In the latest in our partnership with WOD – Women in Office Design, we spoke to architect Valeria Segovia, a principal at Gensler and nominee for BD’s female architectural leader of the year award, about the future of the city, women’s role in building it and why she loves her job.
How did you come to be an architect?
I was born in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world. I have always been fascinated by the complexity of urbanism, the layers and networks that weave people and objects together.
Design is everywhere around us and I have always seen the impact that I can have on other people as a designer and as an architect. My profession has become a platform to reach people.
I also enjoy the honesty of raw materials and the potential connections that can be created between parts. I think life is made of materials not colours. I actually have a lot of fun getting deep into this topic in conversations! But what I enjoy the most is the complexity of the simple, often related to nature – the way light hits water, shadows casted on rocks, a leaf falling off a tree. Nature is a real source of inspiration and I have the utmost respect for it.
It’s well known that many women begin architecture degrees but don’t go on to become architects – do you have any thoughts on why this is?
There isn’t a single answer. Architecture is one of the longest degrees in the UK and getting qualified requires a lot of dedication and hard work. I often compare this to running a marathon, unlike a sprint where you need stamina, you’ll need endurance to reach the finishing line.
I think that architecture training is robust enough to enable students to explore paths other than architecture; so for some it might be a better option to branch out when faced with the last hurdle of the final exams.
Are there any ways you feel the industry can make it more likely that women will enter the profession?
It is not just about time and priorities, it is also the way that the whole construction industry has been shaped by society over many years with stereotypes and rigid views about gender. Realising as a society that when things don’t fit in a mould, it’s often a good thing is taking us so long. That is where the individual has so much potential to influence the collective. There is always a powerful fire that people need to find in their hearts to make sure they stay true to themselves. It is all the individual stories that will keep shaping (hopefully for the better) the views of the collective.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy creating purposeful spaces that inspire people, space to enable human connection and allow magic to happen. I enjoy how a day in an architects’ life can be so varied – it can be about abstraction, discovery and imagination, it can also be about research and history, or about socialising, storytelling. A day in architecture can also be numerical and scientific or tangible and practical on site. It can get messy with physical models, ordered with photography, but never boring. Architecture is never just about the final piece, it’s about the journey, the process to create, build, repurpose, reinvent, readapt.
Read more: Why networking is vital for women in design
What do you think the biggest change to workplace culture and design will be in the next few years?
We constantly look for the right balance of many ingredients such as collaboration vs. focus space, energetic vs. quiet, public vs. private, etc. For me, key words to keep in mind for the future of workplace are flexibility and adaptability. People constantly change and environments need to adapt too. Work in all industries evolves rapidly (now more than ever due to technology), so our behaviours, the way we interact and our needs change too.
Our cities sometimes lag behind. The built environment is slow to adapt, but that is the area of opportunity. We need to be more conscious when we build and consider the importance of a sustainable approach that is not only about the present but about the future. As an industry we need to change our mindset to one that incorporates circular economy as a priority. A good place to start is understanding the impact that our decisions as designers have – we must understand where things come from and where things go, and make these a priority for decision making.
See more from our collaboration with WOD here
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Valeria Segovia, principal at Gensler and member of WOD, tells us about her work, the future of the office and women in architecture