“What I’m interested in is trans-disciplinary individuals”

Architect & Engineer

Maria leads Interrobang, a transdisciplinary architecture and engineering firm. She also founded the multi-award-winning art and architecture practice, Studio Weave, where she led a range of community projects. Maria also writes for the Royal Institute of British Architecture Journal and is the co-curator of Turncoats, a series of architectural and political debates as well as being one of the Mayor of London’s Design Advocates.

So my superhero is the Vetruvian Woman. She’s based on the Vetruvian Man, a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci – who was a polymath, a sort of artist, architect, engineer, scientist – and the Vetruvian Man is based on the work of Vetruvius, who was a Roman, also polymath, architect and engineer. So the Vetruvian Woman is my superhero alter ego, and she’s a polymath, architect, engineer, just as I long to be.

Architects and engineers

Well, architects and engineers have worked together, collaborated over the last sort of 100 years or so, since the invention of the structural engineer, I suppose, I’m more talking about structural engineers, if we’re talking about engineering and buildings. It’s something that came up with the invention of cast iron, concrete and these kind of new modern methods of constructing buildings that required a specialist to sort of figure out how to use them and how to develop them and that became a specialist engineering discipline. And then the architecture became this thing that kind of decorated or made polite these structures, and that caused the separation in the two disciplines that’s about a 100, 150 years old now, but I think that’s…that legacy is a bit overdue a rejig.

Art vs Science

I mean, I think it’s…it’s just one of culture, really, it’s just the way that at the moment we’re taught in schools that you have art subjects and you have science subjects and, yes, they’re both very important but they tend to be still quite distinct. There’s a huge emphasis on, as I mentioned, collaboration, which is all about people, different people working together. What I’m interested in is trans-disciplinary individuals, which is a bit of a mouthful but essentially means individuals who can work across different subjects, whether that’s biology and history, or arts and architecture, or engineering and oceanography, it’s just finding different people that can bridge those different gaps.

The drawings of the print

In amongst those drawings, one of the drawings that you can see is the restored landscaping outside of the Hoover building, which is an art deco factory on the A40 in West London. The building was built in the 30s and then was used as a factory for a long time, making Hoovers, and then it was an office, and has been derelict for about 10 years or so, but we’re now currently on site, transforming it into flats, so that it can be…can come back into use, and as part of that project we had to do quite an extensive restoration of the façade of the building, which is Grade II* listed, but also the landscaping outside, which is the radial pattern that you can see behind me.

Women in architecture

Architecture is male dominated at the moment, less so than engineering, I think in engineering we’re at about 11% women whereas in architecture its more like 20s [percent] in terms of actually chartered, registered architects but that is…it’s sort of increasing slowly. The interesting thing is that if you look at the intake at undergrad level to architecture courses, it’s about 50/50, but then a lot of women drop out, for all sorts of reasons, and there have been many studies, but there’s nothing that’s really conclusive and persuasive as to why women would drop out rather than men. I think it’s a…kind of a huge cultural question that we need to ask across the board but, yeah, it is something that at the moment I am in a minority.


Visit the exhibition at Conway Hall until January 31st where you’ll be able to purchase a limited edition comic book featuring all the interviews and images. Or alternatively order online by emailing superhero@cosmicshambles.com