Francesca Davenport photo

Francesca Davenport

Project Architect
Balcombe Griffiths Architects
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Francesca Davenport, a registered architect and a member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, is a project architect at the firm Balcombe Griffiths in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Born in Bandung, Indonesia, on the island of Java, just after the end of World War II, Francesca grew up during her country's struggle to free itself from Dutch colonial rule. She contracted polio in 1948, when she was two years old, and wears long leg braces and a walking stick to get around. Lately, she's taken to propelling herself with a wheelchair on longer outings.

"I prefer to be an architect with a disability rather than a person with a disability who is an architect."
- Francesca Davenport

While still a student, Francesca chose a career focused on the development and design of hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and residential elder care accommodations. "I was acutely aware that, having a disability, I had to have something extra to offer if I was to be competitive in the workforce. I decided I should find an area of specialization. In my fourth year of studies, a visiting architect from Sweden introduced me to hospital architecture. I was hooked! Somehow the planning and design of hospitals interested me very much. From there it was a natural progression to design for rehabilitation facilities and accessibility."

Her responsibilities at Balcombe Griffiths can involve all aspects of the planning, design, and construction process, from master plan, feasibility study, schematic design, and design development to contract documentation and contract administration. Francesca may be involved from beginning to end, but her expertise lies in her thorough knowledge and understanding of the functions of every department in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. "I know how people work and live in hospitals and aged care facilities, the needs and abilities of older people and people with various disabilities. I am at my best and happiest when dealing with the clients, finding out their exact requirements, briefing them on the design solutions offered, and ensuring that the agreed design is documented. And the clients, too, are very happy to work with someone who understands their requirements."

On a typical project, Francesca will take over as project architect in the design development phase and remain in charge through the contract documentation phase. Another project architect will usually assume responsibility for the contract administration work: site inspections and site meetings. This is rather unlike the standard practice, in which a single project architect will shepherd the work from design through completion. Since Balcombe Griffiths, located in metropolitan Melbourne, oversees projects in various parts of the State of Victoria, it is more efficient to have one architect looking after the construction phase of several projects in nearby districts. Another consideration, however, is the difficulty Francesca might encounter on site during the early stages of construction. "I tend to be given more of the work and responsibilities at the office because of the obvious problems related to my limited mobility." She feels that while this works well as a practical arrangement, it has the unfortunate drawback of segregating her from a key part of the work process. "This sort of problem could be easily overcome these days with the use of video and digital imaging." She notes, "This was recently brought home to me in reading about the experience of Joe Del Vecchio" ("Digital Architect," Architectural Record, September 2000).

In secondary school, Francesca had a favorite teacher, an architect who taught mathematics and technical drawing. He understood and encouraged her pursuit of an architectural career. "He was a mentor to me, particularly when everybody else expected me to follow a physically easier career because of my disability. I was very good at languages, and I have nothing against doing law, but the need I felt to prove myself made me choose architecture. Fortunately for me, once I made my decision, I had the full support of my parents and family."

She chose to attend the newer of the two schools of architecture in Bandung, Parahyangan Catholic University. It seemed a more likely choice than the school associated with the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), where most of the buildings were inaccessible. However, there were access issues at Parahyangan Catholic University as well. The studio was on the top floor of a three-story building with no elevator. Francesca was able to manage well enough, and the school assigned some of her tutorials and lectures to ground-floor rooms. They also exempted her from the standard required attendance at every lecture. Some obstacles were less yielding. "It's difficult to compensate for the gap in technical experience posed by not being able to clamber over dug up grounds or crawl around upper levels and roofs of buildings under construction."

Francesca earned her bachelor of architecture degree in 1970. Her first job after graduation was assistant director of the newly-established Centre for Hospital Planning and Design at the Bandung Institute of Technology. She turned up at the interview for this job without warning them of her disability, a common practice these days, but a somewhat bold and self-confident step at the time. "I prefer to be an architect with a disability rather than a person with a disability who is an architect."

Francesca received a boost to her career by obtaining a Colombo Plan Fellowship award, a grant in aid for education from the Australian Government to countries in the Asia Pacific region. This made it possible for her to accept an invitation from Rehabilitation International to attend the Twelfth World Congress in Sydney in August 1972 and the follow up conference, the First International Seminar on Rehabilitation Medicine. More importantly, it allowed her to do her post-graduate training in Melbourne at the Commonwealth Department of Works (Medical & Scientific), where she studied hospital and rehabilitation architecture. During the first three months of her training, she observed work practices at rehabilitation centers and hospitals in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth. Then she spent eight months at the studio of the Commonwealth Department of Works writing a generic functional brief for a Rehabilitation Centre in Indonesia and designing a hypothetical rehabilitation center on an actual site adjacent to the General Hospital in Bandung. She completed this training in July 1973.

Floor plans for housing units.
The plan for prize-winning accessible, affordable,
and environmentally sustainable units.

Description of Image:
The image has two sections. On the left is a detailed architectural drawing showing the floor plans of four housing units. Each of the four units has two bedrooms, as well as a kitchen, bathroom and living room. Outside of each unit is a one-car garage and a small yard. The image to the right is a perspective drawing of the exterior of one of the housing units. It has large windows and a sliding glass door that opens onto an outdoor patio.

Francesca was encouraged to seek a master's degree by Dr. Gert Block, the chairman of the post-graduate committee at the School of Architecture, University of Melbourne. Francesca married in February 1974 and has two daughters, Ria and Ann, born in 1975 and 1976. She pursued the master's program part-time until late in 1976, when she had to defer due to family commitments. She dedicated herself to raising a family and started back to work in the late 1980s. Francesca attributes her achievements in her career and family life to her husband's invaluable support.

Ria and Ann are both successful young professionals: Ria has a bachelor of design degree in graphic design, and Ann has bachelor's degrees in information technology and business administration. They both achieved highest honors from Swinburne University of Technology. Because they both are deaf, they required support-signing interpreters and note takers-which Swinburne was able to provide. Ria's honors thesis was a tactile map for people with visual impairments. Ann has earned international accreditation as a function point analyst and works for IBM Global.

Francesca came into contact with the Principles of Universal Design in 1997, when older daughter Ria, surfing the Internet for information on her thesis, happened upon the Center for Universal Design website. In 2001, Francesca and a colleague won second prize for their entry in the "Housing for Life" architectural design competition sponsored by the South Australian Housing Trust. They met the requirements of the brief, which called for "units that must be accessible, affordable, energy efficient, and environmentally sustainable." They look forward to seeing their design built by the South Australian Housing Trust.

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