W*: How do you generally start your working day?
GD: My working day starts early. I usually wake up around 6am and check my emails and diary on my smartphone over breakfast to see what I have lined up for the day. This is time to myself before the working day begins. Then I either head off to the studio to meet clients, or visit a project on-site.
W*: During a typical day, how much of your time is spent in front of a computer?
GD: My week varies depending on the stage of a project, although generally I spend about two-thirds of it in front of the computer. A PC is such a critical tool for architecture, whether it’s designing spaces, researching interesting materials, working on a 3D model, presenting work to a client or writing emails.
W*: What inspires you?
GD: I take inspiration from cities. Cities are complex, informed by different cultures and beliefs developed over time. To understand the complexities of cities, you need to continually engage with them. I walk a lot, mapping a city to get a feel and understanding of the place; the open spaces against built-up areas, manmade constructs, organisation and grain. Cities are memories with structures built over time.
W*: Is technology important for your social life?
GD: Very much so, for searching for holidays, restaurants or shopping. I use it both at work and at home. It really helps me if I am meeting friends, going out for dinner or lunch, getting me there in the quickest possible way, finding me somewhere to eat or giving details of cinema times. Cortana is really helpful in this respect.
W*: Do you find any of the functions particularly useful?
GD: I really enjoyed using the Edge browser to mark up web pages with my own handwritten notes and then saving them in my history so I could go back to check my notes later. I can annotate and mark up web pages in the reading mode, totally focussing on the information on the web page without any distractions, and then send them to someone else with my personalised recommendations.
W*: As an architect do you have a long relationship with Microsoft Windows?
GD: Yes. All the programmes I use - the drawing programmes, the 3D modelling, the rendering software – are on my PC so I am really excited about the Windows 10 updates because I’ve always used Windows. And I am really looking forward to the updates Windows 10 can offer.
W*: Do you find Windows 10 useful when you are on the move?
GD: I am on the move a lot, whether it is visiting clients, construction sites or buildings, going to lectures and meetings, or catching up with colleagues over lunch. Windows 10’s OneDrive lets me sync all my documents across my tablet, laptop, PC and smartphone. It also means if I update something when I’m out, it’s synced back to my other devices, making everything seamless. This flexibility is a real positive when time is precious and deadlines need to be met. I can work effortlessly in or out of the studio, between meetings, on the road, on a train, which is particularly good as ideas can come at any time of day.
W*: What made you choose architecture as a career?
GD: I went to an open day at the Bartlett School of Architecture and couldn't believe what a creative environment it was. I initially thought of architecture as a sensible, creative profession that could offer a secure job – but as soon as I started studying I was drawn in. I loved the conceptual narratives and experimentation; this has grown into a strong interest in materials and creating special, spatial moments in buildings.
W*: If you lived in another city, where would it be and why?
GD: Chicago – I love the contrast of the old American high-rise city and suburbia. [There's] great architecture from Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Bertrand Goldberg, and Lake Michigan offers amenities for sports and a beautiful setting.
W*: What are the differences between working as a part of large international practice like Herzog & de Meuron and running your own independent studio?
GD: It's a privilege to be part of the mix of colleagues and level of debate at Herzog & de Meuron. Plus, the range of clients and scale of projects – and the quality of ideas – is phenomenal. In my own practice I enjoy working with small builders and craftsman; speaking to the person building your work makes for a more direct and traditional collaboration which is usually lacking on large projects. The overall ownership and independence I have over my own commissions and running a business is a lot of responsibility, but also greatly rewarding. I really enjoying experimenting with my own ideas and keeping my mind fit by working on architectural competitions, often collaborating with others.
Gemma Douglas' top 5 buildings
1. Philips Exeter Academy Library (Exeter, New Hampshire, USA) by Louis Kahn
2. Turner Contemporary (Margate, UK) by David Chipperfield
3. Langham House Close (Richmond, London, UK) by James Stirling
4. Unity Temple (Oak Park, Illinois, USA) by Frank Lloyd Wright
5. Hotel Okura (Tokyo, Japan) by Yoshiro Taniguchi