Meet The Maker Series: Sarah Tew

I first met Sarah when I was running the Women of Steel project and pop-up in October 2016. She came in and tried on the Litton Jacket and we got chatting about work. I think it was the first time I'd ever met a female architect so I was so chuffed when she put in an order. Sarah is one of the sweetest, most thoughtful people and I'm so pleased to feature her in our Meet The Maker series.

What does your typical working day look like?

A typical day includes getting woken up by Storm (our kitten) at about 5.30am when she jumps onto my face wanting to be fed. Around 8am I leave the house and walk to work in the city of Sheffield, just next to the Crucible Theatre. I work at HLM architects which has about 70 staff in the Sheffield office. 

I work predominantly at the desk spending most of my time drawing using a CAD software, or corresponding with the design team. If I am working on a design competition I will be making concept models, photographing the site, hand sketching and liaising with the visualiser on the final renders. Competitions can be really good fun but they can be intense and the days will be a lot longer than the usual 5.30pm finish.

On Tuesdays I teach the first year architecture students at Sheffield Hallam University as an Associate Lecturer. I see my first group of students at 9.30am so I will grab a coffee at Tamper beforehand with my husband and plan adventures. 

I find teaching really rewarding and I enjoy the balance of working in practice and teaching at the same time. It's inspiring to see the students engage with the project and to see their skills develop. 

You’re the owner of one of our jackets. Has wearing it changed the way you work at all?

I first came across your workwear at an opening party in Yorkshire Artspace where you had a pop-up shop. I loved the entire collection but I was particularly drawn to the jacket as it reminded me of French industrial workwear which is synonymous with architectural tutors. I hadn’t come across a workwear jacket made specifically for women with generous sized pockets so I was very excited about the prospect of owning one!

The jacket hasn’t changed the way I work per se, but it's very handy to store my pens and scale rulers and it does change the way I feel just by wearing it. I instantly feel more professional and ready for any challenge that I may face.  

What are 5 things you can't live without?

Sketchbook with watercolours and paintbrushes, my Dad’s old SLR camera, and my 'Pat Butcher' leopard print coat.

What women have inspired you in your work?

The famous women who inspire me include Cornelia Parker, Beatrix Potter and, in my work, Sheilla O'Donnell (O'Donnell Tuomey Architects) and finally Ruby Wax as it's important to keep laughing!  

I’m also inspired by my mum, family and friends. Their professions include a retired nurse, architects, artists and a landscape architect. They are all independent, caring, motivated and passionate about what they do. I feel inspired every time I speak to them!

Is the architecture profession doing well in terms of gender parity and opportunities for women?

I think the profession is doing okay with regards to equal opportunities but I think there is room for improvement. Equality in the construction sector is quite topical at the moment particularly in the architectural press. A recent survey carried out by the Architects Journal highlighted that there are pay gaps between men and women particularly amongst the senior roles, which isn't great, but at the junior level the disparity evens out and there is a feeling of equality regardless of gender.

I am hopeful that things will continue to improve across the sector in relation to pay but we also need to see more women at a senior level. Many women drop out of the workplace post Part I when they have children as the work hours can be long and difficult to do on a part time basis. The profession should do more to actively encourage women to stay in the profession. I don't know what the solution is, but simple things like encouraging everyone to finish on time could be one solution, but this can be difficult as working long hours and doing all nighters is installed into architects from University onwards.

I'm lucky that where I work there is a healthy life/work balance and there are senior female architects who also have families which is really positive to see. But this shouldn't be unusual, it should be the norm.

If you could buy any building in the world what would it be & what would you use it for?

Since I studied for my diploma in architecture I've often thought that there are many opportunities to develop the industrial buildings along the River Tees in Middlesbrough. Growing up nearby I would regularly take a small diesel train to Darlington which went through all of the steel, chemical and ancillary works and I found the journey really interesting. I admire the industrial buildings for their scale, and their functional yet dynamic forms. For some people they see the industry as dirty carbon emitting eyesores but, for me, the scale and drama of the processes have always fascinated me. I would propose that the disused industrial buildings and sites were turned into a landscape park, with the slag heaps used as ski slopes and the giant conveyor belts as indoor ski jumps. It would be a park which celebrated the industrial works similar to the successful Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord  in Germany. 

If that wasn't possible I would buy Battersea Power Station and turn it into a giant chocolate factory adventure park inspired by the original Gene Wilder 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. 

What building/piece of work are you most proud of?

I think one of the pieces of work I am most proud of is a competition proposal for a new energy centre for Sheffield University. I had just joined HLM and they gave me full autonomy to design the centre within a matter of weeks. I was delighted when I found out that we had won the competition and hopefully it will be built in the next couple of years!

Thank you so much to Sarah for taking the time to answer our questions.