Meet Jessica, An Architect In A Mans World

(Last Updated On: July 20, 2016)

Her name is Jessica Ombeka Monyoncho. She is a 23 year old former architectural student at Nairobi Institute of Technology (NIT) and graduated with a JKUAT Diploma in Architecture In July 2015. Jessica was fortunate enough to start working immediately after school, joining arguably one of the best Architectural firms in the country as an Architectural Technician. Also an art enthusiast and a budding craft artist, she spoke to us about how it is in the architectural world:

  1. What does being an architect entail?

Basically, an Architect is a person who is professionally qualified to plan, design and oversee the construction of buildings. Of course, this is gained after 6 academic years of studying Architecture and for those who wish to be a registered Architect, one must sit for examinations under the Board of Registration for Architects and Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS) after practicing under a registered Architect for about two years. The practice of Architecture is more than just designing, sketching on tracing paper and using a lot of construction jargon. It’s using design as a tool to solve problems. Oh! It’s also a full time commitment, kind of like a marriage. (haha!)

2. What made you want to be an architect?

Well, I’ve always found buildings to be very fascinating. More so, the process behind it. To me, buildings are just very very big art pieces that you can experience from both outside and within. Think of it as art at a much larger scale. I’d be lying if I were to say that I also didn’t find the title appealing, but that kind of thinking changed over time. Architecture isn’t easy. Working as an Architectural technician the past year and a half has taught me a great deal about our industry, the work environment and life in general. It has been one heck of a rollercoaster ride but I don’t regret it even one bit. I believe that my growth curve has been on an upward trajectory. I’ve come to appreciate the fact that comfortable environments don’t facilitate growth.

3. Who inspires you?

I draw my inspiration from various artists and how well they’ve mastered their art. In the world of Architecture, I have to say that I admire the work of Francis Kere and his inventive approach to building. I admire how well he has been able to intergrate traditional knowledge, craft skills and technology to create his designs. Locally, Joseph Bertiers Mbatia (known sculptor and painter) has a way of bringing to life scrap metal in ways one cannot even imagine. I love his artistry.


4. Which are the major challenges that you face in your career? 


Just to name one, I would say that it’s very easy for someone to get sucked into the work cycle.  It’s easy to find yourself in the office on a Sunday evening because you have something to work on or if there’s a deadline to be met. Work can be quite enjoyable, but what it demands has proven to sometimes disturb work-life balance if not kept in check.

5. What are your ambitions?

I am an art enthusiast and I’ve always had a knack for handcrafted art pieces. Before I joined college and also intermittently through College, crafts had been a hobby I really enjoyed as I was quite handy. It is something that I had put on hold for quite some time but I have slowly been getting back on the treadmill. I’m currently working on a few interesting designs ranging from table pieces to lighting fixtures. If all pans out well, I hope to grow it into a formidable business in the next few years. So watch this space.


 6. Architecture is a man’s field, how true is this?

Very true! Haha! Well, case in point, I was the only girl in my class back at NIT for a good part of our final year and also graduated in the same fashion. I’m saying this from a purely logistical and factual perspective. I can say the same for the work environment. I remember there was a day I went for a site meeting with a former colleague of mine and was pleasantly surprised to bump into an old high school classmate who is a Quantity Surveyor. The bigger surprise was that we were the only ladies in the meeting. So yes, there is a lot of truth to that statement but the industry is changing. There are many ladies emerging at the top all the way from campus straight into the construction industry. We’re in the age of female empowerment and the uprising of the feminist movement, so the scale might just be tipping.


 7. Do you have to be artistically talented or is this a myth? (Like drawing and designing skills)

Not really, but being artistically inclined definitely gives you an upper hand. Drawing is a medium of communication and design skills are a product of creativity as well as knowledge. I believe that drawing is a skill that is mastered through a lot of practice, it can be done. You can learn freehand as well as Technical drawing. Can you learn how to be creative? That I’m not sure of, but I’m sure that everyone has a creative capacity. The problem is figuring out how to channel it.

 8. A typical day for you (as an architect)

It’s usually trying to find a balance between making a design work and trying to stay sane. I don’t know of any ‘normal’ person who is studying/ practicing Architecture (the characters you get to see in studio can be quite entertaining). Oh! And trying to meet deadlines. Unfortunately, those are the lines we usually don’t like.

9. How is the pay?

The subject of pay can be quite relative but ultimately with experience and an equally expansive portfolio, it definitely gets better.



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