Strong Voices Interview #15: Tilla Theus – Architect & Owner of "Tilla Theus & Partner AG"

In our second StrongVoices edition of 2022 we had the chance to get a glimpse into the architectural business, as we talked to Tilla Theus, a well-known architect in Switzerland. Be excited!

 

ABOUT TILLA THEUS:

Tilla Theus is a Swiss architect, owning her own architectural business since 1969, after she graduated with a degree in architecture from ETH Zurich. To date, her architectural office runs under the name "Tilla Theus & Partners AG" and employs around 15 other architects. Tilla Theus herself specializes in the planning and realization of new buildings in challenging urban contexts, the reconstruction and renovation of heritage buildings, as well as interior architecture and interior design.   

"Stay curious, keep going and don't let setbacks take away your passion. Because passion is what it takes to move forward." Tilla Theus

OUR QUESTIONS:

You started your own architectural business right after graduating in 1969, why did you decide to do that and was it always clear to you that you wanted to be self-employed?

I had already founded my architectural practice one day after graduation. When we won our first competition shortly thereafter and it was also implemented, the question of working elsewhere finally no longer arose for me. At that time, however, everything was a bit easier than it is today - even daring to be self-employed.

Your architecture office exists now for more than 50 years, what has changed over time? What has become easier and harder and what challenges have there been? How have you maintained your passion for architecture?

In the past, you could set up your office with a desk, some tracing paper and a pencil. Today, you need technical aids and networks so that you can plan together in a network. But the most important quality you need to survive in architecture for decades has remained the same - that's curiosity. This still drives me today, combined with a passion for my profession. I always say: "we architects are lucky, we can show our families what we have developed and built". Other professions can hardly do that. We, on the other hand, can visit our buildings, we can live in them. This is a quality that always gives true joy - to see how your vision, something you designed on paper, develops until it finally stands before you in reality. I also see this joy and fulfillment in my team - when they visit our buildings.

What experiences did you have as a woman in a field that tends to be dominated by men?

From my point of view, there is no such thing as male or female architecture - there is only good and bad architecture. Whether man or woman - maybe the approach differs, but the concept of quality knows no difference. I didn't want to build single-family houses in order to build single-family houses all my life. After all, I had graduated from the same university as my colleagues. They wanted to implement public buildings - so did I! That's why we also worked on public competitions and that's how our first project, the retirement home in Mollis, came about. A groundbreaking beginning for my work.

What factors have motivated you on your career path? How did you manage to get over setbacks (if you experienced any)?

On every career path, there are many positives, many negatives and certainly also setbacks. For example, 16 building applications had to be submitted for the Hotel Widder project. Every time an archaeological find was made during the construction work, it caused new changes and delays. A large part of the team thought "now I can't do it anymore", and I said to myself, if I have already developed so many revisions, then I will probably also master this last one. After all, there were 16!

Do you have a "mantra" that has guided you throughout your career?

I do not have a mantra. The general rule is - bring patience and keep searching. My professor always said: "the day has 24 hours". Whether one round more or less - the week has 7 days.

What helps you create a balance between your private and business life?

I am a "domestic" type - I spend time with family and friends, visit exhibitions and thus find the necessary balance to my work. But it still takes a lot of understanding from family and friends and is a constant balancing act.

What advice would you give to young women/founders who are at the beginning of their career? What advice would you have wished for back then?

Stay curious, keep going and don't let setbacks take away your passion. Because passion is what it takes to move forward.