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Architecture with purpose and passion

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One locally-based professional has been included in a list of 100 women making a difference in the world. SARA DOUEDARI finds out how she is doing that

Walking into the Nicosia office, the space is immediately inviting, clean and purposeful. Spread over two levels, the environment is a testament to the ethos of Kyriakos Tsolakis Architects. The walls, adorned with project visuals, tell stories of innovation. Among these images is a team that includes Elena Tsolakis and her siblings, Cassandra and Nicodemos.

Elena’s story starts in Australia, her birthplace. Her father, Kyriakos, established the practice in 1973. As a Cypriot immigrant in Australia, he undertook more than 500 architectural projects in Melbourne. The narrative shifted to Cyprus when her family returned in 1993, when Elena was 11 years old.

feature2 resort air which is in the planning stages
Resort air which is in the planning stages

Elena’s quest for knowledge led her to Australia and the UK for her higher education. After completing her studies and working for a number of years, she made the decision to return to Cyprus. “It was about more than continuing my father’s architectural legacy,” she said. “It was about working to enrich our homeland.” Her father’s innovative approach, particularly introducing the timber frame brick veneer construction technique, set a foundation for Elena’s aspirations to build upon.

Elena herself was recently included in the Royal Institute of British Architects 100 Women Architects in Practice, a diverse book of exceptional female architects from around the world. It is a testament to the significant contribution of female architects worldwide, and was officially presented in New York, with events scheduled around the world throughout 2024.

The book speaks of the important contribution women make in the built environment, in an industry which is traditionally dominated by men. It highlights the fundamental role they have in shaping a better built environment which hopefully encourages more women to enter this industry.

“It’s a great honour to be included in this list, I do think it’s important, not just for me but for all architects in Cyprus, male and female, because it recognises work that is being done on our island,” Elena said.

“It‘s important for women architects too because it highlights greater female participation. A better built environment is one which represents society more accurately, and more effectively serves various communities. The designers of the built environment therefore must be a reflection of society and more female representation will only benefit everyone in our country.”

feature2 the star observatory
The star observatory

Her inclusion is a testament to Elena’s dedication to creating spaces that transcend their physical boundaries to touch the lives of those within. For Elena, architecture is not merely a profession but a passionate pursuit to enrich society through thoughtful and purposeful design. “Architecture is problem-solving,” she said, summarising her profession’s role as a force for good. “The message we are trying to share is that good soulful design makes people healthier and happier and the impact on society at large cannot be underestimated.”

Elena’s most important works focus on public and cultural projects. One of these is the Troodos Observatory, a monument of exemplary architecture that can serve as an attraction in mountainous areas. Tsolakis Architects also undertook the first specially constructed women’s shelter in Cyprus for Spavo, a place that allows abused women to rebuild their lives. Projects such as The Culinary School and the Charisma Wellness Resort in Mykonos are architectural landmarks promoting health, longevity and spiritual wellbeing.

“We are mainly interested in public projects because there the work can reach the greatest number of people,” she said.

In her work, Elena is pragmatic and focused. She views architecture as a tool to create functional spaces that address real-life issues and improve daily living. Practical design choices, such as the placement of windows, reflect her belief that architecture must meet the needs of all users. “Windows are designed to offer a sense of freedom and connection to the outside while ensuring a feeling of safety. It is crucial for the emotional wellbeing of the women and children staying at the Cyprus Women’s shelter,” Elena added.

Each project, for her, is a step towards realising a vision where spaces not only exist but also speak to the hearts of those who inhabit them. Together with her siblings, Elena further extended the family’s architectural influence by establishing a new office in the UK. Looking forward, Elena is enthusiastic about exploring new ways to integrate functionality with innovation. “Our future projects promise to further blend sustainable practices with cutting-edge technology,” she said.

feature2 the riba bookElena Tsolaki’s journey in architecture goes beyond accolades and accomplishments; it is a story of passion and empathy to making a difference through the art of building. Her inclusion in the prestigious RIBA publication is not just a personal milestone but a recognition of the enduring impact of her work on society, marking her as a true visionary in the field of architecture in Cyprus.

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