web analytics

All Projects

ARCHITECTS • LFA DIGITAL 2020  

MARIA SMITH
BURO HAPPOLD • LONDON

This portrait was taken in 2014 at "Smith" a pavilion not named after me, but in honour of all the makers that once worked in Clerkenwell. I was 32 years old and had been co-Directing Studio Weave with my then partner Je Ahn for 6 years. Smith was one of several pavilions and public art projects we'd built over those years. Others included The Longest Bench that wound its way down the promenade at Littlehampton, The Lullaby Factory that inhabited an overlooked (in both senses) leftover space at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and The Ecology of Colour, a hand-painted timber classroom shared by several schools in Dartford. 

Studio Weave's early work was in many ways a reaction to architecture practice at the time that felt to me to be largely over-serious and under-human. What we made was cute and as Rowan Moore once put it "a teensy-weensy bit too icky-wicky"! I liked that, if in a slightly contrary way!

But that was two lifetimes ago. Since then I’ve left Studio Weave, joined Webb Yates Engineers, founded Interrobang, closed Interrobang, left Webb Yates, and joined Buro Happold! 

Interrobang was a transdisciplinary architecture and engineering practice intent on wilfully disregarding the red lined remits of architects and engineers. I spent three years of weekends getting an engineering degree at the Open University. The Interrobang project lasted just over four years, during which we refurbished the grade II* listed Hoover Building, designed a circular economy exemplar in the form of a demountable timber frame with no below ground foundations, and curated the Oslo Architecture Triennale exploring the architecture of post capitalist, post growth, degrowth economies. I collected a lot more hats during this time too: co-founder of Turncoats, RIBA National Awards Panel, GLA Mayor’s Design Advocate, RIBA Councillor, Architects Declare steering group. My Linkedin profile was getting pleasingly hench. I was spreading my wings.

Looking back at this photo now is hard and I’ve been putting off writing this because I’m not sure why. Who is she? My friends tell me I should be compassionate towards her: to that me of two lifetimes ago. She doesn’t know the things I know now, about the world or about herself. Her understanding of maths is still A-Level. She still abhors concrete for its airs of aesthetic superiority rather than its embodied carbon. Her queerness is still hidden, mostly. But she’s plucky, smart, she has an unusual way of looking at the world and is figuring out how to begin to articulate that – as I still am and will always be. 

I’ve just embarked on a new chapter. I’m now Director of Sustainability and Physics at Buro Happold. I write this from my third week in post and from where I sit it’s so, so exciting – if also a bit daunting! My 32 year old self wouldn’t believe it if I’d told her, or maybe she would, maybe I don’t give her enough credit.

https://www.burohappold.com