Emelie Vänman

Emelie Vänman, Architect MSA, Umeå, Sweden

What inspired you to want a life in Architecture and the creative industries?
Becoming an architect has always been my dream, rooted in a combination of being a creative person, having a deep concern for social issues, and a childhood passion for designing virtual houses in The Sims. From a young age, I found joy in crafting imaginative spaces in the digital world. However, as I matured, I realized that architecture held far more significance than just aesthetics. It plays a pivotal role in addressing societal challenges, such as housing shortages, sustainability and inclusivity.

What drives me towards architecture is the opportunity to learn about a wide variety of subjects. It’s a profession that encourages a holistic understanding of design, history, politics and more. But beyond that, I am motivated by the prospect of contributing to a more inclusive society through making the practice itself more inclusive. I believe that by promoting diversity and inclusivity within the field, we can create spaces that resonate with a wider spectrum of individuals, ensuring that architecture serves as a vehicle for positive social change.

Who inspired you in finding your path to Architecture and the creative industries?
Being born in a small town in the norh of Sweden, architects are hard to come by. Before being admitted into the architecture program I had never met an architect but in 2009, when I was in my final year of high school, Umeå School of Architecture opened and suddenly architecture had a presence in my small hometown. I went into architecture with very little expectations except that architects design houses but I was happily surprised when I quickly learned what architecture can be.

Although I didn’t have someone guiding me into archictecture, I had someone important to guide me through it. My university professor was not just an educator but also became my mentor. In moments of uncertainty about the career and of self-doubt, they offered guidance and encouragement, challenging me to overcome my obstacles. Their unwavering support and belief in my abilities became a driving force in my pursuit of architecture. With their guidance, I navigated the complexities of this field and discovered my true potential, ultimately shaping my path to becoming the architect I am today.

How you unlock obstacles and overcome bias in your work.
I overcame obstacles during my studies through a combination of support, determination, and practical steps. I’ve been fortunate to have a strong support system from friends and teachers who provided valuable guidance and motivation in times of challenge.

One significant move was my decision to choose a studio (for four consecutive years) that focused on identifying and dismantling biases in housing architecture within the Swedish context. This experience shed light on the pervasive nature of these biases, extending far beyond gender and cultural background, encompassing all non-conventional lifestyles. This equipped me with the knowledge to challenge conventional thinking in architecture as I learned to identify the way politics affect design choices and how they, in turn, affect the user’s behaviour. It’s an ongoing process, but I really appreciate the importance of addressing biases in architecture and design.

What improvements you feel are required to promote effective change in the academic and working environment?
To promote effective change in the academic and working environment within architecture, it’s crucial to diversify the teaching staff with individuals from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Moreover, we should focus on early outreach initiatives to engage children from diverse backgrounds, igniting and nurturing their interest in architecture. These steps, accompanied by inclusive curricula and workplace policies, will ultimately create a more inclusive and equitable field, where diverse perspectives contribute to innovation and creativity, better reflecting the dynamic world in which we live.

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