‘There are huge opportunities for women to make a mark in architecture’

Ely Court, South Kilburn Estate

Ely Court, South Kilburn Estate - Credit: Archant

Alison Brooks is the founding director of Kentish Town architects practice Alison Brooks Architects. She has worked on several homes across north London including news projects in South Kilburn

Alison Brooks

Alison Brooks - Credit: Archant

I think I was always very aware of buildings when I was growing up in Welland in Ontario, Canada, because my mother really appreciated all the arts and she was always making an effort to open my eyes to how great architecture could be. In particular she liked early vernacular farmhouses and barns and she used to drive me around to see them as well as urban examples of civic buildings, like the University of Toronto. I was given an awareness of buildings that most young children don’t have.

When I was little we lived in a fantastic big old house with lots of built in furniture and interesting facets. It had been in my father’s family for many years and when we moved out it was a bit of a shock as it was such an important place in forming my world view. So I didn’t forget the house: I drew out all of the floor plans on sheets of paper with a ruler and that was my first piece of architectural drawing. After that I took a course in high-school aged 16, and from the moment I sat down at the old fashioned drafting table and started drawing, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

I studied architecture at university, and I set up my practice, Alison Brooks Architects, in 1996. Two years later I moved to London to broaden my experience, spread my wings and really find my own way in a great metropolitan city.

London offers infinite architectural inspiration. I don’t think it’s possible to be anywhere uninteresting. Layers of history and urban history are much more valued here than they are in north America, as there’s less precedent for it there.

There is a growing awareness that we should be building heritage buildings of the future and that it’s our responsibility to design them now, but it’s not yet being achieved. We want to build stuff that tourists will come to see in 300 years. There are fantastic clients and patrons and institutions that are conscious of that kind of duty, but a combined understanding that the architecture and urban design go hand in hand is still being developed.

In north London I’ve had a few amazing projects. At the moment we’re doing quite a few buildings on the South Kilburn Estate on Chichester Road as part of the regeneration. They are part of new urban master plan strategies that aim to re-integrate the estate into the fabric of Maida Vale and Queen’s Park. I also designed a house in Spaniards End in Hampstead, VXO house. It really served as a springboard for other houses in the area and it won awards and was published all over the world.

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Rather than considering myself a “female architect” I just consider myself as an architect, and I haven’t found entering the industry to be a struggle. It’s quite a welcoming environment for women and I’ve never encountered overt sexism – even when I’m the only women in a room of 300 men. The construction industry is particularly dominated by men, but it is gradually changing. More and more women are becoming part of the design process and the development of the industry.

I do think the cities we live in and places that we live and work would benefit greatly from having more women in the profession. There are huge opportunities for women to make a mark in architecture and apply their creative imagination to the build environment.