

Sep 15, 2021
  • Article by Elisa Scarton

The mental health challenges in Australian architecture and design were challenges “before the pandemic as well”, according to landscape architect, Place Intelligence co-founder and human potential coach Bonnie Shaw.

Shaw joined Head of Architecture at Monash University and Parlour co-founder Professor Naomi Stead and Hassell managing director Steve Coster for a special episode of Hassell Talks released to coincide with R U OK? Day on 9 September 2021.

The trio discussed their own experiences with mental health and explored how to promote a help-seeking culture and foster wellbeing to create real, positive change within the architecture and design industry.

Professor Stead in particular discussed the “overwork, burnout, cynicism and perfectionism” in both academia and the architecture industry, and how they can stymie the quality of work produced.

“Designers of the built environment of all stripes are very often completely devoted to the best possible outcome for the largest possible audience. And they’re ambitious for the work to be as good as it can possibly be,” she says on the podcast.

“[But] it gets to the point where they can’t take it anymore for a variety of reasons. And then people simply leave and there’s a loss of talent.”

Professor Stead goes on to say that often cases of overwork and prolonged stress are not the result of individual failings, but systemic industry-wide issues closely tied to project fees and timelines.

“If the fees that have been charged for a project are not adequate, it means everyone’s under pressure and has to work harder in less time and has less control over that workflow. This means more risk, more responsibility, more pressure and more of a high wire act,” she explains.

“One of our early interviewees [of Monash University’s Wellbeing in Architecture survey] said that being an architect is sometimes like being the goalkeeper because the mistakes are pretty high stakes.

“[And that comes back to] the valuing of the design professions as a whole. I mean, if they’re not valued financially or valued in a sense of good design, then we’ve really got a problem. We need to stand up and value architecture in the public domain.”

The podcast concludes with a few tips on how people can manage stressful situations at a personal level.

“The first step is to really cultivate an awareness of what’s actually going on by asking the right questions and getting some real quantifiable data to try and understand why it’s happening,” says Shaw.

“As an individual, you use your body as a data collection tool. Consider how fast your heart’s beating, how shallow your breath is and how animated your gestures are.

“If you’re feeling stressed, take a deep breath down into the bottom of your lungs. That actually short-circuits the stress response.”

You can listen to the full Hassell Talks episode on the Hassell website, on AppleSpotify and Google Podcasts or on your favourite podcast app. 

The site also has links to the Monash University’s Wellbeing in Architecture survey mentioned in the episode, as well as Shaw’s  ​‘Making good decisions’ opinion piece and The Australian Architects Mental Wellbeing Forum Toolkit.

Earlier this year, ADR shared some its favourite architecture and interior design podcasts from Australia and around the globe.

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