Sineád Hughes has worked with MOLA Architecture since it was set up in 2010 and was previously an Associate Director with Murray Ó Laoire Architects.
Hughes has a swathe of experience in healthcare, conservation, fit out and commercial architecture with recent projects that include private Student Residential projects, various HSE projects, work at Crumlin Children’s Hospital and new build Residential proposals.
Seán O’Laoire, a founding Director of Murray Ó Laoire Architects, now works as a Consulting Director of MÓLA Architecture and was responsible for giving Hughes her first job just over 20 years ago.
This week she spoke to Construction Network Ireland about her first ‘non’ job interview with Sean O’Laoire, the projects she is most proud of, working through the downturn and what it’s like to be a woman in a mainly male dominated industry.
Why did you choose architecture?
As a child growing up I loved art, but at the same time I liked the discipline of a structured set up. I was really interested in Maths particularly. It wasn’t until about fifth year that the role of an architect came on my radar, I didn’t know such a profession existed. When I heard about the possibility of being an architect I thought, that’s for me. It ticked all the boxes. It seemed to capture the design side but also the practicalities too. was successful in securing a place in Bolton Street, which was a 5-year course concluding with a DIT Diploma and Trinity Degree at the same time. In recent years DIT now confer their own degrees.
You are a conservation architect. What does that entail?
I am an RIAI Grade 3 Conservation Architect. I went through college and got my degree, then, a few years later, I did my professional exams to become a registered architect. Some years later I did some further studies to become a Grade 3 Conservation Architect. The role of the architect is so enormous and broad that having knowledge of so many different aspects is critical to the job, whether that’s refurbishing an old building or designing a new one or knitting the two together which is always an interesting challenge.
AS a busy architect, what does your day entail?
It’s enormously varied. You could be working on a town plan or local area plan and then within the next hour reviewing an ironmongery detail. In truth that is the bit I find most interesting; the broad range. To be a good designer is one thing but to have a critical knowledge of statutory implications, legal implications, contractual implications, dealing with people and managing a team, it’s so varied. I do think architects are sometimes responsible for underselling their own capabilities and the skill set that they have and overall positives that they can bring to a project. Unfortunately, the overall benefit to a client of having an architect on board can sometimes be undervalued.
Is it a good career for a woman? Isn’t it very male dominated?
When I started there were much fewer women taking the course and because I was in Bolton Street there were very few women in the college, full stop. I do feel things have changed since then and there are more women applying to architecture. When I graduated in 1996 there weren’t too many female role models in the industry, again that is increasing somewhat these days. In MOLA we have a great gender balance. However, my experience on recent projects is being at site meetings with clients and other consultants and at most only one other woman in a meeting of say 10 / 12 people. I do feel that a woman can bring a different dynamic to a room, particularly within a meeting full of men only.
Bearing that in mind, what would your advice be to young women who would like to pursue this as a career?
I think if it’s what you want to pursue a career in Architecture, you should stick to your guns and stay with it despite what perceptions abound. Just because it’s traditionally a male environment, should not put you off at all.
What projects are you particularly proud of?
I have a very soft spot for a project I worked on while at Murray O’Laoire Architects a number of years ago, called Harry Clarke House- the refurbishment and extension of the former fire station on Thomas Street for NCAD. Last Saturday I led tours of the building as part of Irish Architecture Foundation Open House day. I was revisiting the building after a number of years and I was reminded of how it was an enormously challenging project, albeit quite small but it was conservation, refurbishment, partial demolition, new build, a really tight site, and enormously restricted in terms of health and safety, so it was the ultimate project in terms of its challenges. Being able to explain you’re the context for the project, the original design intent and the process of delivery to members of the public was really interesting. I also worked, as part of a larger team, on Carton Hotel refurbishment and new build which was equally rewarding.
Are you currently working on any projects that stand out?
In the office, we have an enormously broad range of projects at all different stages and scales and I really enjoy that environment. It’s been an incredibly busy number of years. MOLA Architecture was established in 2010 after the unfortunate demise of Murray O’Laoire Architects. We were 6 people to begin with, and now we are up to 36, so it’s been quite the journey. There is a whole wealth of knowledge and new energy with all the new staff members we have taken on and that’s very rewarding.
What was it like working through the downturn?
When I graduated in 1996 I went to meet Sean O’Laoire, one of the founding Directors of Murray O’Laoire Architects. I sent in my CV and he said they didn’t have any jobs but to come in for a chat. I wasn’t too stressed because I didn’t think it was an interview but I walked away with a job. He said to come in on Monday! I was with them from 1996 till 2010, so I worked right through the downturn. I saw the company grow and then lived through those very difficult years. A lot of people were let go, there were rounds of redundancies, so personally and professionally it was an enormously challenging time.
You must be happy to see things pick up again?
Yes but with an air of caution. We must not go back to those ridiculous times. We as a society need to be careful that it doesn’t get to the crazy excesses of the Celtic Tiger. We need to ensure that as the industry is picking up hugely now, that the building regulation standards are met and quality is achieved.
What’s your greatest achievement?
In addition to my day job I am a professional assessor for the registration process for architects through the RIAI and DIT and I’m very proud of the fact that through my professional career I am now at a stage where I am assessing other architects for registration. For all my years of challenges and stresses, that’s a nice milestone for me. I also see an important role for myself with some of the younger graduates coming up and I’ll be honest, mainly the younger female graduates, to try help and mentor them to progress professionally.
What do you do to unwind?
I’ve taken up tennis and I do yoga. I mostly cycle everywhere so that’s great exercise. I’m in the proverbial book club which keeps me sane and socialising, that’s where I get to unwind.