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Farah's design of the Petronas Leadership Centre.

Farah's design of the Petronas Leadership Centre.

Spotlighting women's experiences in architecture and design

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, we celebrate the experiences of female architects with a spotlight on leaders who have crafted a bold career pathway for themselves. Similar to many industries in Malaysia, architecture was a previously male-dominated occupation that has seen a major increase in female professionals.

Bringing attention to the human behind architecture creates a connection between the build and the builder. Here are their stories:

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Veritas Design Group vice-president Lillian Tay

“Architecture is a creative pursuit that produces a lasting outcome. Building and architecture serves and facilitates people’s lives and can inspire and give joy. There may be clients and corporations who may be profit-driven but one has to focus on how the building will serve the end-user. I had a choice to study medicine or architecture and decided I didn’t have the temperament needed for a doctor. 

“While the design concept may be immediate, long hours including some late nights are often needed to develop and detail good design for buildings, whether large or small. One must have commitment and aspiration for quality to produce a good building. The frequent long hours may be a challenge for many women in the industry who are entrusted with the bulk of family responsibilities from children to elderly parents.  

“I believe being a woman in any male-dominated industry is a good thing as one is probably better remembered.I see that in the building industry or probably any industry, people tend to think that guys’ networking is important to help secure projects. Unfortunately, it may often still be the case here though less than before. As for women with families, I have personally seen women architects and engineers in advanced pregnancy on construction sites, showing the tenacity of women in general.”

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Memorable design

“In the early days of building Putrajaya in 2000, we were invited to a competition to design one in a group of four buildings. We did a design for all four buildings in the belief that the vast scale of the new capital city demanded that the buildings work together as a family of buildings to form a visible gateway along the grand boulevard. The client agreed unhesitantly and we collaborated with three other architects to create a set of buildings that forms a strong landmark with networks of atrium gardens in each building, making a more friendly and walkable neighbourhood with greater interaction among the four Ministries.”

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ZKI Architects director Rushdina Ismail

“As a woman navigating the architecture industry, I've encountered firsthand the unique challenges and limitations that we face. Historically, our presence in this field has been limited, and breaking through the barriers to achieve equal footing with our male counterparts remains an ongoing struggle. However, I firmly believe that the key to standing shoulder to shoulder with men in architecture lies in our ability to continually sharpen our skills, deepen our knowledge base, and actively engage in collaborative dialogue with our male counterparts.

“In an industry where expertise and innovation reign supreme, it is essential for women architects to not only match but exceed the skill levels of their male counterparts. This means continuously honing our craft, staying abreast of the latest advancements in technology and design methodologies, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible in our field. By demonstrating our expertise and proficiency, we can dispel any doubts or misconceptions about our capabilities and assert our rightful place as leaders in the architectural community.

“This year, my goal is to delve deeper into the architectural profession, recognizing that it involves more than just creating visually appealing end products with design. Behind the scenes, architecture encompasses a multitude of regulations, litigation, supervision, and rigorous certification and verification processes that demand comprehensive knowledge spanning from design principles to legal intricacies in order to safeguard public interest. 

“It's imperative to educate the public not only on how to select an architect but also on how to identify the right designer to protect them from potential misconduct by unregistered or unqualified individuals. As part of my efforts, I am actively engaged in public education initiatives, particularly targeting business owners, to broaden their understanding beyond aesthetics.”

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Memorable design

“The container project in Pulau Pangkor holds a special place in my heart. The challenge here was to design simple yet beautiful accommodations that would allow guests to fully appreciate the beachside location, 360-degree views and stunning sunsets.

“Embracing the concept of sustainability and minimalism, we repurposed shipping containers to create unique living spaces that harmonise with the natural surroundings. With strategically placed decking areas for guests to relax and soak in the atmosphere, the project not only won people's hearts but also became an Instagram sensation. It was a testament to the idea that simplicity and thoughtful design can create profound connections with both the environment and the people who inhabit it.

“These experiences have further solidified my belief in the power of architecture to shape experiences and foster connections, whether in bustling urban landscapes or serene beachside retreats. This project has truly taught me about sustainability, basic living, and the importance of engaging with nature and local communities.

“Consequently, tourism architecture has become my forte and a potential new business model to be proposed to bolster development in Malaysia. Additionally, I am deeply committed to designing with empathy. Beyond practicality in design, catering to diverse abilities is a priority for me in most of my projects.”

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Veritas Design Group associate Farah Yusof

“My interest in various arts and crafts, coupled with the opportunity to enhance people's living and working spaces, drove me to choose a career in architecture. As architects, we are able to shape the world around us, which inevitably shapes us as individuals living in these cities.

“Even though the construction industry is male-dominated, I don't identify myself as a woman in construction. I'm fortunate to work in an environment where I don't experience significant gender bias. My success is determined by the effectiveness and quality of my work. I focus on my professional responsibilities, allowing my character, work ethic, and professionalism guide my interactions with colleagues, which are the traits that earn their respect.”

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Memorable design

“In the early hours of a morning that happened to be my birthday, I observed the final section of a bridge I designed was installed. This wasn't just any bridge — it connected two districts separated by Sungai Klang and the AKLEH highway, acting as a bridge between communities and a symbol of unity and progress. It marked the culmination of years of hard work and collaboration. This impactful event, coinciding with my birthday, will always remind me of the transformative power of architecture and the importance of creating spaces that bring people together.”


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