Read, seek advice, and do your research

25 July 2019
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Mugure Njendu is an architect and director, Gitutho Architects and Planners. She has experience in institutional, commercial, residential and mixed use design as well as master planning and feasibility studies.

She has been in practice in the Built Environment in the East African region for 12 years now, straddling between her vocation, leadership and mentoring up and coming architects.

What does it take to be a leader within the Architectural Association of Kenya?

I have served in the association in various capacities for the last six years, as well as in the regional association, the East African Institute of Architects. You have to commit time, energy and your intellectual resources to forwarding the objectives of a body that represents your membership.

My service has been focused on facilitating matters of mutual interest to the members of our Association primarily in training and practice. I am a practitioner myself, hence understand the issues our membership faces.

I have good people and communication skills and is inherently creative, with an analytical mind that can make connections between various topics.

I also listen and engage with professionals from the diverse chapters and demographics we represent. This ability to engage translates into delivering on issues of importance to the members.

What factors would you attribute your success as an architect to?

Success, I believe, is a fairly subjective word. There is so much I would like to achieve in coming years, but to get where I am today, hard work, good management skills, and the ability to recognise opportunities that come my way have played a part. I have had great mentors, clients, peers and staff that have contributed to where my career is today.

How best can architects still very young in the field network?

We now live in a global village where you can connect with a possible mentor on various platforms, from traditional one-on-one sessions to social media – AAK has introduced numerous opportunities for young professionals to network with the mature membership, particularly through our Build Talks and Build Tours.

I currently mentor four architecture students. I encourage up and coming architects to look for mentors within or outside the profession, someone whose opinion they value, and whose career path they look up to.

What are the greatest pressures in your field? How does an emergency in architecture look like?

Not many emergencies come our way, but an example would be where members’ projects, which were procedurally approved, are affected during, say, demolitions. In my mind, that is a worst-case emergency, that and having a building one was involved in collapsing.

More probable emergencies include managing decisions made on site that may cause a cost over-run, having regulatory authorities irregularly stall work on your site, or injury of a worker on site.

Have you ever felt like walking away from your career?

Only once. I was in my third year in college. A professor discriminated against me because I was African, and purposely failed me in a course that I needed to pass to move forward.

I am a fighter, however, and fought the grade through to the University Council and won. I have been faced with other challenging moments, but my philosophy is just keep moving.

No one is perfect, no situation is seamless, things can, and will go wrong, so mitigate risks, brace yourself, ride the challenge and you will emerge stronger.

Do you have a favourite book?

I don’t. I read a lot. Most genres, from biographies to old-school Asterix and Obelix comics. Architecture-related fiction would definitely be Ayn Rands’, Fountainhead. I also enjoyed Bossy Pants by Tina Fey, which is hilarious, and Becoming by Michelle Obama, which offers an introspective of how your experiences mold you into who you are, and who you will become, yet they do not have to define you.

I do have favourite authors though: Chimamanda Adichie, Tomi Adeyemi and Ngugi Wa Thiongo top the list.

What advice would you give a 20-something, just starting their career and would like to invest in the build environment?

Read, seek advice, and do your research. No decision will ever be mistake-free, but seek as much counsel as you can before making any major financial investment. And learning never stops.

Do women who hold powerful positions in their fields have a responsibility towards furthering the agenda of women empowerment?

When you have influence, and a platform to be heard, you have a responsibility to those who come after you. This applies to men and women.

Leadership should be sustainable, and this comes through mentoring others. I have been lucky to have great mentors, and consider it my duty, and privilege, to mentor as well.

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