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Rising star: Betty Owoo

Words:
Eleanor Young

Leading resident engagement sessions for Be First London, making the public realm and architecture open to underrepresented groups

Architectural designer, Be First London – Part 1: 2017 Part 2: 2020

Betty Owoo is the one in the room most likely to say ‘Let’s do it!’, ensuring the idea becomes reality. By day she works for Be First London – Barking and Dagenham’s regeneration arm – where in the last six months she has led on resident engagement sessions and written a large part of the Ideal Home Charter, based on those sessions.

In the same period she has led on a Levelling Up Fund bid for an experiential food hall in Barking town centre, leading design up to RIBA Stage 1. And since May she has been researching the 26,000-house Becontree estate in east London so that a new design code there can be grounded in extensive knowledge of the interwar building stock and how it has been modified by residents. 

She was a trustee at the Architecture Foundation Young Trustees for three years, for the last year as a co-chair. Early collaborations included contributions to the foundation’s phenomenal 100 Day Studio at the start of the first Covid lockdown with events on climate and the experience of people of colour. She wants to make the public realm and architecture open to underrepresented groups and to hear their stories, which she has done by helping set up walking tours in Brixton and Walworth.

She was part of the 2021 cohort of New Architecture Writers, taking architectural discourse beyond the lecture hall into a dinner party form and then a multimedia experience with When I Get Home. This has morphed into working with the same group as the PATCH collective with the most recent event, Holding Space, on the art of hosting in migrant and ethnic communities. 

Be First London associate director Amandeep Singh Kalra, , who also worked with Owoo chairing the Architecture Foundation’s Young Trustees, offers high recommendation: ‘She’s quietly confident and humble in her exceptional work, whether leading design studies that support £25 million funding applications, or balancing the voices of trustees to create a focused approach in platforming underrepresented voices.’

Judge Angela Crowther commented: ‘I think she’s great. She’s championing some really important causes.’

  • At the When I get Home event.
    At the When I get Home event. Credit: Jabir Mohammed
  • A Civic Rituals walking tour in Brixton that Owoo curated.
    A Civic Rituals walking tour in Brixton that Owoo curated. Credit: Bex Liu
  • The Be First London design team with Betty Owoo in the middle.
    The Be First London design team with Betty Owoo in the middle.
  • Owoo and collaborate Quincy Harper on their Water, water everywhere bench for the Royal Docks, made of resin  encapsulating the rubbish found in the Thames..
    Owoo and collaborate Quincy Harper on their Water, water everywhere bench for the Royal Docks, made of resin encapsulating the rubbish found in the Thames..
  • Facilitating one of the events on the Peer Review network.
    Facilitating one of the events on the Peer Review network.
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What problem would you most like to tackle?
Living in a city during the pandemic brought into sharp relief just how vital access to high-quality urban green space is, and how access to this kind of space is a political as well as an architectural issue. I would love to expand on London’s National Park City status to ensure that its most diverse neighbourhoods (which are often those with the least access to nature) have more green spaces for people to participate in nature closer to their homes.

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