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RIBA Role Model: Daniel Kerr

Daniel Kerr

Daniel came to architecture later in life having worked in the manufacturing and finance sectors. He has worked for both large and small practices. Daniel is now a sole practitioner with his practice Superhistory, Chair of his local RIBA branch in Huddersfield and Teaching Assistant at the University of Sheffield where he is undertaking PhD studies.

Architecture can be so overt, altering skylines and creating a highly visible legacy. However, as I have developed as an architect and as a person, I feel that truly enduring contributions happen on a more human scale. Although these contributions may be less prominent, there’s a quiet pleasure in producing something understated that has real meaning to the people who occupy those spaces. For me the positive impact our actions have on others leaves a genuine legacy.

I had always wanted to design and make my ideas real. Having pursued a number of different careers, I finally chose to retrain as an architect and this gave me the scope to forge my own future. Separately, but at the same time and in the same spirit, I stepped out into the transgender community.

Previously I had concealed this aspect of my identity but I came to the point where I needed to break out of my isolation. Stepping out was very empowering for me; breaking the rules is exhilarating and tremendous fun. I decided that I could look at things differently, that being trans made me more, not less. This self-belief fuelled my actions, follies and achievements - including those in architecture.

Just because somebody has the courage to challenge society’s rules, it doesn’t mean that they’re unprofessional.

Like many people, I was able to compartmentalise my life as necessary. Nevertheless, I thought I had been prepared for some time to discuss being trans with colleagues. In reality the different aspects of my life collided in a destructive way. I felt that ideas were being shared about me, but I didn’t know what or how or by whom. It was an incredibly difficult time and had a negative impact on my health.

There is great diversity amongst trans folk and how they identify. While I can only really speak for myself, it is fair to say that transgender issues can be hard for people to understand – including trans persons themselves. Fear can lead to trans people being misjudged and generate misplaced concerns about the sort of behaviour that they might bring into the workplace.

Just because somebody has the courage to challenge society’s rules, it doesn’t mean that they’re unprofessional. It takes a lot to qualify as an architect, to get a decent position and sustain it. I think it stands to reason to assume that a professional colleague who just happens to be trans will inhabit that role with professionalism.

Although we may not see it, there are many trans people out there just living their lives and contributing to ours. I respect their need to be in control of their own identity and degree of openness and I would encourage employers to do the same.

I hope a role model can be imperfect and still have value if they are able to tell a story that people can somehow benefit from.

My on-going challenge is to pick myself up after knock-backs, learn, rebuild and continue. This is not unique to being trans; it’s about being human. When things have been particularly hard, all I can do is put one step in front of the other and remember that this has been enough for those that I care about and who care about me. So, I'm very lucky.

I find the idea of being a role model difficult to wrestle with; I’m not someone you would want set on a pedestal. I see myself as imperfect in many ways and not properly formed yet. A bit like Pinocchio, I want to be a real boy and realise that, maybe I never will be. I hope a role model can be imperfect and still have value if they are able to tell a story that people can somehow benefit from.

I like to think that I might help others to have the confidence that being trans is a valid, life-affirming, strengthening part of who they are. Doing things that are a bit off the wall can be empowering precisely because it doesn’t fit comfortably with other people’s perceptions and that’s the truth of it.

Find out more about all of the RIBA Role Models.

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