Success Comes From Dedication

One of the most successful Serbian architects of the younger generation, Grozdana Šišović from the architectural studio re:act, as part of the current project by CAB: Women in Architecture speaks about the female contribution to teamwork and dedication necessary to achieve success.  

On Teamwork

Our architectural studio Re:act is a partnership between architect Dejan Milanović and myself. Team work has marked my architectural practice, from its very beginning, since our student days. As a team of authors we always strove to work a lot, to be hyper-active even when there were no commissions – that approach lead us to competitions, which we did in abundance. When you look at it all together, now there is quite a lot of projects behind us. The most important are surely the built works, but there are also several other project we are very satisfied with.

I’m not sure in which way the female contribution is visible in this architecture. I think that in a project and building surely the quality of the process behind it must show. In our case, it’s a dynamic and dedicated partnership work, and often a collective work with our associates.

Figure 1. Housing building in Block 61, New Belgrade

On beginnings

I didn’t chose architecture early. As a child I thought I’ll be a scientist when I grow up. In school everything was easy and I couldn’t decide in which field I felt most at ease. I finished the Mathematical High School where there was no teaching of art or any artistic subject, but already half way through high school I wished to remove myself from mathematics. I was interested in everything.

First I tried out at the entry exam for film directing, after third year in high school because I couldn’t wait to enter a new, creative world. Next year I enrolled in Architecture and felt rather disappointed. After the  first year of studies I wasn’t sure that’s where I wanted to be and enrolled in Philosophy instead. I was very close to dropping-out of Architecture Faculty altogether.

It was at the end of the second year, when I understood design as a worthy and provocative challenge, and after one workshop at the summer school of architecture in Petnica, which the Faculty was then organizing, I found a new spark, finally something clicked, I started to slowly understand thing and think about architecture in a good way. That was the anchor that kept me there – the secret and beauty of architecture, new horizons in each new topic, the closeness of life and art.

Figure 2. Competition entry for Housing Rasadnik in Lazarevac  - first prize

On Approach to work

Personally, I have a strong desire to understand things. I have accepted my engagement in architecture as process of permanent learning. I believe there is hope for progress as long as there is enthusiasm. It simultaneously encourages me to accept change and engage myself in various ways. The last few years, other the architectural design, I also do research and teach.

Enthusiasm helps distribute the energy in a healthy way and gradually reach a form of knowledge synthesis. On the other hand, it’s a slow and long process. My personal feeling tells me I’ve only just scratched the surface, that the knowledge is frail and must always be questioned.

Figure 3. Neckom office and showroom in Nikšić, Montenegro

On The female approach

If there is such a thing as the female approach, I do not believe it should be mandatory or exclusively connected to the work of women, but rather that it should be understood as a metaphor for each approach that opposes authority in architecture, favoring architecture as a means of representation and reproduction of the system of domination.

I can not say that I consider my work to be a specifically female contribution, either during the design process or in relation to its result. I believe that the dynamics of working together, building a partnership, as well as the openness to discuss ideas and develop concepts together, have more significantly influenced our design. But surely there is an influence of the female perspective, maybe as a fine difference in an intimate understanding of the topic, above all.

I believe that women usually have a specific relationship of worry towards certain things in the project – in my case, I notice a lot of concern about safety, comfort of use and durability of the solutions we propose. I think that, generally speaking, women’s work in architecture has the potential to bring design closer to the user. The question remains whether that is always the case.

Dejan and me have been working together for so long and are so used to this male-female team dynamics, that I’m not sure if from the inside I can see my share of the work as some kind of typically female contribution – I’m more likely to believe that the real contribution comes from mixing and combining perspectives, through now often a silent agreement. We have started thinking alike a long time ago.

Figure 4. Terazije terrace park – development of the awarded competition design

On Role-models

While we were students, my colleagues and I were very influenced by the works of Mies and Le Corbusier, and also we looked up most to Koolhaas and Herzog & de Meuron – during the decade of the 90ies . We strongly influenced each other as well – we infected each other with architecture. Among women architects, I love the work of Lina Bo Bardi.

Today I follow the work and careers of many different authors. Among the women, I especially like the Japanese – Sejima-san and Kumiko Inui.

On Advice

It is especially difficult to give any career advice in Serbia, where planning ahead is a challenging task. Seems to me the hardest thing is to find time for everything you want to achieve and persevere in your ambitions. For real success, not media success where you are famous and exposed, but the success in the quality of architecture, it is necessary to be sincerely interested in architecture and very dedicated. For women specially, it is important to believe in their capabilities. I think men less often have self confidence issues, simply because they usually get more supports, encouragement and approval both from society and their families.

Be persistent and dedicated. Do not stop believing in yourself and always keep learning.

Figure 5. Terazije terrace park – development of the awarded competition design

On Architectural practice

In practice, architecture is extremely competitive. It’s like that in school too, with the difference that in real life this game is influenced by some other factors as well, not just your talent and dedication. To become an extinguished author you must have presentable work, i.e. a chance to build. Building a career as an independent architect is not easy for men either, and it’s even more difficult for women to impose themselves as authors and designers in a system where there are not many women neither in politics or important leadership positions, everywhere where there are mechanisms of power an decision making.

Although the competences and responsibility of female experts are generally accepted, I don’t believe the society acknowledges in the appropriate manner the female creative authority. The only democratic procedure that benefits women in architecture is the public open architectural competition.

The career in architecture is permanently built throughout ones entire life and demands outstanding commitment, much more than other professions. Women with families usually have much less time to build a career then man, and this is another, but not less important reason that the number of recognized female authors is not bigger.

Grozdana Šišović  established Studio re:a.c.t 10 years ago with Dejan Milanović,  her professional and life partner. They received a large number of professional medals and awards in local and international architectural competitions, including first prizes at the competitions for Slavija square in 2004, Terazije terrace in 2007 and Housing in Lazarevac 2012. They have, as well, several built projects. Their work is regularly featured in architectural magazines and publications in Serbia and abroad.  

Besides architectural design, Grozdana Šišović is also engaged in research and works as a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade, where she’s finishing her PhD studies.


Architects, Architecture, Grozdana Šišović, Re:act, Women in architecture

Leave a Reply