Manisha Patel tells Building about breaking down cultural barriers, breathing underwater and an urban community in Cornwall
What has been your biggest career challenge?
Relocating a 100-year-old public park in the heart of Kensington to support the regeneration of a quarter of London. This required close collaboration with the community and a large number of stakeholders as key decisions had to be made outside the site boundaries. This is when I started thinking about what makes communities successful parts of towns and cities.
What would you change about the industry?
There remains a fundamental lack of choice in our housing markets for accommodating changing family structures. It is important we pursue a mixed economy of housing that includes smaller dwellings but also options that enable families to live together longer should they wish to do so. We have achieved this at Chobham Manor in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford, with the creation of the first multigenerational home.
Why did you choose architecture as a career?
Coming from an Asian family living in a working-class neighbourhood of London, I’ve always felt my career options were limited. That said, I’ve always had an interest in design so I hedged my bets at A levels and studied accountancy, economics and design so I would be able to pursue a career in architecture or accountancy. One day, a family member rang my parents and told them: “I simply couldn’t go into architecture as it would be detrimental to future marriage proposals and that accountancy would be a better choice”. This tipped the scale for me. I became head bent on becoming an architect to help break down some of the cultural barriers Asian women of my generation faced when choosing a career.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?
Be a sponge! Absorb everything around you, from your workplace environment to culture and society. And keep an open mind and be open to new ideas, as society evolves and architecture needs to evolve with it.
What would your superpower be?
I would want to have the ability to breathe underwater as the sea is the only thing humans haven’t been able to conquer yet. There is something really exciting about discovering new land.
What have you worked on that you’re most proud of?
We’re currently working on the creation of a new sustainable and intergenerational urban community in the heart of Truro that will help create 500 jobs and strengthen the local economy. It’s an incredibly exciting project where we’re able to apply our expertise on high-street regeneration, placemaking, public realm, mixed-use development and intergenerational housing. And I’m also really proud of my role as a Mayor’s Design Advocate!
What’s it like being you?
I sometimes feel like a juggler in a circus. Having a family and a career in a managerial position whilst still designing residential developments brings its own set of challenges. But after 25 years at PRP, I still get a real buzz out of my job. And what I enjoy the most is meeting residents that are satisfied with the housing we’ve provided. I love talking to people, attending consultation events and getting involved with communities from the moment we start working on a project.
What do you think your best quality is?
Understanding the potential in people. And always believing that it doesn’t matter who you are, you always have something to bring to the table.
Do you have a life philosophy?
I think that a life philosophy has to evolve, it cannot be static, but there are certain morals that I’ve kept throughout my life. Keep your mind free, absorb every walk of life, always have time to talk to people whatever they do or Saturn’s they may have.
What’s a secret skill we don’t know you have?
I love to make things. I do a lot of pottery and really enjoy sewing. I’ve actually made the curtains and furnishings in my home.
What’s your most prized possession?
I’m not materialistic. I think that the ability to travel and give this experience to my kids, to see and experience cultures, food and landscapes across the world brings more joy than anything else.
What’s your favourite food?
Yellow Indian rice (comfort food).