Coffee Talk: Agata Mancini of McCallum Sather

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Photo Courtesy of McCallum Sather

What got you into architecture?

It’s kind of hard to say. For my graduation write-up in grade 8 I said I was going to become an architect, travel the world, and to settle in the south of France. Hamilton is a bit of a far cry from the south of France, but somehow in grade 8 when I really had no idea what architecture was, it was kind of what I wanted to do. I have a slight inclination that my mother may have brainwashed me a little bit, because later on when I was in architecture school, at the University of Waterloo, I found out that it’s what she wanted to do. I really don’t know where it came from, but what I have always loved about being an architect is the story telling aspect. You look at a building and you can tell when the building was built, the materials, the style, and who it was made for. That’s always been my favourite part. It’s just this natural thing that crept up on me and I just grew into it.

What’s it like as a female in what is a predominately male profession?

When I was at Waterloo the number of women was 2-to-1. In a class of 60 students it was 40 women and 20 men. But what happens is you see the OAA numbers and the percentage decreases from the women in school to women practicing and women in principal roles. There’s a large part of us that are starting off in architecture and fewer continuing and if that has to do with traditional gender roles or whatever, it’s kind of hard to tell. The low number of principal architects is because they’ve been working towards it for the last 30 years and there weren’t as many female architects at that point, so you’ll definitely see those numbers increase.

It’s been a little different for me, because I never felt out of place. However, you do get comments here and there that remind you that you’re one of a few. We’re lucky in Hamilton, though. There are so many strong female architects in this city and I’m happy to have them as my peers. This is what’s so exciting about Hamilton. And women that came before us, like Joanne McCallum, have really paved the way. The amount of work they’ve done and the stigmas they had to brush off is an inspiration. It was a lot harder back then for a female in this profession. It’s still tough to show people you’re in charge sometimes, but it also comes down to personality and how you approach it. Overall the support here in Hamilton has been pretty awesome.

Tell me about your career path so far.

Well, University of Waterloo and back Waterloo for my masters. While I was there I did a bunch of co-ops. My very first co-op was in San Francisco with a firm called Baum Thornley and that was really awesome. I essentially landed that job by being very persistent. I just kept calling back because it was a choice between San Fran and Lindsay, Ontario and thank goodness I got it, because I didn’t want to do work in Lindsay. From there I worked at MMMC Architects in Brantford. I also worked at Jestico + Whiles in London, England which was a cool experience. I also went to Melbourne, Australia and worked at the firm Omiros, but I think I worked more in a bar because it paid better. It was an interested climate.

And then Bill Curran posted in our Masters E-group at Waterloo for a position available at TCA. I had no intention of moving to Hamilton, really. I have no roots in Hamilton and didn’t really know anyone, but I applied, and thought the interview went terribly and thought it was a huge waste of time. Surprisingly, Bill offered me the job like 3 days later. I commuted for about 9 months and then I had to move here. The commute was killing me.

I was at TCA for 3 years and I wanted to gain more experience. Which is a great thing about this profession. Every firm does something different. The style of work they do. The type of projects they do. You can learn from everybody. I’m now at McCallum Sather and have been for 4 years. It’s been really cool because the range of projects and types of projects are really interesting. The people are also fantastic and I think we’re almost more than half women. Our mechanical department is now 3-out-4 women. Which is crazy.

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Speaking of moving to Hamilton, tell us about your #greendoorhouse.

The Green Door House started out as a crazy idea. We bought a place in the North End when we first moved here in 2010, which apparently was the most perfect time ever to buy a house in Hamilton, because I think if it was two years later we would have never been able to afford it. We did all the boring stuff to the house like a new roof, soffits, and insulation. All the boring but necessary stuff that needed to be done. Right before I was going on maternity leave for my second time, this piece of land and this little house in Beasley was listed for $124,000. To find anything downtown for that price is unheard of. I somehow talked a lot people in doing this.

It was an 18-month process to tear it down and rebuild. We sort of wanted to build something that was tailored to our family. The way we function. The way we want to use the spaces. The way we wanted our day-to-day to look. It was really interesting because the experiment worked, which is really nice. So the way I imagined our life would be in the house is the way our life is. It has also opened up the neighbourhood a little bit. I’ve met so many people stopping by to look and just to touch the house. I really liked doing it. It’s really neat to see everything from the beginning to the end. I learned a ton of stuff. I’d do so many things differently, especially mechanically, but it’s been amazing.

Rumour has it you’re running for OAA Council?

I am! I had absolutely no intention of running. On the last day of nominations somebody nominated me. I found out it was a coworker I worked with while at Bill’s who now works in Australia. He thought I would be great for it, because I’m not afraid to speak up or be involved. I joked about it to other people and everyone thought it was a good idea. I got the three nominations that are needed and now I’m running.

I’m interested because the OAA is our governing body. They make a lot of decisions that affect us, they are a part of all the things that happen in the background, and I think it would be a really valuable learning experience. If something comes to me that I didn’t expect I try and say yes, because the unexpected is usually where there can be a lot of reward. I like this opportunity. The chances may be slim, but I think it would be fun.

And lastly, besides your house, what’s your favourite piece of architecture in Hamilton?

Honestly, I think what I like about Hamilton is the collection of architecture. That’s what I love the most. I love the contrasts and the details. I think that’s what makes Hamilton so good. It’s not just one building. I love the Medical Arts Building. I love First Place when the light hits it right. The houses on Bay Street South, the Pigott Building, and the Landed Banking and Loan Building are all amazing. How can you pick one? How can you compare them? It’s too hard. So really, it’s the collection. It’s the moments when you see them just right. You’re always surrounded by beautiful architecture in this city and that’s what makes Hamilton so special.

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1 Comment

Filed under Coversations over coffee

One response to “Coffee Talk: Agata Mancini of McCallum Sather

  1. Oana

    I hear you. I love wandering around, exploring and taking photos. I don’t think I see myself living anywhere else ever. I’ve been in love with the city from the first day. While I’m temporarily relocated for personal reasons, I cannot wait to return and go out and about as much as possible. I’d love any insight on any of the buildings that I should see while they’re still standing. I know there’s just so many of them out there and I quite frankly have no clue where they are located.

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