“When it comes to architecture,” Tina the co-founder of emerging architects and designers ‘Formed Architects’ told us, “the conceptualisation process - asking how can I accomplish this? – can be as fascinating as standing in front of the end-product itself.” We were discussing Tina’s childhood inspirations – the Taj Mahal and the pyramids of Egypt – but focussing on the intellectualising aspect of the trade seems to be what gives ‘Formed Architects’, a residential development practice, its USP: “aesthetics meet pragmatism when we’re working with the customer to create their dream home,” Tina elaborated. “The design aspect is important, but there must be functionality; attention to concrete details always comes first. There is no point having a beautiful exterior, for example, when the inside is going to turn out pokey. Visualisation is ongoing and interlocked with the mathematics and nitty gritty challenges of the whole project.” This drive for design and her worldly curiosity has been underlying throughout Tina's life. Her resolve to become an architect since she was a small girl has materialised in adult years through such accomplishments as the Shepard Robson Design Award, given to her at graduate level, and more recently as design winner of the ‘Flitched Yard’ social community project, which required candidates to use recycled materials to create an inspiring and individualistic space. This has, to date, included pop up cinemas, manual workshops and cosy gatherings for local talks. As free-spirited as she is a problem solver then, Tina’s integrated approach is the corner stone of her company’s success. Suddenly the name ‘Formed Architects’ takes on a humanistic meaning. As we rounded up our conversation, the experienced designer added: “it is important to be ready for patience in this business. ‘Formed Architects’ has been running for about 5 years, and it is only now we’re at a point where we can put forward potential projects to the national architectural press. Treat your business as if it’s your baby. Take care of it, and keep feeding it industry knowledge; give it the time that it deserves.”
Tell us more about your company’s journey?
I started it with a friend, Michael, from university. Architecture is typically a long process: it can take between 7 to 8 and half years to complete your degree. After the first stage of university, Michael and I found work at the same practice in East Finchley to carry on our qualifications, and by 2009 I had completed them. With the recession hitting the construction industry very hard, I travelled out to make the most of an opportunity I received in the Middle East where I was able to work on a city plan for about 100,000 people. Coming back to the UK, I sat down with my business partner and we both decided it was time to get our own enterprise off the ground. It was an organic transition. Though we specialise in homes, I have had experience with retail projects up and down the country, and I’ve worked on new build apartments in Ghana internationally.
When do you feel is the right time to take off as an entrepreneur?
When you have the confidence to be able manage things. For me, the pivotal moment was when I found my bosses were handing me their problem-solving and workload to do, though I was still officially just a designer. I have a huge passion for design, whether it’s small or big scale so I didn’t mind, but it was frustrating in principle. Instead of continuing to let other people benefit from my hard work, I thought it best to create my own work environment. It is risky in that you don’t know when you are going to get paid etc. However if you have a good plan and can accept that financial reserves need to be in place for the first few years, it can work well for you.
So it seems a sound knowledge of business is almost more important than being skilled in your area?
Yes, certainly. And if you are not so good at business it is important to research it and outsource what you know you can’t do. Your time can then be better spent doing what you are trained for.
What grabs you most about architecture and design?
A couple of aspects: it requires different skill sets – contractual and legal knowledge, design elements, and of course theoretical planning – so it’s a jack of all trades sort of career. Every situation is different and then there’s the satisfaction at the end of it. You see that your clients are very happy with their homes, and that is the ultimate goal. In terms of a particular style, I do like the modernist structures, nice, clean lines etc. but I do have a fascination with religious architecture too; for example, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. This is linked to thinking about how such beauty could have been forged with such primitive technology.
Finally, have you ever felt discrimination as a British-Asian woman in your profession?
Yes, but my personality is such that it has just spurred me on. It would often strike me in a meeting that I was the only woman there, and when I’d travel out to construction sites this would be the case too. There is also ageism where you are constantly being scrutinised as a young architect, but you tackle all of this by showing yourself as capable and setting your own example. Ethnic minorities are certainly underrepresented too. You do your own small thing and it makes a big difference. It’s also unhealthy to ruminate on it too much: it can be self-defeating.