As the Cambodian architecture industry becomes more competitive, a new generation of graduates are pushing their way into the industry with the help of relevant tertiary education, creativity and innovation. However, within this demographic, women are also proving to be a key human resource of the industry.
Realestate.com.kh caught up with a few women currently active in the Cambodia architecture industry Ms. So Sopha, an ex-student of Royal University of Fine Arts and currently architect at the Archetype Group; Mrs. Tep Sothy, a fifth year student of Architecture and Urban Planning at the Royal University of Fine Arts; and Ms. Tri Lida, 2D architect in technical team at Re-Edge Architecture & Design weigh in on what it’s like to work in the field.
What’s your background and why did you decided to enter the architectural industry?
Sopha: When I was in school, I spent a significant amount of time finishing projects from all my classes. Sometimes even a whole night. To be an architect means to sacrifice a lot of your spare time. I didn’t hesitate to push myself in this career though because I love being creative and innovative.
Sothy: In 2012, I just got a bachelor’s degree. Most of my friends chose university subjects like accounting, finance and banking, pharmacy. I eventually decided to study architecture, a subject which everyone thought had no job market and is only for men. But it’s a job of innovation I like. So, it’s really best-suited for me.
Lida: I chose this major because I like painting a picture and applying my imagination. I like working as an artistic designer doing creative work. It’s possible to say that I want my dreams to come to life. I’m fond of creating new things.
Which architect and what type of architecture do you like?
Sopha: I like Zaha Hadid. She’s an international and renowned architect. She did the Galaxy Soho, Beijing (2012) and Sleuk Rith Institute, Cambodia. And if we’re talking about architectural work, I mostly like natural and green architecture because it’s eco-friendly and looks fresh.
Sothy: Mr. Tadao Ando is a Japanese architect whose work is reflective of sunshine that is believed to be connected to a lovely mindset. Some of his achievements are The Church of the Light in Ibaraki and The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. Moreover, there are other architectural works in Cambodia such as the Ta Prohm temple, some French colonial construction, National Olympic Stadium, and some bamboo houses in Takhmao which was built in 2015.
Lida: The architect I like are Vann Molyvann — the father of Cambodian architecture and the founder of the New Khmer Architecture — and Jean Nouvel, a French architect. I like the Olympic Stadium. And every achievement of Molyvann that’s well-designed and good-looking. He incorporates the Khmer style by converting nature into sustainable buildings where the air and sunshine go from the inside out. We feel better and comfortable about this.
What are the challenges and benefits of working in the Cambodia Architecture Sector?
Sopha: This kind of work is really hard and requires a lot of time to complete. But I’m excited when I’m able to innovate, especially when customers are satisfied with my work. This is proof that I was able to present a high standard of living context.
Being an architect is mostly considered to be a man’s job and very few women in the past have worked in the sector. But today, it’s common for women to step into an architectural career. For instance, I am working as an architect and I experience no occupational discrimination.
Sothy: When I was still on my first year, I thought this major was related to everyday living. But this major requires long years of keeping busy with school projects and coming up with new creative ideas. We also need to spend a lot of time in construction sites. So, this is why people say architecture is a man’s job.
I’m happy with my class and with my works as an architect. It really provided me more creative ideas. On the other hand, this kind of job is a collective of art design, taste of life, modern techniques, and especially the combination of mixed-culture. I’m now at my fifth year. I have studied a lot about urban planning, and I think I understood more about it.
Lida: When we say “architecture industry”, the initial thought for me is it’s really difficult. But on behalf of women studying in the sector, I can say both challenge and pleasure work together. Time is valuable for this job. I don’t have enough time with my family and even to sleep. A professional and skillful architect needs to be highly responsible and committed, as well as self confident on what they are doing. Actually, if we have no love and commitment with the job, I believe that we can’t do it well.
In terms of what makes me happy, I get the chance to express my ideas as to what kind of buildings I like to design. And those may also become my achievements, especially if my clients are happy. This job makes me smile, whenever I look back and recall memories. I also learned to value friendship and communication with many different people in society.
Have you ever experienced employment discrimination in the Cambodia Architecture Sector? If that happens, what is the solution?
Sopha: I’ve never had experience with employment discrimination as an architect, even in the workplace.
Sothy: While there is gender discrimination in this industry, most of them are on the outside. They’re not in the aspect of this job environment. There’s still a notion that this is still a man’s job. But inside the job environment, there are very few people who think that it’s impossible for women to do this work even if they are required to work on site day and night. However, this job requires using the heart. You have to be thoughtful and creative. So, there’s no reason to think that it’s impossible for a woman to do it.
Lida: For instance, nowadays, I work in Re-Edge Architecture & Design. There are both men and women working there. They don’t discriminate. We, as women, are not discriminated against by men. Instead, we have even been offered more opportunities to express ideas to make the design better. And we are free to share good experiences with each other. I like it. However, in case of discrimination from a coworker at the workplace, it seems to me that the best solution is to first show our abilities. Let them see that what a man can do, a woman can do better.
If you were married and you’re an architect, what are the challenges as a couple? What are the suitable solutions?
Sopha: I already know this job demands a lot of time. So, you get to spend less time with the family. I just need to lead a happy life and find a good time to spend with my family. I can’t deny that this is really hard to manage.
Sothy: Although I have yet to marry, as far as I’m concerned, it would be trying to understand each other. It needs time and preparation between your job and the family. We need to spend time for family and ourselves as well.
Lida: For now, I am single. But I believe problems will happen. The most important thing is time and preparation.