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Olga Felip: ‘Find a problem and its solution, like an entrepreneur'

Last year’s Emerging Woman Architect of the Year Olga Felip talks about what it meant to win the award

The fact that the jury was so prestigious made receiving this award really important to me and the people around me,’ says last year’s Emerging Woman Architect of the Year, Olga Felip.

She says the impressive Women in Architecture jury, which included Zaha Hadid, Rafael Viñoly and Land Securities’ Colette O’Shea, helped raise her practice’s profile among potential clients and collaborators. Even the regional government of Catalonia caught wind of her win - and invited her to join one of its advisory committees.

It all helped make 2013 a vintage year for her practice, Arquitecturia, which she founded with partner Josep Camps on graduation from the Barcelona School of Architecture (ETSAB). The studio has picked up a string of accolades and new work. Current projects include a private house in London, a temporary tower at Plaça de Les Glòries Catalanes - a square which straddles the junction of three of Barcelona’s most important thoroughfares, and the practice (in collaboration with Urban Data Design) has made it through to the second round in the competition to design a boathouse and outdoor classroom on the Harlem River for the New York Restoration Project in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Setting up a practice so soon after leaving university was a challenge

According to Felip, setting up her own practice with Camps so soon after leaving university was a challenge, but has worked well. She says: ‘In my last year of university we started to do some competitions and I won third prize; we were really happy and doing well so I said: “Let’s keep trying”. We felt confident. It’s never easy, but it works - we are complementary.’

For those looking to set up their own practice, the 33-year-old mother-of-three says self-belief is essential: ‘It’s very important to have confidence, effort and a strong passion for what you are doing.’

She adds that in recession-hit Spain, there are not as many competitions now as there were when she was setting up in practice. New entrants, she says, need to be far more entrepreneurial.

‘Competitions are private commissions in which the client has a problem they want architects to solve. Now it’s the opposite - you have to think about what the problems might be and find a solution before approaching people - more like an entrepreneur.’

In Spain, women in architecture is a less pressing issue

Felip observes that in Spain, women in architecture is less pressing as an issue than in the UK, as there is nearly parity of women and men in practice, and plenty of women occupy senior positions.

‘What is very usual now is that lots of couples are working together, like us,’ she adds.

Felip credits her own family as role models in the profession - both her parents were architects - alongside the celebrated Catalonian architect Carme Pinós, with whom she worked during her final year of study. ‘I learnt so much from her,’ she says

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