Supporter's Column: Patricia Woodward

Practising as an architect, running a studio and having children, Patricia Woodward considers if she would do it all again?

Would I do it all again?


My three arty adult kids, with double-architect-parentage-running-a-business-together, swerved the obvious architect trajectory into other career paths via their humanities degrees. Their stated reasons for side stepping architecture:  ‘We know too much’, ‘You deliberately put us off’ and ‘It all seemed a bit too technical to me’. This family litmus test led me to reflect on why we somehow put them off and to wonder: Would I do it all again?

My career has been mostly shaped as a co-director of our own architectural practice, through all the highs and lows, recessions, having kids, training the next generation, Covid, winning awards, and a built portfolio of which we are very proud. Today regulatory change, interest rates, tighter fees, and greater competition are pressing in hard on the world of architecture. It could seem a daunting path to sign up to for any idealistic young architect.

My own education at Edinburgh College of Art was deeply memorable, it was collaborative, and studio based, and set amongst the stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. There is a lot to be said for a degree leading to a profession: start on day one, keep on track, work hard and you will become an architect. I am of the lucky generation who didn’t pay fees - I even received a maintenance grant of £420 each term (about £1850 in 2024 parlance), for the 15 terms of my education. Things are wildly different now for architects who will have racked up 5 years of debt to get educated, at uncontained rates of interest. Nonetheless, my offspring aside, there appears no shortage of young people willing to take on the challenge to become an architect.

In 1983 27% of architecture students were women rising to 51% in 2023. This is good progress, and yet there is then a drop off to 31% of registered female architects. Years of working on school projects were characterized for me by meetings with mostly women user clients shaping the design, then a sudden shift to meetings entirely with men when the projects started on site. But I have never in my whole career encountered sexism from contractors or engineers. Interestingly I have only ever experienced the creeping feeling of imposter syndrome when I am in a setting of just architects. Give me a site meeting to chair any day.

Then there are the career breaks to have children. Lily Allen said recently ’My children ruined my career. I love them and they complete me, but in terms of pop-stardom, they totally ruined it’. This was  an honest admission, easier to get away with if you are famous. We are not all after pop stardom, but we architect-parents do fear loss of status. We also know there are only 24 hours in the day and we can’t have it all. But what we can expect is freedom to choose how we work and the chance to make the most of our skills and talents.

Reflecting on it all I remain happy I fell into architecture. Even failures and unexpected changes of path in the end led to better things. But would I do it all again with things as they are now? The status of the profession seems to be shifting, procurement is... well let’s just say ‘unreasonable’. And even our professional bodies seem to be losing trust in us. I learned from an ARB email last week that their raison d’etre is to ‘protect the public’ - well, at least we know.

This profession remains compelling - a wide, deep, whole life discipline encompassing so many skills. In the play The Motive and the Cue, the Richard Burton character proposes that acting as a career offers ‘rigour and comradeship’. I had never before thought to compare architecture and the stage as careers but there is something in this, both being a career with a degree of glamour, where you belong to something endlessly creative, open to personal interpretation, and yet bigger than oneself. 


This article was written by Patricia Woodward, Director at Matthew Lloyd Architects.