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Interview with the AJ's Emerging Woman Architect runner-up - Maria Smith

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The AJ caught up with Maria Smith, founding director at Studio Weave, after she picked up a commendation in the Emerging Woman Architect of the Year Award category

The judges described your work as filled with a sense of ‘fun, personality and individuality’. How do you ensure that this is maintained in your projects?
Through a very open-minded approach. We do what we call in the office ‘design vomit’. We all get around a table, get out our design ideas and talk about the project – anything goes. We are inspired by anything. We are keen to keep things playful. We don’t want to develop a house style. We have a mantra – ‘make something the best version of itself’. So rather than, for example, taking Romford and saying it should be more like Copenhagen, we explore what makes Romford. This in itself can often lead to something which is quite niche.

Your work is not necessarily what is seen as conventional architecture. Do you think this approach has helped you?
Yes, a project where you have a very open brief combined with incredible restrictions, like in many of our public realm projects, forces you to be open minded, but also to hone your technical skills. This has helped to form the work of our practice. It results in a fun but technical outcome. Going forward I hope that we will do more building work.

Do you think the quality of the built environment suffers from a lack of women architects?
Yes, but I don’t really know to what extent. Women bring different qualities to design. Women have certain strengths.

What role models are there for young women architects?
All the people here at the awards, but for me, Jane Wernick. It’s really inspiring to see a woman with an engineering background.

As a woman in practice have you experienced discrimination?
No, I can’t think of any time when I have.

What are the main problems facing the profession?
The economy of the architectural profession and architectural education.

What needs to change in the architectural education system?
Architectural education needs refocusing. There are a lot of very important aspects of practice that you don’t even touch on at school. There needs to be more emphasis on technical history, rather than just focusing on theory. Practice management needs to be more integrated and not just something you learn about at part three.

For our generation it is easier

What would bring about a 50:50 representation in the profession?
It is getting better now. Women have the same chances as men. For our generation it is easier. There are now other barriers to overcome, for example socio-economic barriers.

What does the next few years hold for you?
Our practice is still quite young, and we are growing. We started as just two in 2006, and now there are six. Four of us are women. We all play to our strengths. Every single project that comes through the office will have been worked on by each one of us. It is a very collaborative approach. We’d like to work on more larger projects. It’s about trying to grasp any opportunities you are given. But we’re very open minded about what we might do in the future.

Smith studied Architecture at the University of Bath, TU Delft and London Metropolitan University. Before setting up Studio Weave, she worked with Carmody Groarke Architects, David Morley Architects, and Aaron Evans Architects. She has also taught at London Metropolitan University and has been a member of the Southwark Design Review Panel. 



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