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Interview with the AJ’s Emerging Woman Architect of the Year – Olga Felip

Winner of the Emerging Woman Architect of the Year Award 2013, Olga Felip talks about how she balances a career in architecture with having children

Zaha Hadid described your work as ‘sharp, edgy and elegant’. What do you think of this?
Actually, it is quite surprising because many people have used the term ‘elegant’ to describe my work. I feel honoured because this is a very nice quality to have recognised. Many people are describing the work in the same way – so it makes me think about it.

In Spain, is the level of women in the profession similar to the UK?
I would say that numbers are quite equal in Spain. At architecture school there are definitely more women. But this has all changed pretty fast. When we get into the profession there aren’t many leading women. What is missing are the standout women. There are people like Benedetta Tagliabue. Usually women partner with men.

Is it more difficult for women architects?
The whole problem comes when you decide to be a mum, to marry and to start a family. People think it as about choosing your career or your family. My decision was not to choose – I wanted both. But you have to start with a very stable base.

Children need a routine and our work as architects is the opposite

You have two children and a successful career. How do you work your hours around having children?
It is difficult because children need a routine, and architecture and our work as architects is the opposite. But you must let people help you. My family help out a lot, my mother helps to look after the children, especially if I am travelling a lot. The children have their routine and their stability, and I have my life. This is the big challenge of being a woman.

I have to work a lot at night. We are doing a lot of competitions, and I don’t know why but we always have to work right up until the last minute.

Basically, my usual day would be taking the children to school, working without stopping until about 6pm, then I’ll pick them up and I’m a mum until they go to sleep at about 9pm, and then I will start to work again until about midnight. That is the routine.

Did you feel that you had to get your career started before you had children?
No. I finished studying in 2005, I started my studio in 2006 and I had my first child in 2007. So I did everything at the same time. It helped a lot that my husband is also an architect, and we are partners in our practice. In Spain it is different – the man has the same roles as a woman in both the home and the office.

Have you experienced discrimination for being a woman in practice?
Maybe once before, but it is hard to tell if it was just because I was a woman.

What role models are there for young women architects?
It is a difficult question. I look to references from other disciplines. I look to Nani Marquina. She is not an architect. She is a designer, but she has her own firm.

What do you think needs to be done to help women in the profession?
It is about the role of men in the family. It is important that we all get to the point where we do not need to choose between having a family or a career.

It is important we get to the point where there is no need to choose between having a family or a career

At architecture school in Spain, how are women represented on the teaching staff?
Most of my tutors were men. But this is changing a lot now. Now it is more 50:50 – not quite yet, but it is nearly there.

How is the industry in Spain at the moment?
It is very difficult. We are very lucky because we are still doing well. But it is very hard for a lot of practices.

Are you looking further afield for work?
At the moment we still work locally. We still have work in Spain but we are looking a lot more internationally. We have just been shortlisted for the second stages of a competition in China. International awards, like this one are very good for us. They raise your profile abroad.

How are the AJ’s Women in Architecture Awards seen in Spain?
They are very important. The AJ is very well known in Spain, so if you receive an award from the AJ it is always a good thing.

 

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