From budding beginnings at a small desk in a market town in Lancashire, to blossoming into a multi-award winning designer, Burnley-born Saira Hussain is now – undoubtedly – an unstoppable force in the world of architecture.
A natural creative from a family who didn’t push her onto a particular career path, Hussain was encouraged from a young age to nurture her imaginative spirit.
Speaking exclusively to the Asian Express, Hussain said: “My dad is an engineer so he taught me maths and science from a young age.
“However, we were always encouraged to read and draw. I was never pushed towards the ‘typical Asian’ medical subjects.
“I’ve always been interested in art but also technology and science. I believe architecture without science is sculpture and architecture without art is building.”
At the age of just 23, Hussain started up her own business.
Hussain Architectural Design (HAD) was founded in 2011 in the midst of the recession, where construction had been hit the hardest.
“I had worked several years in practice after completing my studies at the University of Huddersfield. I worked on small residential extensions for family and friends for the first six to 12 months.
“It was through recommendations that my business started growing. I then rented a small office not far from home. Five years on, we’ve had over 20 award nominations and a number of wins. I have five practices and a very strong design team working alongside me.”
Hussain’s buildings have even managed to make it onto the nation’s television screens.
“Some of the highlights of my career have been things such as interviews for BBC’s ‘The Apprentice’ along with being invited to take part in a property developing program on ITV. One of our houses just recently featured on BBC’s ‘House that 100k built’,” Hussain added.
However, architecture is known to be a notoriously male dominated industry.
A survey by the Architectural Review magazine found 61 per cent of women architects claim to have been the victim of gender discrimination and four out of 10 said their bosses were responsible.
“You’re working on building sites where 100 per cent of the construction workers are male. The building officers and the majority of clients are male. I can see why women drop out or never go on to professional practice,” Hussain explained.
“I was always told that the Construction Industry was ‘no place for a woman’ and I understand that women make up only 11 per cent of the industry, facing massive barriers on a daily basis,” Hussain said.
“That said, I feel both the image and culture of construction is slowly changing and, as women, we should work towards fighting for better conditions and more flexible working policies that allow both men and women with other responsibilities to work within the industry.”
Anti-social hours, a ‘macho work culture’ and juggling work and family life haven’t stopped Hussain from trailblazing the way in Blackburn, Manchester and London.
Her work has been nominated for various accolades such as The Duke of Gloucester Awards; Red Rose Awards, English Asian Business Awards and HAD has also recently won two awards in the Architecture and Engineering categories for Build Magazine.
Looking to expand further into London after studying for a PHD, it is clear that Hussain is cut from the same cloth – or should that be built from the same bricks – as her idol, the late Dame Zaha Hadid.
After winning ‘Best Sustainable Design Practice’ by Build Magazine, Hussain is a strong believer in sustainable design.
She said: “I want to contribute to an improved future through the use of clean technology. Suitability applied in all aspects of life is critical to our future.
“We only have one earth. We must find ways to reduce our harmful impact on the environment. Upon winning this award, I was given the reassurance that my practice was heading in the right direction in terms of green design.”
Noting the SDA Church Bolton as her ‘favourite building to design’ to date, her reasons for the choice are humble, especially since it is certainly not one of her most glamorous projects.
“The client at the church was extremely passionate about the design. We were working on a community-led project with a very tight budget.
“They wanted to steer away from the traditional church design and we looked in to a self-sufficient building. It was very challenging and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Other projects Hussain has worked on include a collaboration with uber trendy clients ‘The Colour Works’, in Hackney Wick, where a warehouse was transformed into a dynamic space that is used for late night raves, TV adverts music and dance studios and – recently – Aroma Shisha Lounge, the biggest of its kind in the capital.
For those hoping to following in Hussain’s footsteps, experience in practice is crucial to a successful career in Architecture.
“You will learn the link between theory and practice,” Hussain said. “You also need to possess design talent, engineering ability, social awareness, business aptitude and legal knowledge.”
For now, Hussain is content with expanding her business further into London.
But her jokey goal of ‘taking over the world’ is perhaps not meant to be taken with the sarcasm it was intended.
Possessing a striking portfolio like hers could mean she may literally be able to build that very vision all by herself.