Anja Milić: Architecture That Suits Client’s Needs

To mark the founding of the Women’s Architectural Society we are publishing the interview with one of its founders and member of its Board of Directors and President of its Assembly, Anja Ivana Milić, owner and executive director of one of the biggest privately owned engineering companies in Serbia, from the book Women in Architecture, where she talks about the professional development, the state of architecture in Serbia and the position of women in architecture, and gives advice to young colleagues. As testimony to her extraordinary success are 14 years of successful business, an amazing number of over 100 employees, 3 branches in Serbia and 2 abroad, numerous built interiors, buildings and complexes, and the collaboration with some of the biggest architectural offices in the world.  


On Approach to Work

I like doing interiors. I believe all my clients for whom I did residential interiors are really happy and say they recognize the female capability of “packing” an apartment and furniture. Since the nineties I’m also designing furniture, which led me to open carpentry production in 2002. For me, it’s like a hobby I really enjoy.

The circumstances in practice have led me since 2000 down the path of corporate architecture, architecture conditioned by brand standards. I seized the opportunity and learned to handle design according to the book of standards and budget, leaving room also for creativity. This is why my list of references includes a large number of renowned international corporations.

In these projects you cannot identify a particular feminine style, but I did win all these clients with a feminine approach: carefully listening to their needs because large corporations expect your absolute commitment to creating their work place. This means a lot of patience and drafting of millions of options while listening to millions of client’s wishes. Women are made for this.

Otherwise, I also like designing restaurants, I realized several interiors of restaurants and cafes, and I’m currently working on one new restaurant. Additionally, architectural competitions are like an obligatory workout, we must always practice to stay in shape. I always work on them in a team, with a good friend, or with a group of colleagues from

On Success

I don’t see that as a woman I’ve done anything different than if I was a man. I just had more difficulties rising from the architectural crowd in an environment where there is not enough work for even a tenth of students which enroll in architecture yearly. Clients, when they picture hiring an architect, more often think of a man, and that is another dogma I had to overcome at the beginning of my career.

Professional success is actually the result of a good idea, resourcefulness and tenacity in life, and the use of real once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. It’s the universal rule, regardless of gender.

On The Female Principle

Is there a female principle in architecture? Is the Second Girls High School byMilica Krstić really a female building? Would a lay person say: This must have been drawn by a woman? Or could it be said for the Elementary school King Peter First by Jelisaveta Načić? Certainly, something like that cannot be claimed for the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, by architect Kazuyo Sejima.

When it comes to creativity, the world is divided into talented and less talented, not into men and women.

Otherwise, there is a running joke among engineers on the sensibility of men that enroll in architecture school, so I would gladly and jokingly conclude that working in architecture is already an affinity for female principles: neatness, harmony, aesthetics, proportion, decoration, functionality.

On Influences

When you are young, you can easily answer this question, because the beginning is always inspired by admiration for famous architects, and memory of your mentor and a few great professors which have led you toward the practice. But when you are already in the third decade of your career, you cannot answer by simply citing a few names.

Looking back, I see that it’s the symbiosis of questions of Who and What influenced me: teachers, role models, team members, but also changes brought by social and economic conditions (from early nineties until today), literature, travels, a variety of clients, international corporations which have been the majority of my clientele and which have particularly influenced my direction primarily toward corporate architecture.

A creative professional (artist, writer, architect…) grows with time and experience, passes many creative phases and keeps learning until the end of his working life. If I would name only the key points in time of my development on the path of becoming an architect, it would present the following chronology:

–   Architect mother, growing up in a house always full of architects; drawing as the basic mode of expression,; two drafting tables with rulers as necessary furniture of a two room apartment; Rotring rulers my mother used even when she was cutting up cakes.

–   My studies and the luck my generation had when freshmen where accepted by doyens in teaching; the priceless value to have my first consciousness about architecture built by Brana Milenković, Darko Marušić, Milan Lojanica, Ranko Radović, Borko Novaković, Zoran Petrović, Đorđe Zloković.

–   Teaching at the Faculty of Architecture from 1996 – 1999 with professor Dimitrije Mladenović ; working in offices from second year of studies until the opening of my own office.

–   Moving into private practice; partners and team members in each business until today are what finely shapes us and creates our final expression. The inevitable mutual influence and symbiosis of ideas in co-authored work is a bigger treasure in practice than being exclusively a “lone rider”.

All these years an unaltered feeling of excitement at seeing Le Corbusier’s projects and buildings. Every time I think: that’s it, there’s nothing else.

Female role models? Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima, Maya Lin… I could not call them role models, but they are certainly an inspiration, an incentive for women to become more and more visible and present in the future of global architecture.

On Advice

Architecture is learned until the end of your working years. There isn’t one moment where you don’t have to keep learning, exploring and looking for examples: trends, technology, materials are all changing.

Don’t decide what you will do in architecture before you pass through everything in your professional practice. Set aside first two years of professional practice as a continuation of your studies. You should go through all stages of work until the realization of the building. Even folding drawings has a lot of essence and science for further progress. A good concept is not worth anything if you haven’t developed it in drawings, dimension, detail, folded it into binders and taken it to a construction site, then answered all question there until the construction end and seen the concept 1:1 realized.

It is great luck to have where to keep learning, so fight for such opportunities.

In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later. (Harold Geneen)

And of course, because you’re young, don’t be afraid to bring out your own ideas, because they are fresh and progressive.

On Architecture in Serbia

Architecture in Serbia has had a major professional crisis at the beginning of the nineties, which is still going on. Primarily, the clients have beaten architects in the knowledge of drawing a project, where the fight for square meters turned into the demise of urban development.

Characteristically economical in paying “paper”, local clients have at their disposal a wide offer of cheap drawing everywhere. The price of our work has been brought down to a minimum, and the results of cheap projects are actually bad projects, because money is the measure of time: if you charged little you must quickly finish the work and submit just about anything. There is no time to develop the project stages, question the concept, solutions, and options, and analyze the house in all criteria. In the developed world project are done much longer, everyone understands the design process takes time. However, here even the foreign clients quickly adapt and learn to force short deadlines for already established low prices.

The buildings that have appeared in our streets have sealed the urban image of the city for the next hundred years. There are boulevards, streets and squares ruined by real-estate entrepreneurship. Building permits actually approve zoning parameters of construction, energy capacities, but no one has yet introduced an architectural permit! I would gladly fight for architectural approval as part of the construction procedure. We require the largest number of approvals in the procedure of obtaining the permit, and have a large number of architecturally unacceptable buildings.

It is necessary to raise awareness that for the same price, and even small construction budgets, you can make a building where the aesthetics is not overlooked, as well as the awareness that the growth of tourism is connected to the attractive development of the city. Small investments could bring appropriate economic benefits from tourism.

Finally, it is necessary to raise awareness that in this way we are not leaving to the next generations a quality city image. The psychology of the people is connected to the condition is which it grows up and the surroundings in physical and aesthetic sense. The improvement of the city image is at the same time care for the psychological development of our children, their future relation to cultural values, relation to pretty and ordered.

On Women in Architecture

Essentially women are prone to aesthetics and it is natural architecture is an attractive choice of studies for them. Architecture is beautiful studies, but physically hard work. This is why many women give up such strain. No defined working hours, projects are always done overtime. If you are drawing a house until late at night, you cannot stop designing even in your dreams; you keep drawing and travelling through your spaces while sleeping. When a project or competition in being finalized, we are not there for our families for days, lunch has to be made by someone else.

Very few families will accept and support this, so, when we talk about women who are accomplished architects, they are often married to an architect, or single, devoted to the profession. It is hard to live with an architect husband, let alone a wife, because of a great absence from family life.

I believe that until recently this was the only reason women after Faculty diminish in their visibility in architectural authorship, but I also believe that in the future this will be overcome, in accordance with the contemporary European initiative for gender equality that advocates stronger presence of women in all spheres of society. Architecture is considered a male profession because women give up before they even begin, and not because drawing a good house is really a “male thing”.

Women, if they don’t give up on the true face of the profession and embark on the adventure of author architecture, besides design briefs, authorities, the office, clients and family, also have to fight against a large amount of male vanity and chauvinism which are synonymous to the architectural profession.

I am very happy that Serbia already has Zoca (Savičić), Nina (Gligorijević), Jelena (Vojvodić), Eva (Vaništa Lazarević), Grozdana (Šišović)Biljana (Gligorić), Vesna (Cagić), Ksenija (Bulatović), Dragana (Vasiljević), Milena (Kordić)… Together we are stronger.

Illustrations courtesy of

This article was originally published on the website of the Centre for Architecture Belgrade


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