Zoë Berman enjoys Oxford’s charms but finds its gates and high walls at odds with the openness, generosity and curiosity that characterise her teaching and practice.

I’ve been working on educational projects in and around Oxford for a few years, and have recently moved here from London via a spell in Bristol. It’s an extraordinary city – full of light, and books. But despite its history of intellectual liberation there remain limitations. I’m an avid urban wanderer and am often frustrated by the high walls and gates of this place. Glorious green pathways and peaceful courtyards are walled off, retained for those who hold literal or metaphorical keys of access. As an educator, I find this paradoxical. As a tutor, my role is to open doorways and introduce a next generation of architects to built spaces, and those who through history designed and crafted them. That requires openness, generosity and curiosity.

My own design practice is structured as a network of collaborators who I bring together on a project by project basis. There is strength and richness to be found in convening skilled people around each design brief.

Questions of access and equity in how we design cities – by and for whom – have entered public discourse in a way that, a few years ago, wasn’t the case. Communities and clients are far more attuned to the way thoughtful and caring design can positively impact on day-to-day lives.

Folded into this is an undercurrent of needing greater equity within the profession of architecture. We need leaders and role models who act with conviction; with kindness, compassion and with an understanding that a more diverse profession will in turn support us all delivering projects that are deeply socially and environmentally sustainable.

The built environment and construction sector has allowed itself to become divisive and adversarial. This is played out in data: the profession has performed woefully when it comes to supporting underrepresented groups, and we need to do much better in multidisciplinary sharing and supporting, not least between those who design and those who deliver. That the construction sector has the highest rate of suicide – three times higher than the national average amongst men – is an indictment of a profession that has, for too long, tolerated a hostile culture. We need to celebrate the great work of those architects, activists and campaigners who are carving out inclusive, and holistic pathways.

Speaking out on these issues is not easy. But through collaboration and convening thoughtful, intersectional and compassionate voices, there is an opportunity to turn a new page on the way we design cities.

Zoë Berman