Charissa Snijders in Profile

5 March 2013

Charissa Snijders is an architect with over 20 years experience practicing in Auckland. She explains some of her background, and her thoughts on architecture and the industry.


When did you finish your architecture degree?

I finished my architecture degree in 1991, than in 2007 I completed a Masters in Design Management.


Do you work within a practice or do you have your own practice? Briefly explain some of the context.

I have had my own practice since 1999 - prior to that I gained my architectural 'learning the ropes' from Cook Hitchcock & Sargisson. During that time I worked a year in Bangkok under a collaboration made up of CHS, Architectus and Athfield Architects. My time at CHS and in Bangkok helped provide the building blocks towards the architect that I am today – I have a lot to thank both Peter and Marshall for. 


Why did you start your own practice?

For many reasons, but primarily an overwhelming need to express and create in a way that suits me – I don't really suit the 8.30-5pm office structure – I work quite differently, plus I also wanted to explore and combine other creative thinking and practice into my work, which would have been difficult to do in an office environment. 


Why did you study architecture?

As a child I loved light on surfaces and textures, and would often spend hours absorbed in this play of light and shadow. I remember going to places that moved me, that shifted my perception of reality and I realised how 'place' can impact the quality of life. On a more prosaic note, I was also guided by the teachers at my school as I was good at maths, science and art – it seemed a comfortable fit even though I knew no one working in this domain.


If you were to choose a career again, would you choose architecture? Why or why not?

Yes I would, but I do sometimes dream of being a librarian – it seems so safe to be cocooned amongst all those books without all the responsibility and weight behind the making of architecture – and oh the regular pay checks! Or maybe an artist, where it’s just you and your canvas or sculpture. Yet nothing can beat a happy client and the friendships and journey shared when creating a good place.


How was architecture different to what you imagined when you started working?

The key surprise was the need to constantly remember to be creative – to take at least one risk in every project you do. It seems to me that the environment that I now work in is geared to stifle creativity and the exploration of ideas; where one can often get lost in the dross of compliance and deadlines.


What do you love about architecture?

A happy client! Also when architecture harmoniously expresses a bit of both the client and the land, and a guess a little of me as well. Very satisfying.


Do you work full time or do you balance work with other commitments?

Every week is different so it is a difficult one to answer. I was involved for many years with the AAA, Urban Auckland, Sustainable Business Network, Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery and the NZIA Auckland Branch under many guises. Voluntary work seems to come second nature to me, as does study. I started and completed a Masters whilst practicing, as well as teaching at both University of Auckland and Unitec. I also wrote for Constructing Excellence and BRANZ a series of twelve case studies. All these things I have intertwined into my practice. As to the context, whilst I have had no children of my own, for a majority of these years I have had children half time through my two partners, but I have been lucky as I am not the primary caregiver - my work can take precedence when required.


Can you briefly explain a typical day? How do you balance work and life?

I try and avoid typical and routine - except my partner will laugh at that as I am very precious about my Monday's where I work on my business as much as possible and helps set up the week. Currently I have two places of work - one on Herald Island and the other on Waiheke Island. I have purposely chosen to have my studio/office within my residence as I like the flexibility this provides me. Plus I contract out the drafting work, which allows me to take on work that I am interested in doing and opens opportunities for collaboration. I continuously play with balancing work and leisure, as hopefully work is part of my life! Sometimes I am winning other times it spirals out of control. It seems to get better every year with the help and guidance of mentors, coaches and taking the time to reflect.


How do you approach a design? What is most important for you to get right?

I like to get to know the people that I am designing for as much as I can before I start. I often work with them to formulate a brief - which acts as a living brief throughout the project. If possible I'd like architecture to take the philosophy of the slow food movement and contrary to the typical pressures that architecture now resides, I endeavour to approach architecture in the ethos of 'slow design'. Allowing the design to evolve to fit the needs of the people within the context of the land it rests upon is key to any successful project.


Do you think women approach architecture differently to men?

This is a tricky question and one that I doubt I will ever satisfactorily answer. But to try, to me it is not whether you are a man or a woman that makes a difference, but your values, personality, sensitivity, ego and creativity that you bring to the table.