Joanna is a force and a protector of nature. An architect and partner at Openwork Studio, a Design Director at Nidum – who are responsible for the new Gozo Museum, and an Environmentalist and council member of Din L-Art Helwa.
I met Joanna on a warm January afternoon in Mojo’s and we drank coffee and put the world to rights. Well as much of it as we could in that short space of time. We spoke candidly about real situations women find themselves in and up against when following their purpose. The struggle for respect, equality, and overall, for what is morally just. We shared opinions on empowering women to be who they want to be. Whether it be to have a career or to be a stay-at-home mum. We agreed that male-heavy industries have had their time and spoke about the trailblazer men that are straddling our new paradigm. We spoke about her hatred for the senseless destruction of historic buildings and village cores and the destruction of the natural landscape and her love of trees.
Joanna’s activism is alive. Articles like this one chime when there’s talk of destroying old buildings and scenery that make these islands loved by so many. She built her own company (Openwork) because she was over being told what to do now proudly runs an ethical business specializing in conservation and the reuse of old buildings. Something extremely close to her heart. Nidum is a joint collaboration with another architectural practice that produces urban projects of a cultural and social dimension. They are responsible for the new and much anticipated Gozo Museum, but more about that later in the year.
This is a conversation with Joanna. The powerhouse. Alongside her active career roles, she’s also a devoted wife and an utterly grateful mum (her daughter was born on her third IVF treatment). She embodies woman. Driven by a relentless search for beauty, be it the natural beauty of a landscape or the man-made beauty of art and architecture, she is a shining example of all the things that make a woman extraordinary.
What or who inspires you?
Currently, I draw strength from people like Kathrine Switzer who defiantly become the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1967. The older I get, the more I see how ego-based narrow-minded men bulldoze their way around people, especially women, who have far more insight and care for the world around them. I am also intrigued by the politician Anne Hidalgo who is changing the face of Paris for the better and fighting for better urban spaces.
What keeps you sane?
Putting it all in perspective and feeling grateful for the many wonderful things that I have around me, most especially my miracle eleven-year-old daughter, and my mother who has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.
What is your proudest achievement?
Number one, my daughter. With my architect’s hat on, in 2017, Nidum won the competition for the Gozo Museum, contracted by the Gozo Ministry and Heritage Malta. I am the author and design director for the project and it is now off the ground and slowly being shaped into what I believe will be a museum of world-class standing. As a result of the design, we managed to attract one of the best museologists in the world to work with us – Adrien Gardere from Paris.
What’s your tip for life-work balance?
Follow your heart, nobody can tell you what is the best life-work balance. It has given me great joy and freedom setting up my own company with my other partners. So ultimately, I dictate my life-work balance. Although, admittedly producing good architecture (not building a block of faceless flats) is relentless and a tough way of life.
What advice would you give your younger self?
To stop attempting to prove yourself to others. Being a mother and having a family is a wonderful achievement in itself. Of course being able to balance between being a working woman with one’s own identity, income, and motherhood has been my ultimate goal. I would have advised myself to have children at a younger age, and perhaps I would have been able to have more children if I started earlier in life.
What general advice would you give to a wanna be architect?
Travel – travel – travel. Stop studying and get out there, into the working world. Put a building together from start to finish. Make physical models. Sketch, and sketch and sketch. Do not drop your dreams and became one of those awful architects who ruin the environment – fight for your dreams, because they may come true. The concept of the Valletta waterfront, of putting the road behind and pedestrianizing the front, was my dream, a simple sketch on a notebook. It took a while, but as a team we convinced government, the planning authority and the investors to do it. This was 1998 – I was 28 at the time. I used to dream and fight for things to happen and they did.
What book changed your life in some way?
I do not think any one book changed my life but perhaps Lawrence Durrell – The Alexandria Quartet. It’s quite a tome but it opened my mind to wanting to live life to the full. There are so many other books that have opened my mind to the world. Reading changed my life because it fired up my imagination, and created a thirst for travelling and knowledge.
My favourite song is Mercedes Sosa – “Gracias a la vida” and my favourite piece of music is the sultry piece by Satie ‘Gymnopedie”, it embodies a still summer afternoon in the Mediterranean. As regards song “Barcelona” – Freddie Mercury with Montserrat Caballe live in Barcelona in 1988.
The Takeaway. Be inspired by Joanna’s tenacity, courage, and thirst for knowledge. She is no doubt paving the way for the future of women in her field and although it’s not been an easy ride, nothing will stop her from doing what she loves and expressing what she believes in.
These are some of the ways Joanna shows up in the world: Openwork Studio | Nidum