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Woman Architect of the Year shortlist: Kirsten Lees

Partner at Grimshaw, Kirsten Lees for the 2014 AJ Women in Architecture Awards

Kirsten Lees became a partner at Grimshaw in 2010, having joined the practice in 1997. Lees is currently developing the design of a new international contemporary art gallery in Istanbul for the Vehbi Koç Foundation, a project which Grimshaw won in an international competition against some of the world’s leading architecture firms. She leads much of Grimshaw’s work in the sports sector and during the past two years has been developing a Wimbledon masterplan for the All England Lawn Tennis Association.

Koç Contemporary Art Museum, Istanbul

Koç Contemporary Art Museum, Istanbul

Why did you choose architecture? From a young age I enjoyed art and design, so you could say I was drawn from the beginning. Then when I was living in Barcelona between school and university, I fell in love with the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion.

What is your design ethos? I believe the best buildings and designs have many layers that provide a richness of experience and are uplifting to be in; pragmatic, poetic and site-specific.

Which architects inspire you? Carme Pigem of RCR in Spain, and Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA.

What is your advice to aspiring female architects? Believe in yourself and your ideas. Go with your instinct. Have a clear vision of what you want and work hard to achieve it.

Why do women leave the profession? Architecture is tough, whether you’re male or female. It requires dedication and a commitment to working long and often unsociable hours. It is highly demanding and stressful, and the financial return is not commensurate with the time and dedication invested. Balancing the above with children, when childcare is still perceived as primarily the mother’s responsibility, makes achieving an acceptable work/life balance even more difficult for women.

What is the biggest challenge facing women in architecture? We still need a step change within the profession and construction as a whole. The number of women attaining senior positions is still woefully low. Also the culture of punishingly long hours, competitive and low-fee bids to win work, and lack of recognition of women’s contribution make remaining in architecture a tough choice.

EMPAC arts centre, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York

EMPAC arts centre, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York


Place of study Mackintosh School of Architecture

Current projects The Wimbledon masterplan, London; Koç Contemporary Art Museum, Istanbul, Queens Tennis Club masterplan, London; Gilston Park estate masterplan, Hertfordshire; and Bangor University Arts and Innovation Centre, Wales

Clients Vehbi Koç Foundation; Queens Tennis Club; Places for People; Bangor University

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