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Feature article


The future is plural. There are multiple pathways toward contested territories. Yet the move toward a future – any future – is part of a more general act of push and pull – of a too and fro – that starts with an admission that the present is not final – that the now is not unimpeachable – that things are open for criticism and an unravelling. That the project is incomplete.

As a straight, white, middleclass woman, I live a privileged life. Since childhood, I have been reassured that in today’s world, my gender, appearance, and sexual orientation would not limit the opportunities afforded me; that essentially, I could unapologetically be myself – whatever form that self happened to take – and, with the right amount of grit and determination, succeed in the path that I chose.

This ideal began to tarnish as I entered university. Anecdotes from women who had experienced sexual discrimination in the workplace surprised me – hadn’t feminism won by now? Even more unsettling was the vague sense of flattery that occasionally coloured a tale of being or called suggestive names, or being groped at a work function.

Since qualifying just over twelve months ago, I feel I am only just beginning to become truly aware of gender politics in the workplace. The unspoken expectation that I shave my legs and armpits for the first time since high school, for example, seems negligible in comparison to the differential treatment that I, as a woman, have witnessed and occasionally experienced. The world of the Working Architect, which I had long assumed to be wholly enlightened, moral, and unprejudiced, turns out to be just as lacking in diversity and acceptance as the rest of the world.

I refuse to call this experience “disillusionment”. Despite my disappointment, I have been privileged to work alongside individuals who are truly and unapologetically themselves. Those who reject the lingering conventions of a male-dominated profession; those whose ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation would seem to mark them as “other”, and yet refuse to be labelled so. We’re not there yet; it’s true.

But we’re not far off.

As they surveyed the damage and felt their newfound freedom slowly seeping into their marrow, they realised that they would need a new way to rebuild. It had to be somewhere else – there was too much damage done here. There had to be a field more neutral, unbiased…

It’s been an hour since lunch and a notification pops up on my screen, “Fw: Amendments on School…” The director walks into the room, looking manic, “I told the client we can get these amendments done by the end of the day, this is critical!” Clicking through the attachments, my heart sinks, this is going to take hours, and I have dinner plans, which I’m going to have to cancel… again. A single attachment is all it takes for the mood in the office to plummet.

A ringing phone brings me back from CADland, my eyes flick to check the time, almost 8:30pm. “I’m still working, I swear!” says Jake, “I’ll be home as soon as I can… I’m sorry… You know I’d rather be at home”. I look up from my screen, struggling to focus, I shoot him a sad smile as I survey the room. The director is long gone, but apart from that no one has moved from their chairs since lunch-time, my stomach aches as I recall my missed meal. It’s 9pm when the Project Architect calls us together for a quick progress report, “I don’t know why he makes insane promises to clients, there needs to be a change in how we manage our work, I’m really sorry guys”. He calls it for the night, tells us to go home and get some sleep. The amendments are just not going to happen tonight, but we’ll deal with them and him in the morning.

The director strolls into the room, “I need an update on where we’re at, and I’ve had a request from the school clients we need to process”. We gather round the table, the Project Architect quickly does a rundown of what has happened so far today, and what’s left to do. I glance towards the work schedule that’s projected on the wall – 78% complete – according to the management software. “So do we have the resources to get these amendments done?” says the director as he places a marked-up set of plans on the table. “I guess we could pull a couple people off the coast house project to start on these, but it’ll take at least the next two days – Soph, do you think you can get started on these?” Sophie looks down at her watch, “I’m heading out in fifteen to pick Ben up from school – I can start in the morning though.”

An updated work schedule pops-up on my screen ten minutes later, a quick scan of it tells me I’m working on the amendments instead of Sophie. Who else is on the team? Jake is moving across to help in an hour and Sophie will join in the morning. Projected completion time… 8.5 hours. An email comes through, the team has been CC’d in on communication to the client: … “thank you for sending those through, we’re aiming to have these done in a couple days”. I finish the last couple things on the internals I was working on, and shoot an update through to the Project Architect before starting on the new work. I click Start project on the management screen.

It’s almost 5pm, I stretch as I start closing down the drawing files, I draft up an email of what I’ve done in the last two hours, update the management software, double check what I’ve got to do tomorrow and click send. Everyone starts chattering, sharing the evening’s plans as we shut down and head out together.

Code never questions, it only tells. It is practical. It doesn’t care who you are or why you’re doing something, all it wants to know is what you want it to do. It becomes one of the few systems of control to remain due to its unbiased nature. You control the code, but no one controls you. Endless possibilities, few limits.

For a city being built from nothing more than repositories of code, it seemed strangely stable. It was frightening, in some ways – a city almost instantly assembled through semicolons and curled braces, previewed with pixels through flat, glossy screens… but there was something in the way it operated, its unassuming nature, its agnosticism, that made it justifiable. It never asked who, it just asked how. It never even really asked why, it simply asked what and when. If the foundations reflected those values, then surely the city itself would too?

It was their only thought as they allowed their fingers to fly across the dusty Dvorak keyboards. As they did, the plural cities slowly began sprouting from ruin, rebuilt and revitalised with a temper and strength that hadn’t been seen before. Its pulse had changed: no longer an inconsistent staccato, but composed of solid rhythmic thumps, beating heavily like the cursors before them.

Steady. Equal.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Nearly there.

FF is an assemblage of vignettes from Alexandra Griffeth, Su-Yiin Lai, and Tanya Banagala.