To celebrate International Women’s Day, three Architects across our UK and Asia Pacific studios discuss their journey into architecture and time at Purcell; Architect Zhor Boukerrou from our Manchester Studio, Architect Carla Lung from our Hong Kong studio, and Senior Architect Nicola Smith from our London studio.

Zhor Boukerrou

My environment, interests and morals paved the way to deciding architecture was the right career for me, and something I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. My parents are originally from Algeria, and whilst growing up, I was able to frequently visit their hometown and country’s capital, Algiers. I compared the East and West and began to appreciate that cities have their own distinctive features and unique sense of space.

In particular, I observed how certain places triggered my parent’s memories of the vibrant spaces they grew up in. They were disappointed in the everchanging built environment, whereby the buildings they had loved and respected were not well maintained and conserved. When looking at the inclined city of Algiers, accessibility was also a key issue for people like my grandmother, from its lack of ramps to the ‘squat’ style toilets.

My observations made me aware of the profound impact the built environment has on people’s everyday life and wellbeing. To me, being an Architect means not only having pride in my designs, but the huge sense of responsibility attached to it, and the importance of conserving spaces that people hold dear.

When I joined Purcell in 2014, I was greeted with a room full of vibrant young and diverse Architects, who were willing to take junior members under their wings. I have remained here since, due to the constant support of peers, who challenge and push you to reach your goals regardless of gender, which has only continually increased my confidence. Working at Purcell has pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and in 2019, I was delighted to present my work on the Mount, Fleetwood, to 200 fellow colleagues from across the practice at the yearly Purcell day out.

Carla Lung

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be an Architect. Since primary school, I was drawn to buildings: reading about them, and visiting them. After gaining a Masters Degree in Architecture from the University of Hong Kong, in 2014, I worked at a large scale local firm which I loved, and I qualified as an Architect in 2017. After my registration, I wanted to try something different and dived into the heritage conservation industry, which eventually led me to Purcell.

It is exciting to be part of the Purcell team as I’m able to work across a range of projects, including heritage conservation which is my passion. It’s a fantastic experience as very few firms in Hong Kong offer such a diverse work profile, and the exchange of ideas is encouraged across the practice so I always feel that my opinion and views are respected.

At the moment, I’m currently enjoying working on feasibility studies and renovation projects of premises in the hospitality sector, in addition to smaller scale maintenance projects working on conserving and safeguarding the historic buildings in Hong Kong. Despite the challenges of 2020, the numerous webinars and zoom calls across the practice have made it feel as though we’re fighting the pandemic together, and everyone has grown closer as a team.

Nicola Smith

It was perhaps my love of travel, and exposure to a wide variety of history and cultures that spurred my initial curiosity with architecture. These opportunities, along with my enthusiasm for art and design fueled my interest in architecture and the relationship between buildings, the environment and society. Growing up in London has undeniably played a major part in my early and lasting perception and attitudes to the built environment. Its organic growth enhances its vibrancy and character, with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the future. It ultimately shaped part of my architectural attitude, with an inspiration to adopt a sensitive approach to our most historic places with a desire to keep up with the vibrant, dynamic pace of the 21st Century.

The nature of Purcell’s projects is fantastic; involving sensitive sites, listed buildings and admired places. Each project is wholly unique with its own set of complexities and challenges, and it is the sheer variety that I love about working at Purcell.

As leaders in heritage and conservation, it is inspirational to be surrounded by colleagues who are specialists in their own fields, transforming historic buildings through thoughtful and bespoke design. I have been grateful for the trust and confidence in running my own projects, as well as the tremendous support from colleagues that I can gladly call friends for life.

I have been fortunate to work on several large, complex projects which have given me extremely broad experience across different sectors, based both in the UK and internationally. My most recent work on Camden Town Hall involves its full refurbishment, improving its sustainability and environmental performance, and repurposing the 1930s public building to promote the long-term future of the historic asset. Currently in construction, the project has been extremely challenging but very rewarding and I am excited to see its development on site and completion in 2022.