From Part 1 to Partner

Wan-Sheong Gardner Yau

I have been at DMA since its inception in 1992 when the practice comprised just three people working out of tiny office in Marylebone. We’ve come a long way since then and now as a team of over 70, based in Camden, are widely recognised as one of London’s leading hospitality design studios.

During this time I have been responsible for the delivery of numerous complex hotel developments. It’s been quite a journey but one I’ve loved going on.

I studied architecture at The Bartlett in London. The course was wide ranging and challenging, covering drawing, design, people, politics, philosophy, engineering, light, mapping and even anatomy.

Architecture is such a broad subject you could never learn it all. All architects are generalists by default. Being a generalist is beaten into you, every step of the way. It’s the point of architecture school and the licensing process. We generally know a little bit about many different subjects to be able to direct specialist teams.

Having said this, all architects have a handful of subjects near and dear to their hearts, which they have chosen to become a specialist in. In my case  I am passionate about creating places that are beautiful and functional, and enhance the surrounding environment.  It’s more than just bricks and mortar, it’s about creating and designing memorable experiences. I am also interested in mentoring and supporting diversity in architecture: encouraging not only female architects, but also those from all cultures, colour and socioeconomic groups.

I did my part one at a small, supportive residential practice in North London. Through this I met DMA founder Dexter Moren – the rest is history! Now as a Partner I play an integral role in the management of all aspects of programming, resourcing and contracts, in addition to HR. Unfortunately this does mean that I am practicing less and less architecture, though I am still involved in our larger and more complex projects.

Personally, I’ve never felt being a woman put me at a disadvantage at DMA.   Five out of our 12 strong management team are woman and it is a very supportive and diverse environment where what matters is your ability to do the job, not your gender.  It is true that there are few woman heading up architectural firms, and this is problem for young female architects looking for role models, but this is true for all professions.

I hope that in the future all practices will recognise the skills and talents of their female architects and woman will feel able to make their way up to the very top of the profession. This is will be for the benefit of all.

As Francine Houben,  founder of the Dutch based practice Mecanoo, said:  “Architecture is never a solo act. I like to compare it to directing a symphony orchestra; it’s all about teamwork, about being visionary, sensitive and supportive at the same time. Women are especially good at that.”