I grew up in Ufa, a big industrial city in the Urals, central Russia. Looking back, my journey into architecture was undoubtedly shaped by my own experiences of growing up in this densely populated Soviet Union province, writes Natalia Maximova of Sheppard Robson.
I’d always been fascinated by the urban landscape and built environment and loved to draw. My early childhood was spent living in ‘khrushchyov – slum’- a five-storey apartment block, hundreds of which were cloned across the country as a part of low-cost mass residential development in the 60s. The entire neighbourhoods were constructed in a similar manner, lacking character and quality.
However, I remember the first time my aunty walked me through the historical part of our city and I was blown away. It couldn’t have been more different to where I lived, with its Art Deco buildings rich in detail and that’s when my love of buildings and design was born.
That said, there were no other architects in my family. My parents were scientists, and everyone assumed I would be taking a similar academic route, myself included.
I even had a place to study maths and economics at university, but something my Grandfather said gave me a change of heart.
He had a huge influence on my life and although he was a geologist, he was a wonderful craftsman and loved to build. He described architecture as a “noble profession” and encouraged me to apply to a local school of architecture.
During my second year I took part in RIBA international student competition. As a bronze winner, my drawings were put on exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art and work published in Building Design magazine. The following year I won another all-Russian competition and was awarded a President Yeltsin’s scholarship to study architecture at Oxford Brookes University.
After a couple of years in Moscow and London I moved to Manchester and joined architect practice, BDP, where I stayed for several years, working on great projects such as Liverpool One, before setting up my own private practice in 2002 to design an award winning Russian Church in Manchester.
To fulfil my passion for larger scale projects in 2010 I joined Sheppard Robson and have since led on a whole host of major higher education and commercial projects including Birley Campus at Manchester Met and Edgbaston Campus for Birmingham City University.
Architecture is such an incredibly diverse discipline. You can change lives by transforming cities and communities and making them a better place to live and work.
There have been challenges. If you’re a working mother like me, taking maternity leave can be tough. It’s hard being physically absent when the nature of the business is so fast paced but I’ve never let that stop me.
As an industry, we need to support new mums to help get them back into work and encourage them to be confident in their abilities and grab every opportunity with both hands.
I also strongly believe, we need to offer clearer and more diverse career paths and give people the option to study while they are working. Architectural degrees are long so unless we give people the chance to earn while they learn, we will miss out on talent and restrict diversity.