Saira Hussain: A Woman in a Man’s World

Saira Hussain started Hussain Architectural Design (HAD) in 2011 at the age of 23 in the midst of the recession when construction had been hit the hardest. She had worked several years in practice and completed her studies at the University of Huddersfield. Working through recommendations, on small residential extensions for family and friends for the first 6-12 months, her business started growing until she was able to rent a small office not far from home. Five years on she has over twenty award nominations and a number of wins, buildings featured on TV shows and an interview for the apprentice. She has five practices and a very strong design team working alongside her. Saira is currently studying for a PhD and looking to expand further into London.

When did you know that you wanted to be an architect?

The deputy head at my high school, Mrs Altham was my peer mentor and I mentioned my interest in Architecture to her. She went on to research the subject in her free time and once turned up after school at my house to drop off information regarding university courses for Architecture. I have always wanted to study Architecture; however, I think she really pushed me.

Why do you think most architects are men?

The hours a very anti-social, it’s a macho work culture and you have to combine work and family life. You’re working on building sites with 100% male construction workers, the building officers and the majority of clients are male, I can see why women drop out or never go on to professional practice.

What pressures do you face being a woman in this environment?

I’ve had clients (in the early stages of my career) who are more than happy for me to take on interior work because that is ‘women’s work’; however, they are reluctant to have you involved in working on structure and exteriors.

What is the best lesson you have learned from being a woman in a man’s world?

I am not part of the golf club scene and have found it’s sometimes hard to get on with men in the same industry because I was never moving in with their business circles. I found that the building industry does not accept the authority of a female in construction, you can either accept that and quit or you can keep working until you prove them wrong.

It’s actually an advantage being a woman when working with homeowners during construction. You can show compassion and understanding when they are going through the upheavals inherent to construction. You find they’re more comfortable confiding in a woman when it comes to these things.

What is the biggest mistake that you have made in being a woman in a man’s world?

The biggest mistake I made was in the early stages of my career, rather than standing up to clients and building contractors when it came to things like ‘interior work is a woman’s job’ I took on the work and in some ways accepted this was the case. However things have changed since then.

Give us your top tips for women who are in the same situation as you.

We need to know our worth and build up confidence in the construction industry, working in the office we do the same amount of work if not more than our male colleagues. You’ll always get funny looks from male colleagues/construction workers when they first see you on site however they will adjust.

What dreams do you have for the future?

I have started working on community projects, giving back what I’ve learnt, currently I am working with an aid worker from Halifax on one of his projects. This is something I’d like to continue on a larger scale. I would also like to expand to all major areas of the UK and become a well recognised Architectural Practice.

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By Angela De Souza

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