Interview with: Zamorah Getrouw
The architect should become a master builder againZamorah Getrouw
Zamorah Getrouw studied architecture in the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment. Her career has included working as an architect for AAARCHITECTEN. In 2011, she received the Marina van Damme grant from the Delft University Fund. This grant supports the efforts of talented women to extend their breadth or depth within their fields.
BSc/MSc in Architecture, 2000-2007
Trainee, Association for Architects, 2003
Working student, AAARCHITECTEN, 2004-2006
Architect, AAARCHITECTEN, 2007-2012
Contractor programme at Kader Opleidingen in de Bouw, 2012-2013
Owner, Edit//A B.V. Architects and Contractors, since 2013
As a child, Zamorah Getrouw was a regular visitor to construction sites: ‘My father was a contractor, and I always came along. I watched the construction workers to make sure that they didn’t make any mistakes, because everything had to be perfect. They would tell me: “Little girl, why don’t you just go and play?”’ Zamorah would later go on to study architecture with a great deal of passion. ‘My student years consisted of going to the faculty in the morning and not coming home until Security announced that we had to leave the building around ten in the evening.’ It was also a time of bobsledding from the roof of the Library when it had snowed and living in a ‘hardcore’ student house. In short, it was a time she would not have missed for the world.
The call of construction
The practice of construction was already calling her at that time. ‘One of the lecturers who inspired me the most was Stef Janssen. In the first class, he asked: “How many nails do you need in order to make a rigid triangle?” He also took us to visit construction sites. That was an eye-opener. A building will simply have to stand, theory or no theory.’ After graduation, she missed that aspect of her profession. ‘I found out that architects for a major architectural firm do not have much of a connection to the construction site. They primarily have a role in the design phase. The project managers in the architectural firm usually have the most active role during the operational phase. Architects do not have much to do with that.’
According to Zamorah, this situation developed in the course of history. ‘Long ago, the architect was the master builder: the one who was in charge of all construction processes. As projects became larger and more complex, and as deadlines and budgets came to play a more important role, the processes became more fragmented. In addition to designers, we now have drafters, construction consultants, installation consultants, project managers and managers – all essentially working on their own individual “islands.”’ That does not always make the architect very popular. ‘If you design something that is difficult to carry out, you will encounter friction. If you don’t know how it can be carried out technically, you won’t be able to resolve such friction.’
The shrinking role of the architect
Another important factor is that Zamorah graduated in 2008, in the middle of the financial crisis. ‘Buildings were being constructed in the most economical and efficient manner, with the role of the architect gradually shrinking in the process.’ She realised that she wanted to be more involved in and have more influence over the construction process, but she lacked the necessary knowledge. This was where the Marina van Damme grant came in. ‘When I saw the call, there were only two days left until the deadline. During those two long nights, I wrote down all the thoughts that had been running around in my head for some time – what my role could be, and how our profession should proceed. Architects should become master builders again.’ Zamorah won the grant and used the money to follow the contractors’ programme.
Trainee in her own company
Zamorah is currently applying her new knowledge in her own company, the Edit//A B.V. architectural and contracting firm. ‘At first, I felt a bit like a trainee in my own company. I was at construction sites often, where I learned an entirely different side of the profession’, she recounts. ‘We are now receiving many assignments for complex renovations, and that is my passion. For example, we have just finished the new RTL studio on Plein in The Hague. Although technical requirements play a determining role in such projects, we would also like to make a prominent statement with such a monumental building in the middle of the city centre. Following a design by Urban Climate Architects, Edit//A constructed an entire upper floor, for which the existing roof was demolished.’
In addition to graduating during the economic crisis, Zamorah graduated at a time in which the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment was experiencing another crisis: the fire in the faculty building. ‘When I came to Delft, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Architecture and the Built Environment building. Once you to learn how to look, however, you start to become aware of how a building works, regardless of what you think about its style. If you don’t learn to see and appreciate the beauty of the building, you’ve chosen the wrong degree programme.’ She is also enthusiastic about the current building. ‘It isn’t “my” Architecture and the Built Environment from back then, but the first time I went there I recognised all sorts of things – lecturers and staff members, as well as activities, and the modelling hall for example. As a first-year student, I would pass by and think, “One day, I’ll be in there”. That feeling is still there. It’s still Architecture and the Built Environment, even if it is an entirely new building. I don’t think that any new construction could have come close.’
The building is a good example of a successful renovation. ‘Old, monumental buildings can take on such diverse functions. There is now a great deal of discussion about sustainability and materials. My vision calls for creating buildings that can keep up with the times and remain standing for a century or two. That is sustainable. We should take care to create something of quality, that people will want to preserve.’ She also regards the Aula building as an example. ‘It is a very pure building that fits together well. It does not have any decorative awnings or gables. The rooms and halls are used to create the shape, the function defining the form. It accommodates many different groups: students, staff members and event visitors. It all fits together, and it all works. That’s how it should be done.’
Zamorah has always remained involved with the degree programme. During her student years, she served on the Faculty Student Council for two years, and she was a mentor for first-year students. She currently supervises trainees on a regular basis. ‘Although the programme does not require a traineeship, it should’, she feels. She would also like to add a module to the programme. ‘The practice of construction could be a useful addition. It should be an elective, however, and only for students who are truly interested in it.’ Zamorah has attended the alumni day each year since winning the Marina van Damme grant. ‘I used to think that an alumni day was primarily something for people at the end of their careers. The timing is also usually inconvenient. Nevertheless, each year when I arrive, I think: “this is home”’. She also stays in touch with her former fellow students and lecturers online. ‘Our shared Delft background ties us together, and that’s nice. This TU Delft feeling is not something that I expected when I graduated, but it does exist among the alumni. I consider it a privilege to be a part of it.’