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Elsie Owusu OBE _ design, with morality, at the core of project delivery

Some professionals don’t make others make plenty. With some it is their spoken words that draw attention to them, with others, it’s just the quality of what they design and deliver.

In both cases, Elsie Owusu OBE is quite a trailblazer, delivering complex projects in the finest detail at the most competitive price and to the highest quality. A founding member and the first chair of the Society of Black Architects, Elsie is also known to have co-led the refurbishment of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009 and the masterplan for Green Park tube station. She has been an elected Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Council member 2014-2021, and was the founding vice-chair of the London School of Architecture and runner-up for the RIBA Presidency in 2018.

Credit: Elsie Owusu Architects

Born in Ghana, Elsie Owusu attended Streatham and Clapham High School in London.

She has been working as an architect since 1986, founding her own architectural practice, Elsie Owusu Architects (EOA), of which she remains principal.

As a forward thinking partnership, EOA is working in Ghana, China, India and Nigeria. p It has worked with many heavyweights across the professions with collaborators including artist Sir Peter Blake. Alongside their specialist area of conservation / heritage, EOA continue to design special homes. These include a new studio/residence for the artist Yinka Shonibare, as well as eco-homes in Sussex through her development company ArtistConstructor Ltd. During her early days, Elsie etched a name for herself in the public sector space with leading clients such as Ujima Housing Association [now part of the L&Q Group].

Credit: Elsie Owusu Architects

Elsie was a partner for 10 years with Fielden+Mawson,[11] where she was co-lead architect for the UK Supreme Court and the master planning team for London's Green Park Station. Owusu, also overseeing the specialist accommodation of the Lammas Centre for St. Bernard's Hospital. As a conservation architect, she has also worked on public transport and regeneration projects in Ghana and Nigeria. She is a director of the UK company JustGhana, which promotes investment, sustainable development and constructive social engagement in the Ghana “Ideal Village” Project, as well as a director of ArchQuestra, "formed to provide the best of British architecture, art and engineering to support emerging economies". As such, Elsie has been a board member of organisations including Arts Council England, the National Trust of England, and the UK Supreme Court Arts Trust, as well as being a trustee of the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) the Architectural Association and the Commonwealth Heritage Forum.

  • As part of her ‘extra-curricular' activity, Elsie has worked with plenty of third sector organisations and young people.

  • As part of her effort to further inspire and inform a very special young person, the following activities are typical of what Elsie continues to deliver to inspire young people to consider a career in architecture.

Credit: Elsie Owusu Architects

In conversation with Kendra, taken from History KS2: Elsie Owusu - Becoming an architect in Britain [Credit BBC]

Diverse communities Elsie stated that even though the UK was thought to be the Commonwealth’s “mother country” ‘mother’ wasn’t welcoming when her family came to London in 1962. She challenges the pupils to consider what they could do to make someone who was new to the school and wider community feel accepted - including writing a welcome letter to new pupils arriving at their school.

Designing for diversity Elsie has said that the buildings in Britain are often not representative of the diverse communities they serve. Challenge the pupils to look at the different buildings in their communities. Do they represent the different cultures and needs of their communities? Pupils could design a new building for the community (possibly a school or library), which incorporates some of the various cultures and languages that need to be represented in their communities. Pupils should also be mindful of how people with disabilities use and access buildings.

Challenging stereotypes Show pupils images of different people and a number of jobs (e.g. nurse, bus driver, fire fighter, child minder, engineer, cleaner, astronaut, etc.). Ask pupils to match the job to the person and say why they think that they are a match. Pupils can then openly discuss why they think certain jobs have stereotypes attached to them. How do they think it feels being in that job and not fitting that stereotype? If possible, invite people who are challenging these stereotypes to be interviewed by the pupils. Please note, this activity should be approached with careful planning and sensitivity. Pupils may be more inclined to talk about stereotypes that they have witnessed or experienced in their communities (perhaps they may have heard a family member talking about these issues). Pupils may also talk about their own lived experiences so support should be offered and systems in place for these disclosures. Individuals in the class should not feel any expectation to discuss their own family circumstances, although they may choose to.

As a ‘campaigning Architect’ and with such indomitable industry credentials, Elsie has extensively spoken out about issues around institutional racism and sexism within the architectural industry. We thought we would focus on her ‘overarching why’ given her appointment as a "RIBA role model" in support of diversity & inclusion.

Credit: Elsie Owusu Architects

In 2017, to mark the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, who had hoped to become an architect, Owusu launched, with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, the RIBA+25 campaign to boost diversity in architecture, a profession that was reported by Architects' Journal in 2015 to be "one of the least diverse in the UK, with 94 percent of architects defined as white", and only 4,000 of RIBA's 27,000 chartered architects being women. Elsie has an impressive roster of awards and in 2014, was voted African Business Woman of the Year and in 2017, she received a Recognition Award at the 2017 Women4Africa Awards. Elsie has also been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2021, Elsie facilitated a £30,000 donation to the London School of Architecture in honour of Stephen Lawrence’s 47th birthday.

In recognition of her incredible work ethic, and ambassadorial contribution to the Architecture profession, Elsie was awarded an OBE in the Queen's 2003 Birthday Honours list. A very public statement followed her successful award, which: "To my great pride my citation for my OBE was as chair of the Society of Black Architects. I am a campaigning architect. That’s what I do. It’s part of my architectural life."

We celebrate you Elsie and thank you for gracing us at DCS with your presence.


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