Exclusive interview with experienced architect director, Effie Kuan

Effie Kuan is an experienced architect and a director at Chetwoods, an architectural organisation of creative architects that use rigorous thinking and radical creativity to push the possibilities of design for living.


  1. What made you pursue a career in architecture?

My father, before he retired, was a building engineer and a contractor. This probably gave me an early awareness of the building industry and of buildings in general. At university, I became fascinated with the opportunity to express my creativity in a sphere where I can have a tangible positive impact on people’s lives. I really enjoy the fact that in many ways, it’s a career that allows me to explore continuously, satisfy curiosity, and invest in all my work a sense of purpose. I’m convinced that by designing beauty in the built environment we can bring art and joy into people’s everyday lives – a fundamental part of the sustainability and wellness of our cities


  1. What do you love most about your job? 

I love the combination of technical rigour and creativity that is needed in all aspects of the work. There are no two days alike – everything depends on the type of project, where it is, and what stage it’s in. There is enough diversity of work even within a single project to grow and be challenged, but at this stage of my career, I love the impact that our work can have on the built environment at all scales from the smallest shops to the largest complex developments.


  1. What is your greatest achievement to date?

For me, my greatest achievements so far in in see younger staff step up and do well. I truly love the mentoring aspect of my work and it is very satisfying to see the next generation grow confident and more competent. I always see such a lot of passion and talent around me – and we can only do our best work working together; it is critical to keep working every day to improve how we can harness the best of each of us. I’m very fortunate to have colleagues from different practices seeking to join me when/if I start my own practice.

  1. UCAS showed a record number of women applying for architecture-related degrees starting in September 2019. Do you feel enough is being done to encourage women into the industry? 

I think that significant work has been done in the past few years to correct the gender imbalance in the industry. We all know that changes take time but the way that the industry has been more vocal and active in promoting the achievement of women is a very big factor in driving change.

  1. Just three out of the world’s 100 leading architectural firms are headed up by women. What needs to change to alter this statistic?

Recently, there have been Hollywood and high-profile documentary films that have highlighted the role that women have played at the very outset of Space Exploration. I think that there is a need to celebrate and recognise the women who have contributed in architecture and architectural design of our cities, as well as our profession.

As women, we should step up more to speak about our achievements, apologise less and promote more. Times have changed.

  1. What advice would you give to young women looking to pursue a career in architecture?

It is an all-consuming profession with a complexity that is fascinating. Creativity and problem-solving is embedded in every step of work – I find the opportunity to constantly exercise both the left and right hemispheres of our brains at all times to be particularly wonderful. You should be someone who feels a passion for design, and for realising projects from the smallest detail (door handles or the way to achieve the perfect shadow gap), through to buildings, clusters of buildings, placemaking and urban design.

This is a profession where we are constantly learning and exploring. Ideas and solutions come from asking questions – question everything from the very beginning and learn from everyone. Never stop grown, learning, collaborating, challenging – and hopefully, one day, you will find your place. Enjoy the path in the meantime!