Celebrating with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)

On the 25 September, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) London and the South East celebrated its 15 year anniversary. 

Built By Us was lucky enough to be invited to the organisation’s first Annual Conference, bringing together a host of fantastic women working in the construction industry across the UK and Ireland.


Drawing on recent events – 100 years of women’s suffrage and various political and social movements – the conference specifically aimed at addressing issues of gender diversity in the context of business. In particular, it praised initiatives such as Built By Us, which are dedicated to supporting women and those from under-represented backgrounds into traditionally male-dominated industries.

The focus of the agenda was the strengths women bring to business, including creative problem solving and innovation. A host of speakers came together to inspire and empower attendees to not shy away from the challenges at hand – the rally cry was to take action to make a difference to their immediate environment and the industry as a whole without waiting to be given the opportunity.

Danna Walker, founder of Built By Us, took part in a panel discussion on ‘Women Shaping the Industry’, chaired by Construction News’ Lucy Alderson. She joined fellow panellists Annie Bowman (Hoydens) and  Cheryl Pilliner-Reeves (Director of PR Architect and Founder of ArchiMake).

Architect and BBU Founder Danna Walker presents The Architecture of Incarceration on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4 broadcast the documentary, Architecture of Incarceration, on Thursday 23 August 2018, presented by south London based architect and founder of Built By Us (BBU), Danna Walker.


With Britain committed to building 10,000 new prison places in a £1.3 billion project announced in 2015, Architecture of Incarceration asks some searching questions about prison architecture and what we expect from the buildings that house almost 90,000 men and women convicted of criminal offences across England and Wales.


By most measures prisons are failing. Report after report damns poorly-designed prison buildings that are inadequate for rehabilitation. Around half of all people in prison will be reconvicted within twelve months of release, with an estimated cost to the taxpayer of between £10-15 billion each year.

Prison architecture is possibly the only area of architecture where the aim is not the aesthetics of place and space. A lack of innovation over many decades means that the go-to design for prisons dates from the eighteenth century.

New prisons like HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, opened in 2017, have some progressive architectural flourishes, but essentially follow the centuries-old blueprint of plain facades, punctuated by tiny windows. Yet the work that takes place inside prisons is of fundamental importance to the safety of our society.

Architect and social entrepreneur Danna Walker visits London's oldest jail, HMP Brixton, as well as the unusual setting of HMP Styal near Manchester, and questions the role of prisons and whether good design can drive better outcomes.

She also visits Halden Prison in Norway, built ten years ago and often cited as “the world’s most humane prison”, but, it is very expensive to run. Could we learn valuable lessons from its strikingly humane architecture as we embark on our own transformative prison building programme?

The Art of Now: Architecture of Incarceration is produced by the Prison Radio Association and was be broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Thursday 23 August 2018 at 11.30am. It will also be available on the BBC iPlayer Radio App to hear on demand following the broadcast.


Built By Us is a not-for-profit social enterprise on a mission to diversify the construction sector. Its vision is that by 2030 BBU it will have played an active role in making the sector more inclusive and a better reflection of the society it serves. BBU does this by supporting diverse and talented individuals wishing to develop sustainable careers in the built environment and by supporting built environment businesses on their journey to become more inclusive workplaces.


The Prison Radio Association is a charity that specialises in creating media to transform lives and reduce crime. It runs National Prison Radio, the world’s first national radio station for prisoners. Available to more than 80,000 people across England and Wales via in-cell television, it has revolutionised the way we communicate in prisons. 86% of people in prison listen to National Prison Radio, and 45% listen every day. PRA Productions is the commercial arm of the charity. It creates audio, films and animations for a wide variety of clients, including the BBC. All profits go back into supporting their work in prisons.


My Hustle | Meet Shade Abdul

My Hustle is a new feature on the BBU Blog where we ask inspirational and trailblazing people in construction to share their career story. We start with an architect who started her own practice Shade Abdul.

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How did you start your career in construction?

My career started working for small practices whose work inspired me in some way or another. I think collectively, they inspired me to start working for myself in 2010, 3 years after becoming a registered architect. I think one cannot fully understand the business of architecture until you are up in a director level or running your own business and I wanted to know as much as possible.

Explore the practical business of getting experience – even a two weeks experience can influence your future decisions.

What or who inspired you to work in construction?

The idea of working in architecture really came about through a two weeks work experience set up by my school at the age of 15. The story goes a little like this: In my first art lesson in secondary school, another student who had great drawing skills said she knew what she wanted to be when she grows up and that was an architect. I think I might have even asked her what that was. 4 years later, I remembered that proclamation so well that I conspired with her that if she chose the local council’s architect’s office as her first choice and the graphic design office I really wanted as her second choice, and if I did the reversal then we would both get the placements that we wanted. The strategy failed – I ended up in the local council’s architect’s office and became an architect, she went to the graphic design office and became a graphic designer. I’m very grateful for those two weeks experience that my school – a state school – provided.

I would describe architecture as...

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For me architecture is about experiences, how people feel when they see a building from the outside or how they feel when they are moving through the spaces inside.  I would describe architecture as the design of experiences.

It takes time to qualify as an architect, how did you stay motivated?

It takes such a long time to qualify that there were occasions where I wondered whether I had made the right choice. Thankfully in the UK, architecture schools vary in their teachings. I gravitated towards schools where I felt that my artistic interests could be pursued and that always allowed me to see the course as a gateway for other career paths if, at the end of my studies, I decided that the architectural profession wasn’t for me. The knowledge that other career options were possible kept me motivated.

Running my own business

I set up as Shade Abdul Architecture, however, I’m currently in the process of rebranding as Studio Shade Abdul as a result of how I see my practice developing going forward. The core projects that I carry out are private residential, but I also would like to work on commercial spaces. I get very excited about projects where design can happen at different scales from architecture right down to the furniture.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in people and places. Designing architecture is a collaborative effort with clients, other consultants, builders and craftsmen. The conversations and exchanges that occur inspire me and the design ideas that come to me. And of course, architecture doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so the places where projects sit in inspire me as well as faraway places discovered through travelling.

Getting into construction

My advice to anyone wishing to work in construction is to find out what you like about construction and what inspires you about construction. Then explore the practical business of getting experience – even a two weeks experience can influence your future decisions.

What's next for you?

Expanding the sectors that I work in beyond private residential and collaborating with other architects where there is a synergy of ideas and approach both in London and in Lagos.

About Shade Abdul

Shade Abdul runs an architecture and interior design studio based in London. The studio undertakes bespoke projects at the intersection of architecture, interior and furniture. We work collaboratively with clients, consultants and highly skilled tradespeople to design engaging spatial experiences.

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W: www.shade-abdul.com

"My Hustle" is a careers story feature which highlights amazing people working in the construction sector and breaking the mould. If you would like to share your story, contact BBU at info@builtbyus.org.uk