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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Improving the quality of people’s lives and making history through architecture – Cristina Segni of Foster + Partners

Foster + Partners

Cristina Segni joined Foster + Partners in 2003 and was made a partner in 2009, making her one of the first female architects to become partners at the firm. She studied at Sapienza Università di Roma in Italy between 1993 and 2000, before going on to join Michael Hopkins Architects as an Architectural Assistant. Her current project at Foster + Partners is working on the design and development of Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Cristina Segni
Cristina Segni

Cristina Segni, partner at Foster + Partners, has been shortlisted for the AJ [Architects Journal] Woman Architect of the Year 2015 Award. The winner will be announced at the annual AJ Women in Architecture Luncheon on 27th February at Claridge’s in London.

What was your reaction when you heard the news?

First of all I was surprised, because I didn’t know that an application had been made on my behalf. Then I was honoured to even be considered for the award – and overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from my friends and colleagues. (And also a little embarrassed by all the attention!)

Please can you talk us through your career to date?

Foster + Partners

I moved to London a few months after finishing university, as at that time I felt that young architects in Italy had limited opportunities. Looking back I think it was the best decision I ever made. In November 2000, I started working at Hopkins Architects, where I stayed for two and a half years – it was a great experience. I learnt what it means to work on a real project, and how architects work at a high level, as well as learning English!

In 2003 I joined Foster + Partners – since then I have worked on a variety of projects at various scales all over the world. I started by working on the competition entry for Milan Fair Masterplan – this was a unique project, as it was a joint venture with some of the best architects in the world.

After this, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work on a project in St Moritz, seeing it through from concept to completion. I was later job captain for a five-star resort in Tenerife, and subsequently for the winning competition entry for a project in Riyadh, as well as two luxury resorts – one in Brazil and another in the Dolomites. I was also very involved in the design of the competition winning entry for the new Centro Civico Parque Patricios in Buenos Aires, which is now close to completion.

All these projects have allowed me to work with amazing people, to travel and to visit some fantastic places. Since 2009 I have been working on the design and development of Apple’s new headquarters campus in California.

What first got you interested in architecture?

Foster + PartnersI chose architecture because it was a challenging combination of scientific and artistic disciplines. I knew I would quickly get bored if I was to study the same subject over and over again. I was also fascinated by the possibility of translating an idea into something real and physical, and by the social dimension of architecture – the opportunity to improve the quality of people’s lives.

There’s currently much talk about getting more girls into STEM careers. Architecture seems to be a great way to combine STEM subjects like maths with the arts. How can we spread this message and encourage more girls into architecture?

By promoting the variety of disciplines that you get to study in architecture (you definitely have no time to get bored at university while studying architecture!) and the number of careers that an architectural degree could provide the springboard for.

What drew you to a career at Foster + Partners in particular?

Foster + PartnersLike most architectural students or young architects, Foster + Partners was the ultimate practice to work for. I admired their vision, the quality of the projects, the way that the practice was making history in architecture. When a friend of mine, who was working there at the time, recommended me for an interview, I didn’t hesitate to accept.

Ever since I started, I have enjoyed being surrounded by such a diverse range of projects and ideas and by people from all over the world – it is a really cosmopolitan place. I know a lot of people find the size of our practice overwhelming, but I think its scale is actually very inspiring – it is full of opportunities.

Architectural projects are usually subject to great pressure of budget and time. How can architects maintain a sense of balance when working on prestigious, high profile projects and the pressure is on?

We architects are always not very good at keeping a personal sense of balance, but to survive I think it is very important not to take things personally. We tend to get attached to ideas and can sometimes struggle when, for various reasons, we have to change or modify or get away from them. You have to be open minded and willing to start again, if needed – it is vital to keep in mind that there is always another way to bring a vision to life.

How has the globalisation of architecture affected the way the firm works and how it differentiates itself from the competition?

Foster + PartnersWe work globally – although the firm’s origins are in London, the UK only accounts for around 10 percent of our work. But at the same time, every project responds very specifically to a sense of place, and the local climate and culture. I think this research based, highly contextual approach really sets Foster + Partners apart.

Please can you tell us about your work on your current project for Apple?

The Apple Campus is a once in a life time project. It is the result of incredible multi-disciplinary teamwork and an intensive collaboration between the client, the contractor and us. Because it’s so vast and unique, the project is very challenging, but at the same time it is incredibly rewarding. And so is working with our client, Apple – I have never experienced the drive towards the highest level of design from any other client, or the same attention to detail and desire and capacity to push technology to its limits on every building component.

What are your ambitions for future projects?

I will think about that in two years’ time! Right now, my ambition is to be part of the team that will take the Apple headquarters project through to completion. I am sure new, exciting opportunities will open up after this project is finished.

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