What a difference a year makes

Women in Property News

Monday April 8, 2024

Chithra Marsh is immediate past National Chair of Women in Property and director of Buttress Architects.  Here she looks back on the past 12 months to see how both roles developed and her learnings from them. 

“As a director of a busy architecture practice, based in Manchester and Leeds, with projects spanning the UK, I am very accustomed to… excuse the cliché, living out of a suitcase and meeting many people. But my year as National Chair of WiP really ramped this up and enabled me to travel and talk with people, beyond the ‘standard’ architecture and property topics. My passion is, and always has been, social value and equity, diversity and inclusion and so it was during my tenure that I was able to bring these subjects to the fore, opening dialogues with people who care and were listening. The platform WiP gave me, meant my message was received far and wide, including audiences at our own events, UK Government officials and politicians, broadcasters and the many people who attended the conferences and panels where I was lucky enough to speak.

 “My role at Buttress is centred around community, social value and creating places that work for communities and I’m currently working with the team on several projects, particularly in Cumbria. People are very much at the heart of everything, we go beyond the classically taught mechanics and rudiments of design and architecture – people, their culture and how they sit in their community was very much my theme in my role as National Chair for WiP. I’ve been able to take this ‘people’ message out to events, wider audiences and media interviews – and I do feel that I’ve set the people wheels in motion.

“But the past year hasn’t all been about broadcasting my EDI and social value passions.  I’ve also been learning and embracing other cultures and going deeper to draw from my own cultural heritage. A lightbulb moment happened in Venice, during my time at the opening of the British Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia 2023.  I had participated as part of the Selection Committee for the British Council, and collaborated in the selection of the winning curatorial team that went on to be exhibited at the British Pavilion.  This allowed me to experience the exhibition which harnessed a deep awareness, an opportunity to refocus the lens and open the door not only much wider to other cultures – but ensure that there isn’t a door in the first place. It certainly influenced how I think about architecture and the influence of culture and community. It proves that there is great innovation embedded in all cultures and we should broaden our perspectives.  This was a crucial moment for me because more than ever I realised I had to dig further into other cultures and that there should never be a ‘one size fits’ all, when we explore communities. 

“I also spent the year aiming my voice at the education sector.  I was very lucky, my father was an engineer, and I could see myself in the industry – but as always, we need to consider and get behind people who have backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in the industry.  They need to see architects from all backgrounds for them to feel included.  My father encouraged me to sit with the architects in the practice he worked at, and I fell in love with the whole creative environment, it was an instant connection to this industry.  We need to question whether university curriculums strip people of their passions, their backgrounds, and do all they can to encourage them to bring their heritage into the industry – otherwise we will create an industry with a very repetitive culture – and this isn’t an inspiration bed for architecture.

 “Over the last pivotal year as National Chair, I was also promoted to director at Buttress and understand that, now more than ever, I have the opportunity to encourage women into the industry. We all know we shouldn’t need to have these conversations in the 21st Century – but until we have positive representative, gender pay equality, and flexible work - there is still work to be done.  I feel that as I approach the later stage of my career, this is where I will continue to focus my energies and voice.”

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