Born and raised in Malaysia, Wei Azzi spent most of her life in the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur before moving to Dubai in 2006. After studying Interior Architecture, Wei was hired by one of her lecturers on the day she graduated. Her impressive CV has spanned several countries and includes shopping malls, retail and residential projects, exhibitions, hotels and airports. As the Interior Design Manager at RMJM she works with a team that has doubled in size in the last 12 months and is currently focusing on two hotels in Dubai and the DIFC Gate Avenue development amongst others. Having grown up in a multi-cultural society, she describes herself as an open thinker but also a disciplined non-conformist.
When did you understand you wanted to be an architect?
I knew I wanted to be an architect/designer since I was around 10 years old. Art was always a passion and once I began secondary school I focused on it a lot more than science. I graduated high school as the top student in art before enrolling into a design college in Kuala Lumpur where I was also the top student. I graduated in 2002 with a B.A. Interior Architecture and have worked in he industry ever since.
You are currently working as Interior Design Manager at RMJM in Dubai. Interior design is a profession often haunted by misconceptions. Would you say that being a woman helped or hindered you in your career and if so, how?
I think we are living in a world where there should not be any gender separation. Anybody can practice interior design as profession.
This year Women in Architecture undertook a huge study. One of the questions that the participants were asked was whether or not having children puts women in disadvantage in architecture. In the Middle East and Asia (2% of total participants), 58% said yes, while in Australia a striking 97% of women answered in the affirmative. You’ve been living in both regions and are also a mother. Do you agree with these figures? Does having children put women in disadvantage in architecture in the Middle East?
I believe the Middle East is evolving now and, although I can’t judge the whole region, I definitely can say it depends on the company management style. I can also speak for myself as a mother of two very young children, balancing family life and career is hard but it helps if you have understanding and innovative leaders who believe the future of architecture working environment doesn’t strictly depend on long, fixed hours. The world has changed. With the right delivery strategy and the right technology, we are becoming more efficient. 3D printing technology, for instance, has cut construction times. Revit and other advanced software has helped make project delivery times much quicker. Dubai is a great place to embrace these technologies.
How do you balance your work and family life?
I currently have a varied work structure which means that some days are full-time and others I will work a half day. This allows me to fulfil project requirements and also look after my 18 month old daughter. If the workload is great and we are very busy then I am comfortable going back full-time. This flexibility is part of what made RMJM such an attractive proposition for me. There are many firms who are not as forward thinking.
In an interview with the BBC, Pallavi Dean, lecturer at the American University of Sharjah, said that she she hopes she presents the young women with a solid role model of combining the profession with family. Do you believe that women architects lack family-friendly role models?
No I don’t agree. There are many successful examples of women architects/designers with families. They also tend to be wiser and have an empathatic style in their management style.
Do you think that bigger studios can offer bigger benefits and more flexibility for women architects compared to rather small & medium studios?
Not necessarily, it depends what type of leaders you have: Traditional or innovative.
Would you encourage a woman to start a career in architecture?
Yes, absolutely. There are no boundaries anymore.
What is your personal motto?
Make the best out of difficult situations. Positivity is a great attribute to have in your life.