Tess Pritchard on Glass Boxes and Ceilings

As the daughter of one of the state’s most lauded architects, Tess Pritchard will continue her father’s legacy as one of the directors of Max Pritchard Gunner Architects along with her father and Andrew Gunner.

There have been numerous famous architects who have continued their father’s work: Jan Utzon, the late Nicholas Murcutt, Eero Saarinen, Paul Tange and John Lloyd Wright. Sons and daughters offer the potential of a continued legacy but it is less often that you hear of a daughter sustaining her father’s legacy into the next generation.

Tess Pritchard not only shares her lauded father’s last name but also the directorship of Max Pritchard Gunner Architects with her father Max, recipient of the Sir James Irwin RAIA SA Chapter President’s Medal, and co-director Andrew Gunner.

Good mentorship plays an important role for any graduate gaining a foothold in a profession, be it architecture or otherwise. Learning how to effectively contribute within practise relies upon the ability to ask questions. Tess agrees: “Through feeling confident to ask questions and express your opinions is where you learn and develop more. I do really respect the work that he does,” she says. “He has decades of experience that I am still learning from, so I feel like I’d be foolish to disregard any of it. Having said that, I’m not afraid to give my opinion and I feel comfortable to talk through the designs. I think that a more collaborative approach can only result in better design, ultimately.”

tess-pritchard-architect-adelaide-reviewThe uniquely designed Pritchard family home overlooks the city from the edge of the Adelaide Hills

Max has shaped Tess’s understanding of architecture before she could even consider it as a profession. “I lived most of my childhood in an elevated glass box and to me that was normal. I didn’t realise that there was a different way of living. It wasn’t until going to stay at friends’ houses that I started realising how different spaces can feel. It definitely shaped me and definitely taught me the importance of good design from an incredibly young age, even if I wasn’t aware of it at that time.”

Inflexible work hours, a close-knit relationship with a male-dominated building industry at large, and the hostile caution that shadows dealing with large sums of money have all been acknowledged as reasons why architecture continues to be a largely male-dominated industry. Thankfully organisations such as Parlour and the AIA’s Gender Equality Taskforce are beginning to change ingrained perceptions. “Starting out I definitely was aware that I was a female in ‘that male industry’.”

When asked whether her father’s reputation had helped her gain a level of respect and a feeling that her opinion was sought and valued, Tess shrugs: “I don’t know whether the name has influenced people’s perceptions of me or not.”

tess-pritchard-architect-adelaide-review
“I lived most of my childhood in an elevated glass box and to me that was normal,” says Pritchard

It was only after commencing work in the much smaller practise with her father that she found herself in a nurturing environment that enabled professional growth. “As a student I did do a bit of work experience in larger firms and that gender disparity was possibly more evident there. Being young it was intimidating to see what seemed to me to be a real boys’ club. I could see it being difficult to break through in that environment but then, to be honest, since practicing with the builders that we work with I really haven’t felt this being an issue.”

Tess hints at the fact that when it comes to her own professional development, her relation to Max is merely incidental. While continuing to meditate about the importance of “having a mentor that you are comfortable with rather than having someone who you are related to”, she adds that the key lies in having “confidence and a mutual understanding”.

“Having grown up with him I know how he works and I know how he thinks quite intuitively. I know what he’s going to say. I think if you’re starting out in a new place and you’re learning the people you’re working with and how they work it can take a little while to ease into some sort of harmonious collaboration.”

mpgarchitects.com.au