Architect Tanja Smith is taking the expertise of a North East agency to Mongolia to strengthen the firm’s links with the nation.
Gateshead-based Gradon Architecture has been working with the nation for some time, joining forces with architects from the country to design a new ministerial building, destined for a prime site near the Mongolian Parliament in Ulan Bator.
And the firm has also submitted its design proposals for 50 energy-efficient homes, work which could become the blueprint for the overhaul of Soviet-era homes across the city, helping to protect residents against temperatures which often dip to minus 30C.
Now Miss Smith, chartered architectural technologist and associate at Gradon Architecture, is to make Ulan Bator her temporary home to further cement the firm’s work in the capital, while also successfully challenging that stereotype that she works in a man’s profession, in which only one in seven architects are women.
She said: “Gradon has been working in Mongolia for some time now, designing sustainable architecture to deliver innovative solutions that will replace some of the country’s existing Soviet building stock.
“We have been working closely with local developers and government departments, to raise standards which are significantly lower than here in the UK. We’ve also been helping people living in the deprived Ger villages, where extreme poverty and pollution collide.
“In the winter, temperatures plummet to minus 30 degrees celsius and to keep warm villagers burn raw fuels and anything they can find in their stoves. This is having a dramatic effect on pollution levels, as well as on public health.
“We want to show the Mongolian people how serious we are about improving people’s quality of life and believe that having a permanent base in Ulan Bator is a powerful way to demonstrate this commitment.
“We want to fully integrate and entrench ourselves in the country’s culture and values - after all, you can’t develop meaningful architecture without first understanding what is truly important to the local community.”
Over the past year, Miss Smith has been at the forefront of developing the practice’s unique relationship with Mongolia – clocking-up more than 24,000 air miles travelling back and forth to the country in 2014 alone.
With more than 20 years’ industry experience, Miss Smith worked in South Africa for much of her early career and met Nelson Mandela through her work helping to regenerate the Lansdown Wetton Phillippi Corridor squatter camps in Cape Town.
As a regional advocate for supporting women in construction through her work with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Miss Smith is a vocal supporter of readdressing the gender imbalance in the industry and is ready for the challenge that her new role brings.