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OSA Review: Fiammetta Gray on Creating Positiveness as a Female Architect

Guest Lecture organised by OxArch, 1st December 2022

In this chilly December evening, we were joined by the cheerful-looking, curly-haired Fiammetta Gray as she delivered her lecture on her highs and lows, from being one of seven female students amidst a class of about a hundred male students all the way throughout the trials and tribulations to setting up Studio Gray while single-handedly mothering three kids. I shudder to imagine the baptism of hardships and bitterness she must have gone through but she showed none of them, but sparkles of enthusiasm and positivity when talking through some highlights and lowlights in her life. Now, let’s waste no time and delve straight in.

Driven by her passion in colour and fabric, Fiammetta chose architecture as it was believed that the subject will open up pathways in design. However, very much like the existential crises that some of us (me included) have gone/ are going through at some points of our education, Fiammetta was not convinced to pursue a career in the then highly male-dominated and female-repressed architecture industry halfway through her education. As such, she packed up and went to Milan for a year out into the realm of design environment in the central of the design world. The sojourn actually made her realise that studying architecture allows her to give attention to the people and detailing which she adores. Unapologetically, she returned to Oxford Polytechnic to continue her study in Diploma in Architecture, now with refreshed rigour and impetus to harnessing her adoration of colours and fabrics.

She then flipped the page onto her next chapter in life where she worked in huge, well-established firm to run multi-million-pound projects, which included creating 3D models of buildings such as The Shard! Nevertheless, all these demanding, major undertakings have soon become unfeasible as soon as she was getting married and having babies. I suppose that is one of contributing factors to setting up her own practice with her husband, Richard Buckley. They have since then undertook a range of residential, interior and commercial projects but what I found fascinating is that they even designed their new home out of a garage when Fiammetta was undergoing pregnancies. Funding was made possible due to good relationship between her husband with a manager in HSBC Bank but owning to the eye-watering cost, they took part in constructing their own home except the foundation! Together, their practice executed multiple exceptional projects including Mobile Home Static Caravan that can be transported on train and mass produced under £50K, and so forth.

Treating design feature as a piece of sculpture defines Fiammetta’s approach (OxArch, 2022).

Tragically, Fiammetta’s life took a turn as she becomes a single mum of three when her husband drowned and died on a holiday in Sri Lanka. This drew an end to her role in BuckleyGrayYeoman and she then founded Studio Gray with another partner who has been working with her for decades. What has never changed though, is her daring enthusiasm in using colours. Interestingly, one of her residential projects had to go through council approval just for a stretch of pink wall along the swimming pool. It initially horrified local residents but it soon became a landmark for the locality. Another example is the usage of bright orange wall inspired by the colour of a special local coconut (which I’ve regrettably forgotten its name) amidst a white concrete house owned by her in Sri Lanka. Despite these few exceptions in terms of colour usage, Fiammetta believes that it is essential to make design sit within its landscape and understand the locality, take a look at how she uses timber cladding to make the building merge with trees in the backdrop.

As a busy and optimistic architect, Fiammetta never stood still as she is currently designing and retrofitting her new house in Oxfordshire. Let's hope that her new retrofit project would pop up in Grand Design someday in the future! Anyway, it’s been a great evening with Fiammetta and what an incredible and literally colourful life story, without all the doom and gloom of a typical architect.

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