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The Apprentice's Gabrielle Omar: 'Architects need a brand overhaul’

As the first architect to appear on The Apprentice, the newly fired Gabrielle Omar says the profession is in desperate need of a redesign

Gabrielle Omar, the first qualified architect to appear on BBC’s reality television programme The Apprentice, has called for a ‘brand overhaul’ of the profession after being booted off the show last week.

The owner of London-based practice Lolli & Square, told the AJ that the public still didn’t know what architects did and that common misconceptions had
to be addressed.

The 29-year-old entrepreneur made it to week 10 before she was fired by the show’s ringmaster Alan Sugar, who described her as a ‘nice girl who talks a bit too fast’ with creative flair but a lack of ‘business savvy’.

She said: ‘I wanted to bring attention to my practice and the profession. Since going on the show the profile of the firm has sky-rocketed.

There are so many people who don’t realise what we do

‘But there are so many people who don’t realise what we, as architects, do. ‘I once told somebody I was an architect and they said ‘What, you clean bones?

Omar, who also runs a creative agency and an online sweet retail business, said: ‘We need a design overhaul of the whole profession and I want to approach the RIBA about how we could do that.

‘We need to be seen as essential to the process of construction. We need to work on becoming sexy’.

She added: ‘People are bypassing us. I’ve got some new clients who, until they’d seen the show, admitted they’d never have thought of using an architect.’

In response to Sugar’s remarks about her commercial sense, Omar – the ‘top seller’ four times during her 10-week stretch on the programme – said: ‘In his uneducated opinion artists, architects and those people in the construction industry have no idea about business.

‘Getting so far in the process should prove otherwise. The fact I also have three businesses, which are all doing very well, should also be proof.’

Gabrielle Omar rom the BBC's The Apprentice show (May 2012)

Gabrielle Omar from the BBC’s The Apprentice show (May 2012)

Omar, who will be talking at a special AJ event at the NLA on 12 June with AJ Woman Architect of the Year award winners Cindy Walters and Michál Cohen, said she also hoped to change perceptions about women in the profession.

She recalled ‘When bidding for work, I had to pretend I was working for somebody else. I was seen as a young female. I had to create an illusion I represented a group, headed by an old man sitting behind a desk. I’d love to champion women architects.’

Omar says architects have got to be adaptable to changing circumstances. She said: ‘I was made redundant in 2008, but while colleagues remained unemployed for more than a year, I was doing graphics and designing flyers.

‘I’m working on a high-end residential scheme and restaurant in Kensington, where I’m also doing the menus and logos. I’m creating the whole package.

Being nice is seen as a weakness. I was an easy target

The former University of Westminster student said ultimate her demise on the show was down to exhaustion, having flagged in the final task of negotiating discounts for a daily deals website.

She said: ‘I just got tired. It was non-stop for two months, some days up at 4am. As an architect I’m used to working all hours, but they were very long days.

On her performance in the boardroom, she said: ‘Being “nice” is seen as a weakness, alongside being “creative”. I was an easy target.’

See Omar with Walters & Cohen at the free AJ Women in Architecture: Taking care of business event at the NLA, 26 Store Street, London, 12 June, 5:30-8pm
For more details and to register click here.
 

Readers' comments (5)

  • Why does architecture have to kowtow to 'sexiness' in order to get a place at the table?? Omar links two separate issues - architecture in society - and women in architecture. Her point about using sex to sell the profession completes contradicts her point about the inequality of the sexes WITHIN the profession. Is sex important or isn't it??

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  • These are dangerous times for all architects, male or female. There is a real risk that the roles we meld to create our profession will be swept up by other, more hungry and cost effective, professions. We have arguably lost the Project Management role, the Contract Administration role and seem to be allowing Mechanical and Electrical Engineers to take the lead on sustainable design without even as much as a whimper. Small residential schemes are being 'designed' by contractors, often as permitted development and large residential master plans for speculative developers are being planned by chartered surveyors to gain outline planning. We know what we as architects can bring to the table, but in such economically challenging times as these, there is an increasing likelihood that others will forget. After the RIBA and ARB have finished their squabbling will there be much of a profession left? Personally, for the sake of my 10 week old daughter's future, I hope so.

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  • ‘But there are so many people who don’t realise what we, as architects, do. ‘I once told somebody I was an architect and they said ‘What, you clean bones?'
    I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me.

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  • Although Gabrielle's actions were well intended, surely it falls within the remit of the RIBA to promote both what architects can do and how architecture as a profession contributes to wider society. Perhaps the RIBA is too glitzy? Too standoffish, a tad aloof, perhaps, as a profession, dare I say it, we have become arrogant- or are at least perceived to be? Perhaps we are all guilty of pandering to the tastes and fashions of the prosperous - representing architecture as an exclusive highbrow luxury commodity rather than as the development of practical, economic, considered solutions for the many.

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  • I agree wholeheartedly with her assessment of the industry. I'm pretty sure she's not using sex to sell (@Alice Fawke), but rather her comment about making the industry sexy is about making it attractive to the public.

    It's tragic that such an integral, valuable and essential profession is in such a sad state.

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