As part of our commitment to keeping architects connected across the world during this extraordinary time, we’ve invited some of our International Chapter members to share their experience of living and working in a time of pandemic. International Chapter Councillor, Janine Campbell, is currently living in the United Kingdom, where she is studying a Master of Science in Facade Engineering in Bristol. She shares her experience of working remotely, and how ‘working from home’ has evolved over the years and in response to the pandemic.
The tangent office – working remotely.
In March, as the United Kingdom and Europe were locking down cities, I posted some words about the 1852 cholera epidemic in London that killed over 10,000 people. On that day, COVID-19 related deaths in London were at only 23 cases. Now, nine months later, the total number of deaths in London hospitals of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 is 7,648, heading to surpass the 1852 epidemic.
In one weekend, streets in London emptied and workers adapted their domestic realms to become an ‘office space’, revealing a paradigm shift that ‘work’ could be done away from the office; it seemed a rapid switch. But for many intrepid architects, this change of scenery had been going on for many years already. It was rumoured that the Vitra Museum in Weil am Rhein, by Frank Gehry, was documented on A4 sheets, so every detail and instruction could fit in a fax machine dialled remotely from Santa Monica.
Easing into the ‘work from home’ prompted me to ponder some of the agile ‘mini-office’ locations I had found myself in the last 15 years, whilst in the midst of a project, and how drawings, sketches and instructions were communicated from unusual locales. I am grateful for the privilege of being able to travel so often, with minimal disasters or illnesses.
Living in the small village of Uster, in Switzerland, I worked on the 88 Angel Street project, which went on to win a Sustainable Architecture Award at the Australian Institute of Architects 2017 National Architecture Awards. Climate differences aside, local construction was a great precedent for the green roofs of that project. Often I was out cycling, including in minus six-degree snow, researching local sustainable building practices, whilst my project was in a different country.
The Silk Road travel and trade routes have been around for millennia. In the 14th-century, the Islamic scholar, Ibn Battuta, travelled the world for 30 years, carrying his tools of trade with him. During this time, he encountered the bubonic (black) plague, which destroyed cities and kingdoms primarily along the busy Silk Road trade routes. The current COVID-19 pandemic, also transmitting through international trade routes, and the millennia old questions of sanitation, public health, sustainable travel and the design of transit terminals, remain.
For the first time in years, I have not ventured outside a one or two-kilmotre radius of my home, and have plenty of work and a dissertation to complete, so travel for me at this time would not be sensible anyway. And I am discovering local gems, including bumping into Louis Theroux queuing to get into the local supermarket. But soon the ‘wunderlust’ to roam and walkabout will emerge in the population, and the whole cycle will start again.
In the words of Paul Theroux (Louis’s dad):
‘You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.’ ― Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town
Location: Bartenbach Lichtlabor (Light Laboratory), Innsbruck. Bustop.
Communications: Not one single person around for over an hour whilst waiting for a bus, peaceful place to perch with a laptop.
Location: Cairo ‘s Pension Roma.
Communications: No internet but a fax machine available, sketching drawings to send to my engineer in Texas.
Discovery: Caireans stay out all night, including families.
Location: Berbice River, Guyana, South America.
Communications: Building a jetty for the De Veldt community. No phones, no electricity, no internet.
Discovery: Piranhas like to nibble on toes.
Location: Bus stop in Liechtenstein.
Communications: Despite being one of the smallest countries in the world, I waited at the wrong bus station for one of my team members to pick me up to go to a meeting, meaning one could get lost in the smallest country in the world.
Discovery: The most perfect concrete in the world.
Location: Vinci glass testing facility.
Communications: The office is sometimes a testing laboratory.
Discovery: Glass can be as strong as aluminium.
Location: Home office, Kilburn, London.
Discovery: I acquired one of Peter Drew’s Monga Khan Aussie posters when I bumped into Peter on the street in Adelaide, on the way to the Institute conference. Peter gave me a poster to take back to London. Monga reminds me of my nomadic ways.
Janine Campbell started her career studying fine arts, before training and registering as an architect in New South Wales. For 15 years, she worked with several large practices in Sydney, in addition to receiving several independent commissions before embarking to work in Venice, Switzerland and the UK in 2009.
A mid-career sabbatical to learn German in Switzerland resulted in living and working in Zürich for five years, where Janine was involved in various creative design roles, including facade design. This gave her the exposure to a high standard of technical design deployed by Swiss, German and Austrian culture.
She is now living in the United Kingdom, where she has been for the last five years. Janine is currently studying a Master of Science in Facade Engineering in Bristol, to further her expertise in facade design, which has been influenced by the various building typologies she has worked on over the years.