splint: thank you for meeting me today and a big thank you to Ecky for providing the food at ‘The Blue Joanna’, tell me a little bit about yourself – what have you been up to over the last couple of years?!
Elise: hello! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Okay, so my name’s Elise. I am currently studying Architecture at The University of Cambridge and I’m about to begin the final term of my last year here! It’s the only creative degree at the university, so it’s been a great springboard for meeting people who are collaborating and doing interesting things outside of their course. Cambridge is a good place to be for art, music and theatre, although sometimes I think some of this is hard to reach at first because of its dominating image as a very academic university town. It’s a serious place, but there’s a lot of fun and important creative things happening.
splint: ah, that’s so great! When did you decide that you wanted to study Architecture? I’ve always found the subject super intriguing.
Elise: yeah it is an intriguing subject, everyone seems to have their own perception of what ‘architecture’ is or would be like to study, and it’s crazy because it encapsulates so many different things and there is often quite a static or mysterious view of it. I didn’t actually pursue the course with the intention of becoming an architect, I knew that creative thinking was a huge part of what I had enjoyed in education, even if that was being creative with maths you know. I’ve haven’t been able to narrow down my interests just yet, i’m curious about all the possibilities there is out there and I wanted to do something that would involve understanding a lot, through a creative outlet. It’s definitely lived up to my expectations and more. It’s a massively rewarding way to spend your undergraduate education, it allows you to be curious intellectually and creatively.
splint: so I know you’ve done a lot of creative activities throughout your life, where did the initial interest begin?
Elise: I started dancing when I was 3. Movement and dance are a huge part of who I am creatively, and although this has been put on hold since I’ve been at university, it’s informed how I think and how I work. I joined a company called ZooNation in 2010 and have performed with them at various places in London. The potential of storytelling and creating worlds for both entertainment and for exploring important issues is something that definitely aligns with what you have to do in architecture, architectural education is so broad and a lot of it is about constructing narratives and curating your ideas and work, a bit like you would in a show you know
splint: do you have a favourite production that you have been a part of?
Elise: hmmmm, I’ve been so lucky to have been involved in so many incredible shows. Just before I started university we had a show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Southbank called Groove on Down the Road which ran consecutively for two summers. It was based on The Wizard of Oz, and featured a lot of inspiration from ‘The Wiz’, which is a reimagining of The Wizard of Oz with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in that weirdly no-one seems to have ever seen. Kate Prince the director of ZooNation is someone who is a hugely inspirational person for me, the shows that she has created, Into the Hoods, Some like it Hip Hop etc, using dance and movement to tell stories and create theatre that is popular but tackles incredibly important issues, like gender imbalance, in the way she has is quite unprecedented. I think the intersection of theatre, set design, architecture, film and photography, is potentially very powerful, I love discovering architectural practices that delve into set design or that create films, that’s something I would love to be part of. The French architectural firm Ciguë recently designed an astounding set for Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House, a piece of dance based on Virginia Woolf’s writing.
splint: that’s great, you do a lot of theatre at Cambridge as well, right?
Elise: yeah, Cambridge has a really great theatre scene. The ADC theatre is a student run theatre company, and loads of shows are put on each term. Last year I produced a play called ‘MOJO’ by Jez Butterworth where I got to work closely with two friends of mine who were directing the show. Having never produced a play before it was a huge learning curve, and as producer I had input on so many scales, the organising of the show and the team, looking after budgets, paperwork and contracts all the way to designing a programme and thinking of the publicity. We gender bended the characters in the play, which worked really well and it was a super successful show, Jez Butterworth even got in touch via email and wished us luck, after I had emailed him first of course.
splint: so, you’re writing your dissertation on Japanese Architecture and Film yes?
Elise: yes, I spent the summer in Japan, to take part in a workshop ran by the Architecture Association. The workshop’s been running for 21 years, the same age as me!, by Shin Egashira and Carolina Vallejo. the architectural review recently published an article about it, but it’s basically about the post agricultural community of this small village in northern Japan and it’s founded on the idea that bringing architects, or rather people with the skills that studying architecture gives you, to a place where there isn’t really architect designed buildings or architects as such. There is direction to the workshop and what you build but you get to really go off the communication and relationships with the local people you develop which has great results. We built beds, shelters, chairs, benches and moving structures out of local materials, even bamboo from a forest nearby! The spirit and sense of community that is created by designing and making these things with the local people and these international young students is something really special to be part of. It really strengthened my faith in the power and possibilities of design, which was a good boost going into third year…
splint: did you see the exhibition at the Barbican on Japanese Architecture? It was really great.
Elise: I didn’t see at the Barbican, but I saw it in Tokyo! It was great timing for me and what I wanted to write my dissertation on, there was so so much to take in, films, beautiful drawings and photographs and models, it inspired me to photograph a lot of things whilst I was out there.
Splint: tell us more about your photography!!
Elise: I started shooting on film last year, and have been documenting various trips I’ve been on since. I’m very intuitive with my photography at the moment, and I’m naturally inclined to everyday spaces and like my photographs to capture something about an environment, hinting at a story of people or places. I recently had some photographs I took in Japan in ‘six seven’ which is a new photography magazine started by the university photographic society.
splint: how do you find being a woman in Architecture?
Elise: architecture as a profession has been historically very male dominated, specifically white men in suits or turtlenecks producing these singular architectural ‘masterpieces’ or writing all the theory. It’s changing, there is a lot of activism and work happening in the industry not just to encourage gender equality but also re-examining the history of architecture in terms of women’s contributions. There was an exhibition on at the AA (architectural association) recently about the first female architects at the school, and one of the latest issues of the Architectural Review was titled Women in Architecture. I was actually revising my Management, Practice and Law lecture today and there is a long way to go in terms of equal numbers– 81% of registered architects are male. On my course there are more women than there are men, but you know if you look at the construction industry on a whole it’s a different picture. As an architect, you have to go on site visits and unfortunately usually all the builders tend to be men, the engineers are men etc – you are in an environment which is very gendered. It’s something you have to deal with. There was a really interesting panel held in the department recently, about women in architectural practice and academia, and there is positive debate happening. Since being at Cambridge I have had fantastic female tutors like Prisca Theilmann and Colette Sheddick who have continuously inspired me.
splint: do you think you would like to be a part of this movement? Is there anyway to use Architecture to create a space for Women in Architecture – if that makes sense?
Elise: yeah it does and I would love to be! Architecture is so interdisciplinary, there is so much more to it than constructing a building, it’s about interrogating the spaces of the city and of buildings we move through everyday. In terms of using Architecture as a space to make room for Women in Architecture – there are definitely ways of doing that, that maybe aren’t about building a complete building – but about using the skills like photography or writing or designing. A few architects have just created a short film called ‘She Draws, She Builds’ and it’s all about women’s stories and experiences in the field of Architecture – which I think is really useful and good for encouraging women into the profession.
splint: what’s your favourite feminist text? Would you consider yourself an active feminist within the arts?
Elise: ahhh favourite is a hard word, can I say Beyonce’s Coachella performance? there are lots of things I’ve read during the past few years both as part of my course, and outside. I think at the moment feminist movements within the arts are incredibly important – even if you just look back at the last year, so much of the awareness created and progress made has been through the arts which just shows how much of a crucial channel they are for human rights and social awareness. I have tried as much as I can to immerse myself in as many artistic projects as I can – and even if the projects themselves are not explicitly ‘feminist’, I definitely believe in the value of small radical acts – I think it’s through this type of thing as well as the larger movements that will be the things that make the difference and cause change.
splint: what’s next for you?
Elise: after finals I will be busy planning, designing and building our end of year exhibition which will be in The Nicholls & Clarkes Loft in Shoreditch from the 4 to the 7th of July, which everyone who reads this interview is invited to!! it’ll be an exhibition of all the work from the school, including the first, second, third years and post graduates. My third year architectural work designing workspace in post-industrial Sheffield will be on display. I’m also helping my Director of Studies compile an architectural inventory of all the types of refugee shelters there are out there, as far as possible, as part of his work at the Refugees Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, which is another example of what architecture can extend to. After that I am hoping to start my year out working in an Architecture firm, maybe in London, maybe somewhere else, maybe abroad! I’m excited about what comes next
splint: what do you want from splint? Are you looking forward to being one of our members? We have a wonderful selection of women so far that we are supporting – so it’s lovely to have you involved now.
Elise: splint is an awesome idea. Spaces that create positive sites for support and visibility in the creative industries especially for women will always be something to value, and hopefully it will reveal potentials for great collaborations! I can’t wait to see it flourish.