A Woman with Purpose: Fernanda Canales

A Woman with Purpose: Fernanda Canales

Fernanda Canales is one of Mexico's most respected architects, who is working in an industry where just three of the world's 100 biggest firms are headed by women.

“We grew up having no role model. My generation is rejecting the situation of past generations where women weren’t allowed to lead. We work hard to create a path that may be easier for the next generation,” she explains.

Founding her own firm in 2002, Fernanda combines the practice of architect and designer with that of architectural critic and curator, exploring, in particular, the nature of Mexican design, and how housing the society's population could become top priority of any country`s agenda.

Fernanda is the perfect example of an Akris woman who improves living conditions in local communities, paved the way for others, and lives a life with purpose.

You founded your own architecture firm in 2002. Was it intimidating to start a practice as a woman in architecture in Mexico?
It is still intimidating today, every day. I am often asked to recommend a male architect for a project.

You have a very distinctive architectural style with a design practice grounded in locality and site specificity. How did it develop?
It developed because it was very frustrating to see the incompatibility of what was designed in an office and what was needed on the site. The gap between abstract thinking and everyday realities made me no longer fight against issues such as reduced budgets, changing needs, unqualified hand labor, errors during the construction process, and many other issues that are usually out of the control of the architect and affect the project. Instead, I try to do projects that can adapt to these circumstances without losing the important aspects of a project and its main qualities.

Can you share 3 aspects that you always search for in your projects?
Provide views to natural elements, such as sky, trees, sun and mountains. Make people feel part of that place. Treat the ones who are outside with the same generosity as the ones who are inside the building.

Living in Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, what are the greatest challenges in architecture and urban planning these days?
The biggest challenge is to try to lessen inequalities through architecture, to provide safety, liberty, comfort and empower any user of the building - from the owner to the person who does the cleaning.

How would you describe your leadership style?
No leadership. Have everyone, including me, finding their own path to do things their own way.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you received as a young architect that you want to pass along?
There is a phrase by Luis Barragan that has been very important to me: “Don't look at what I have done, look at what I have seen.” It is important to understand influences in a broader sense.

Can you tell us about one of your latest projects, “After the World: Privacy in a Shared World”, that is part of this year's Venice Biennale?
I am participating in the Mexican Pavilion in the Venice Biennale as part of a collaboration of 12 architects working with 3 curators, and I am also participating in the central pavilion curated by Hashim Sarkis with an installation titled “After the House, Privacy in a Shared World” that poses a critique and an alternative to cities divided by contrasts: workin/living, owners/dispossessed, resources/waste, inside/outside, public/private. It searches ways to make these oppositions disappear.

What does being a woman with purpose in architecture mean to you?
It means my life.
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