When Mary Rose Akii walks into the room at the FBW Uganda offices in Muyenga, Kampala, you can tell that she is a warm and bubbly person. Marie, as she is known by her workmates and her peers, has already disturbed my mental illusion of what an architect should be. Wearing a big curly afro, a dark blue lip colour and a wide and contagious smile, she introduces herself and lets me know that she will be taking me through what her day is like working at FBW, a group of Architects and Engineers that have been in our Ugandan market for over 20 years and have worked on countless projects in our country.
At 32 years, Marie is a registered architect who heads a team of 8 other architects in the design, drawing-up and presentation of building projects at FBW in Uganda, including collaborating with FBW’s in-house structural engineers and MEP engineers to deliver the level of quality that FBW has come to be well known for in the Ugandan market. To me and you, structural engineers are the people who architects consult to make sure they are not breaking down a wall that might be essential in holding a building up and as Marie jokes, the same people who make sure that the buildings she designs will stand-up, while MEP engineers deal with buildings heating or cooling systems, plumbing for sinks and electrical wiring.
Her day starts off at the crack of dawn (5:30am) when she says her morning prayer, and makes her way to the office because she likes to get things done early. A day before that, like the architect she is at heart, she will plan out what her priority jobs will be for the next day. She will then go on and have any meetings that she might need to attend, visit any sites that are part of her work, or sit down at her desk and collaborate with any one of the FBW offices within East Africa. FBW has offices in Kigali and Nairobi, and they service the Tanzanian market through their office in Kampala.
She mentions the level of responsibility that comes along with doing architecture. The sheer gravity of being responsible for human lives by making sure that the buildings are designed to proper standards, so that they are safe and do not fall down, is not an easy one. In design, safety is always her first priority, the next one being that they deliver exceptional work.So when things get overwhelming – which sometimes happens,Marie goes to the kitchen where she takes a 15 minute power nap, and is ready to jump right back into her work. At lunch time, Marie and her workmates have lunch from their in-house chef Vivian.
The story of how they ended up having a chef to prepare tailor made meals five days a week is an interesting one. Originally, they would make their way to Kansanga and Kabalagala for lunch through the office back gate at 1:00 pm and make their way back at 1:45 pm. With everyone in agreement that having someone prepare their meals in-house would be more efficient and productive for the overall team, they now enjoy a variety of meals throughout the week, and sometimes even go back for an after lunch snack, which Vivian prepares for because of her experience working with them. Marie takes a punch at her workmates by mentioning that Vivian is always ready for certain culprits who will always come back for lunch seconds.
After lunch, Marie finishes whatever she might have left to do in the afternoon hours, and winds down her day with an afterhours activity. Sometimes she meets with her friends for drinks, goes to the cinema, or does something sporty. Many of her workmates at FBW play soccer on Thursday so she joins them when she is able to.
By the time I leave Marie, I feel like I have a much better understanding of what happens in an architecture firm, and I know for sure that my perception of architecture was certainly wrong. If nothing else she has inspired me to learn how to balance my work and personal life, and the vitality of knowing when to take a step back, and when to jump right back into my work.