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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Maia Kumari Gilman, RA

Maia Kumari Gilman

Maia Kumari Gilman

When I went into architecture school, I had a loose idea that one day, I would be an architect working in a collaborative environment with four or five equal peers, each of us focused on our own projects. Since that time, I’ve worked for firms ranging in size from two to 120, by myself in private practice, and with my architect husband in partnership. Now, I’m back to being a sole practitioner, and I’m taking time off from it to write books.

I’ve created something akin to that collective of four or five equal architect peers: it’s my local archi-mom group. We get together sporadically for coffee and we share the details of work, of solo practice, and of parenting. Some of us are married to architects. Some of us have too much work, and some of us don’t have a lot. Some have taken long breaks. Some never make it to meetings, and our group connection is online. I imagine that our days dovetail in some ways. What follows is a description of an atypical day in my own archi-mom life, inspired by the Archimom blog posts curated by Rosa Sheng and Bob Borson's A Day in the Life of an Architect as part of #Architalks.

5:55 a.m. Alarm rings and I wake up halfway. I have jet lag because I’m on West Coast time, having just arrived back on the East Coast after a short trip to Vancouver.

7:10 a.m. Youngest recalls that the homework he must complete before breakfast is not actually due today; oldest reminds us he no longer wants to play viola. Husband handles the delicate emotions of the violist and I navigate homework.

8:10 a.m. School starts but everyone is still at home. I drive them up the hill and I no longer feel guilty about doing that! I am progressing in my parenting and devolving in my environmentalism. Husband is on the train into Manhattan. Until last year, I worked in the city and at one point I also had a downtown office in my wee suburb; now I work from home. I share in a collective workspace of women entrepreneurs in Manhattan called In Good Company. I love that it’s there for me if and when I need it for a meeting.

9:37 a.m. I am sitting down to write this post. I listened to 30 minutes of guided meditation on my laptop first, because what else do you do when you’ve just come back from a trip and you work from home and you are facing a pile of laundry? You do not check work email. You do not do laundry. You meditate.

Planning the Novel

Planning the Novel

9:45 a.m. I sent out my novel manuscript on Friday to several literary agents and I am very curious to see if and how anyone has responded while I’ve been out of town. I have work to do on the new novel I’m writing. I keep turning down design work to focus on writing the first novel, and now the next. If Deepak Chopra or a similarly inspired individual wrote to me and asked me to design a retreat center, I’d say yes. This is the kind of project I’d like to build toward. One of my favorite design projects so far as a sole practitioner was a yoga studio right here in the place I live, called South Mountain Yoga. More like that, please! The work builds upon my background in green building as well as in Reiki and subtle energy work. Otherwise, design projects are being referred out. I seem to get a constant stream of calls for new architectural work, which is nice, but I’m not accepting typical clients right now. I suppose that’s because I’m an atypical architect.

9:48 a.m. I usually walk for 30-60 minutes before I sit down at my desk but instead I’ve been meditating and writing this post. I have 10 minutes left for a quick walk now, before I get to work. Work today will involve 1. checking in on the progress of my manuscript in the literary agent world; 2. organizing my notes for the next novel (my novels all involve architects so watch out for them!); 3. responding to queries for design work.

10:48 a.m. I got an email from Deepak Chopra! It was advertising, but I’m still tickled.

South Mountain Yoga Studio

South Mountain Yoga Studio

11:39 a.m. For the purposes of this post and its architect-readers, I decided to track the time it takes to complete certain tasks that are unique to being an architect, an archi-mom, etc. Efficiency is key. So far, and according to the stopwatch on my phone:

  1. Renew NY State Architecture License. Took 3 minutes 41.7 seconds to email the board with a follow up.
  2. Renew NCARB Certificate. Took 9 minutes 53.2 seconds to determine that my NCARB certificate is good for another year.
  3. Double check on LEED-AP BD+C status online. A longer story. I’ll just note for the record that this took 19 minutes 4.9 seconds.
  4. Order groceries online. Took only 2 minutes 57.4 seconds to order a week’s worth of groceries for our family of four. Not sure about the eco-friendliness of the Fresh Direct truck, but it can’t be worse than me driving around on multiple trips in a fifteen year old minivan.

12:28 p.m. Reviewed three decades of poetry I’ve written and decided it is time to write more, to not recycle the old. Still have to lay out all the index cards with the new story ideas. At one point in my writing process I equated it to an architectural design and construction project, and tracked my writing and editing progress accordingly. For the first novel, I’d say that Construction Documents have been completed. The novel still needs to be filed and bid. For the second novel, I’d say I’m in early Schematic Design. A lovely phase.

12:53 p.m. Sat down for a few minutes with the new This Old House magazine that arrived, along with a light lunch. Was impressed by two bathroom renovations featured in the magazine. Also, when did This Old House begin running Viagra ads?

1:07 p.m. Read through some more of the Day in the Life of an Architect blogs inspired by Bob Borson and the Archimom posts curated by Rosa Sheng. Rosa asked what my Secret Sauce is. I would say, meditating. Today I was too sleepy with jet lag and kept nodding off, hence the guided meditations I listened to instead. As an architect, I find that meditation has an interesting effect on one’s sense of space: it alters it. Light and shadow are more clearly defined. Sensitivity to air currents, smells and sounds are heightened. It’s not just during the meditation. It’s after. Definitely a Secret Sauce. And it’s one I’m happy to share.

Rosa also asked about ten things I do every day, or even on an atypical day. I do these regularly now that I’m writing more and designing less. When I get back into my next design project, I will take these writing practices with me. I think the practices will make me a better architect. It’s because writers notice details in a way that is slightly different from architects. At least, this writer-architect does.

Here are the ten:

  1. Meditate.
  2. Involve myself with music.
  3. Carry my own homemade food.
  4. Spend time outside, regardless of the weather.
  5. Take photos on my phone, write little vignettes about where I am, draw small sketches – no matter what’s going on. Every day.
  6. Appreciate the sky, and let my gaze soften on it.
  7. Drink a warm beverage (or two or three or four).
  8. Jump into the creative stream and go with it.
  9. Set goals, write them down, create grids, fill them in.
  10. Celebrate small milestones.

2:22 p.m. Kids will be home soon. For me, now: a hot drink and a review of the index cards, some note-taking based on the inspirations that accompanied my walk. I often walk with index cards and a pen for that purpose, but it was too chilly today to stop and write. Most of my musings in the past few days have been on the idea of the horizon, so that will probably show up in a future novel.

2:56 p.m. They’re home and they’re reading books. This is typical. I will read for a few minutes as well. I’m currently half way through Laraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath. And she’s right, it does. I wonder if I would say the same of architecture. I used to say that design began with people. Now, I’d say it’s for people and is formed by people, but that it begins with an inspiration. And inspiration begins with the breath. So there you go.

3:12 p.m. Kids usually begin homework at 4:00 or 4:30 but today, youngest is asking to begin right away. Helps to have diligent and interested kids! We’re very fortunate to be part of an excellent public school system.

4:16 p.m. It’s time to do some housework. I will go from room to room in some kind of methodical way, or I will use my friend Ann’s Bingley Gallop’s Feng Shui method of picking up 27 things. Twenty-seven is magical. Seems to work: by the time you’ve reached 27, you’re on a roll and you get the whole job done with ease. Moving 27 things has led to rearranging furniture. An occupational hazard?

5:11 p.m. Quiet day in the house, and the kids are in a bookish mode. Wonder where they get that from? Dinner soon. Since it is nearing the end of the official work day, I will check on the status of the agents and my novel. I’ve heard back from two agents. One is interested to read more, and another is not interested but thinks another agency might be, and gave me their information. Also, an indie publisher is interested to read more. It is all at that not-yet-gelled stage, but it will get there. The first book has a focus on fracking – hydraulic fracturing. The second one (in progress) has a focus on medical marijuana. The third one, which I’m still brainstorming, will have a focus on high speed transport. I’m tackling all of these issues through the lens of architecture (yes, even the medical marijuana one). My mode of storytelling is to leave the reader in a position to make up her own mind, to allow him to indulge in multiple viewpoints.

Today is the day to clear out the inboxes of stuff I have been waiting to resolve. Here we go:

  1. Declined to be part of a reality TV show that features New York area architects. I still can’t tell if it was a legitimate proposal. Plus, I’m not designing right now. They could follow me and my index cards around for meditative walks! That would make for exciting television.
  2. Redirected a persistent fan’s query. I have a loyal band of followers on Twitter and Facebook who send me questions on everything from writing to meditation to how to arrange the furniture in their children’s bedrooms.
  3. Received a Request for Proposals for NYC Hurricane Sandy-related design services. I am not interested in pursuing it, but it reminded me that I let my New York City WMBE certification application lapse when I left work in Manhattan last year. I’m happy with that decision for now.

Kids are still reading and doing homework. They’re not usually this quiet. They’ve had a few days of back-to-back playdates and dinners out, while I’ve been away. In the past we’ve had a mix of babysitters, au pairs and school aftercare to provide the backup. While I was away this past week, we relied on school, friends and neighbors to cover the time my husband was out of the house. It was good, but tiring for the kids to go from home to home. They are ready for downtime.

5:45 p.m. Dinner! The kids are not so chatty today. Makes it feel all the more important to be here with them, to capture and enjoy the flow of conversations when they do occur. I’m glad for our family flexibility in that.

6:15 p.m. Time to clean up the kitchen. The kids often help but today they are back to homework. The feminist in me used to struggle with housework. The realist in me says, hey, it gets done when it gets done. The householder in me says, get it done. I like to think of myself as a householder when it comes to these matters, and I am reminded of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s idea of The Householder. It’s complex and Bengali, and being somewhat complex and partly Bengali myself, I can relate. I’ll have to look up the reference. Was it in a poem? A short story? I muse while I clean.

6:35 p.m. My husband is running late! A last-minute issue needs attention at the office in the city.

9:27 p.m. Kids finally in bed with lights out and door closed. Almost an hour later than bedtime; youngest was inconsolable over missing Dad who is finishing up at the office. They have a close bond, my three. My husband should be home in an hour, his work almost complete.

Why am I sharing these little details? Because when I was thinking of going into architecture school, and when I was in architecture school, and even after architecture school, people rarely talked about how the stuff of everyday life gets done. I want to share with others who are on the various parts of the trajectory, that it does get done, bit by bit, and not all at once. It gets done because we want it to, and because we want others to share in it as well. Not just for the sake of doing it, or for its completion, but for enjoying it, too. It’s a life by design, and it is a flexible one at that.

Maia Kumari Gilman, Registered Architect, LEED-AP BD+C

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