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Woman Architect of the Year shortlist: Ellen van Loon

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‘Female architects add softness to the design’ says partner of OMA, Ellen van Loon

International practice OMA has offices in Rotterdam, New York, Beijing and Hong Kong employing more than 300 staff. Van Loon has led several award-winning building projects, including the OMA’s two 2012 Stirling Prize-nominated projects New Court Rothschild Bank HQ in London and the Maggie’s Centre in Glasgow. She is currently working on De Rotterdam, the largest building in the Netherlands, and Bryghusprojektet, a cultural centre in Copenhagen. Van Loon also led the design and construction of the award winning Casa da Musica in Porto, Portugal and the Netherlands Embassy in Berlin.

Why did you become an architect?

As a child I started designing clothes for my dolls. Later on I constantly rearranged interiors. My interest in technical aspects made me decide to start studying architecture without really knowing what this would entail.

What is your design ethos?

I like to create buildings which are on one hand conceptually strong, but detailed in a sensitive way. Each building has many different layers. During the design process I move from one to the next, every time adding a layer, each layer reinforcing and sometimes softening the concept.

Which female architect inspires you and why?

I never made a distinction between male and female architects. Some architects inspire me of which some are female and some male. At OMA, I have to say the buildings I designed with a mixed team seem always to be better. Male architects are very good in the rational while female architects can add softness to the design and dual interpretations; more layers, so to speak, in all scales of architecture.

What is your advice to aspiring female architects?

Follow your interests and don’t concern yourself with other people’s opinions.

Why do women leave the profession?

After having a baby, most couples make a rational decision. The person who earns more continues their career, to safeguard the income. The other person is focused on the family. Men are still better paid than women which explains why women leave the profession.

What is the best defense against sexism?

Ignoring it and getting on with the job.

Maggies Gartnavel by OMA

Maggies Gartnavel by OMA

Place of study Delft University of Technology
Current projects De Rotterdam, Netherlands; Fondazione Prada, Milan; Danish Architecture Centre/Bryghusprojektet, Copenhagen; Qatar Education City; G-Star HQ, Amsterdam; Parc des Expositions, Toulouse; Ecole Centrale, LAB City, SACLAY, France
Clients Rothschild, Shenzen Stock Exchange, China Central Television, Guggenheim Museum, Audi, Maggie’s Centres, Cornell University








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