Taking the lead: The architect

Meet Nina Ndichu, the principal architect at Mimari Ltd in Kenya. With 11 years of experience in architecture, she tells us of how she came into her role and her take of the architectural landscape for women in the construction industry.

Question: What motivated you to choose architecture? When I was young, my dad showed us this blueprints for our house we were going to build. I knew then I was going to be an architect.

Question: Tell me about your career progression. How did every step of your career lead you to the Principal Architect position? There comes a time in your life that when you can no longer learn from anyone and, therefore, you must take that stepping stone, that leap, that risk and believe in yourself and take on the position as ‘boss’. Truth be told, it was not really my intention to go solo! Circumstances just led me to this opportunity and it has been quiet a learning curve. I would still work under someone but now I would be looking for an opportunity in a different location, different climate to design for, different culture to integrate my designs.

Question: As the Principal architect at Mimari Ltd, what has your experience been as a woman taking the lead? I have to answer this as a woman in construction. Being a woman in construction is a challenge, altogether, as this is a field dominated by men. Several times I have gone to site as the lead/ project architect and the men on site have seen me as the intern following around my colleague or the interior designer or any other occupation rather than architect. Most of the time women are invisible in such fields but I have made it my life’s mission to always stand out on a site. When they hear me speak, they actually end up shocked to learn that a woman actually ‘knows her stuff’ but in the end, all members of my team respect me for I am knowledgeable in the field of architecture and I have taught my colleagues a thing or two in my field. This goes to show my leadership skills.

Source: Arup

Question: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were just out of campus? Ha-ha! Number one lesson, what you learnt in school is very different from the real world. The timelines we had to design a project is very different from the timelines in the real world. Also, I used to love designing curvilinear buildings and let me say in the real world, these designs are expensive and a lot of developers and clients shy away from them. Climate change and global warming are real and my colleagues in the real world have shut their eyes thinking that is a dream world phenomenon.

Question: What advice would you give to young ladies who are intimidated by science because of what they have heard and the notions it has created? I speak at several career days and I always encourage my fellow ladies that Architecture is a field that can be done by both sexes. Also, Architecture is not just a science but it is an Art too. So, if you are creative, by all means, chose Architecture. In any case, there are those who know nothing of art and they are taught everything from scratch in the first year in the university. Architecture is nothing to be intimidated about.

Question: Do you have any role models or mentors that have/keep pushing you ahead? Yes, obviously. You cannot practice Architecture or even learn Architecture without having a few people that you admire. First and foremost, the chairman of the department, Musau Kimeu. He has been my mentor ever since undergraduate. He also piqued my interest in environmental building science which influenced my master’s thesis topic, which was retrofitting for environmental suitability. Another person who I have always admired, is Frank Lloyd Wright who is a great and renowned architect who motivates me to be best and to work towards being a world class renowned architect.

Question: What is your personal vision for the future? I would want to relocate and work in a country that exposes me to more of environmental building science and to thrive in that area as this is truly my passion and to be great like Ken Yeang, Mike Pearce and the likes.

Question: Any inspirational word for women in the tech field in Africa? Women in construction, like I mentioned earlier are a special breed. We work harder than most and we are self-driven, hard workers and successful. My former classmate who is now studying for her PhD in Cambridge University, is someone especially I look up to and I always ask her for advice in the field of Architecture. I also look up to any woman who takes on site positions and are in close working proximity to the male counterparts of our field!

Question: Favorite quote? Yes. I used this in my undergraduate thesis.

“A great architect is not made by way of a brain nearly so much as he is made by way of a cultivated, enriched heart.”
Frank Lloyd Wright.  

Question: Any hobbies? Fitness is my number one hobby from there manifests the rest, insanity workout by Shaun T, swimming (I love the water!!) running, cycling, running marathons, participating in triathlons. To me physical fitness is a general state of health and well-being and from there I get inner peace and I am motivated to work harder in my other life activities.

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