When you set up in practice there are a lot of different balls to keep in the air. Passion, and a bit of naivety, are a great advantage, says Bushra Mohamed of Msoma Architects
Architects establish practices for various reasons, from creative control to financial reward. For me the impetus was frustration with the profession, which is homogenous in its culture and demography. The global response to the death of George Floyd gave me confidence to make the leap, aged 30. It was a partnership, but our ambitions differed. Msoma was formed a year ago, and now has two part-time staff.
There have been highlights, like designing or curating exhibitions at the Design Museum and the Venice Biennale, but it’s also incredibly tough: lonely and financially challenging. Since starting the practice I’ve got quite obsessed with trying to make it work both as a business and a creative endeavour. I’d worked closely with practice directors, so had some understanding of how firms were run, but was surprised by how much mental space is taken up by balancing competing demands.
I’d like a business mentor. Our training is inadequate – from understanding our value to navigating frameworks
Valuable support has come from former tutors and networks like Black Females in Architecture, but I’d like a business mentor. Our training is inadequate – from understanding our value to navigating frameworks.
At the outset you have to invest in defining the proposition of the practice – how to stand out. Our purpose is to foreground the identities of minority communities, with a particular focus on cultural projects and housing. Being explicit does shape the enquries received. Current work includes a mosque for a British-Yemeni community and 60 flats in Kenya. We’re also on the Mayor of London’s Architecture & Urbanism Framework. Projects like that will be a calling card, but building it up takes years and you need to eat. Those timescales aren’t something I’d fully considered, but some naivety has also been an advantage. Passion gives you the drive to keep pushing every day. If you’ve got that, go for it.