… Katutura girl continues to reach lofty heights
AS a little girl growing up in Katutura, Windhoek, Una Ferreira (UF) loved drawing. She mastered her creativity from pre-school, until her skills drove her into the world of architecture.
Today, she is the owner and founder of Una Stuurman Architects, a company renowned for managing large projects, such as the Eenhana Shrine, the Unam Veterinary School and the Nkurenkuru Youth Centre, amongst others.
The architectural firm, which is a corporate member of the Namibian Institute of Architects, prides itself on its innovative and sustainable design approaches, which add value to the client’s project, and offers professional services across the full spectrum of architecture and project management.
Its main focus is the creation of contemporary, yet appropriate architecture, well-groundedin the unique Namibian context.
Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa (MN) interviewed the friendly mother of three about her career path, her most memorable projects, as well as her love for interacting with people.
MN: Give us a snapshot of who you are.
UF: My name is Una Ferreira, the director of Una Stuurmann Architects. I am married and have three children. My husband is also an architect, with a similar background as mine, being from Katutura and having mothers that were teachers that taught at the same school. He has supported me tremendously, and I am very thankful. I don’t do things in half measures, and put everything I have into what I do. I love interacting with people, especially the youth, assisting and motivating them to work hard and to reach their goals. I have given bursaries to numerous students to study architecture in South Africa and Russia.
MN: Briefly tell us about your upbringing.
UF: I was born in Windhoek and grew up in Katutura. There was a strong sense of community and the community helped in the raising of children. I amthe eldest of three children andmy parents and brothers played very important roles in my life. My parents taught me that I could be anything in life that I wanted to be. They taught me to work hard from a very early age.
I had an amazing kindergarten teacher, Meme Lilly Mugagabe, whose crèche was in Owambo Location, Katutura. She gave me the freedom to express myself through drawings, which I loved to do. I attended MH Greeff Primary School, and in Sub B, I heard of architecture for the first time. I realised that it was a career where I could do what I loved – drawing – and as a child this stayed with me. I worked hard at school and this allowed me to get into the Deutsche Hohere Privatschule. There I was exposed to an array of subjects. I did wood work, art and metal work, which fostered my creativity. After completing Grade 12, I got into the Architecture School at the University of the Free State, where I completed my studies in architecture.
MN: Briefly tell us about the establishment of Una Stuurman Architects?
UF: Una Stuurmann Architects was established in 2011. In order to open your own firm, one has to be registered with the Council of Architects and Quantity Surveyors, of which I am a member. Our office is based in Windhoek and we are a team of seven people. Empowering people and helping more previously disadvantaged people to study architecture, especially women, is very important to me.
MN: What triggered your interest in the field?
UF: When I applied to the university, they asked why I wanted to study architecture and my answer was that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people of my country. This has never changed. Sustainability is also a subject very close to my heart, and at the forefront of it, is poverty alleviation, and architecture plays a major role in helping the fight against poverty, which growing up in Katutura we faced on a daily bases. I had the opportunity to better my life, and with my architecture, I can help my people. After completing my studies, I worked for various architects to gain experience, and to register as an architect, which then allowed me to open my own architectural firm. I had a lot of support from my family.
MN: Are there projects you have fond memories of?
FU: I worked on the Eenhana Shrine, while working for a local architectural firm. This project was a fast-track project, and it had a lot of community input and I had to spend a lot of hours on site. The Founding Father, Dr Sam Nujoma, inaugurated the shrine and a mass of people that attended the reburial. People stayed at the shrine hours after the ceremony. I was so proud to be Namibian. I felt so humbled to have been part of a project, which meant so much to so many people, and gave them closure. I realised that this project was only the beginning.
MN: What is a typical day like for you?
FU: I wake up at 05h00 and prepare the kids for school. At 07h00 I take them to school and go to the office, where I prepare for the day ahead. As a director of a company, administration takes so much of my time, and thus planning is important. I thus focus on design work in the mornings and meetings are scheduled for the afternoons. As architects, we are the principal agents of a project and manage construction projects all around the country, and thus we travel a lot for site Inspections. At the end of the day, I cannot wait to get to my children to spend time with them, as family is very important to me.
MN: What are challenges and opportunities are facing the firm?
FU: I think the biggest challenge we are facing, firstly, in the industry as a whole, is that there are not enough Namibian architects and quantity surveyors, especially previously disadvantaged ones. More pupils should be encouraged to study architecture and more bursaries should be allocated, not just by government, but the private sector as well. Systems should be put in place to encourage the private sector to award bursaries to students and foster social responsibility. There is a great need for more Namibians to enter this field, especially women. I am one of two registered previously disadvantaged Namibian women architects, and there are about two more about to register as practicing architects. We need more Namibian professionals in this field, and in the construction sector, as a whole.
MN: What advice do you have for young ones aspiring to join the field?
FU: Students should work and study hard to get a university exemption. Science and maths is very important to study architecture. Apply early to universities. The Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) has a very good School of Architecture. The Namibian Institute of Architects provides information to students that want to study architecture.
MN: Just what do you do for a little fun?
FU: I love spending time with my children and creating jewellery.
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