CAIRO – 30 November 2017: Amira Ayoub was not one to settle for just being an architect. After graduating from the Faculty of Engineering and working in a number of architecture companies, she felt there was more she needed to give back. “I didn’t just want to be someone who designs buildings or houses for a living. I wanted to have a cause behind what I do,” she recalls.
After participating in a workshop on green construction and eager to learn more about sustainable living, Ayoub started to find meaning in her work and decided to study to become a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Associate and an accredited professional specialized in green design, construction and operations. “I started working as a certified architect (a third party) who makes sure any given ‘green’ building meets the correct standards,” she explains.
Aftert learning about another green building rating system, WELL Building Institute, Ayoub went on to become Egypt’s first WELL certified designer and ambassador to Egypt. “The WELL is a building standard that is mainly concerned with the occupants’ health and wellness (slightly different than the three pillars of Sustainable Living: People, Profit and Planet) and focuses on rating buildings designed for people’s wellbeing more than anything,” Ayoub explains.
Over the course of her training, Ayoub has earned a number of titles as a Green Globes Professional, Green Classroom Professional, Egypt’s first ambassador, presenter of the International Living Future Institute, Egypt’s first collaborative facilitator and the first to present the Living Building Challenge program in Egypt. “What if we imagined flowers before designing our houses; what if we looked upon buildings as living organisms that need nourishment and care to grow, good soil and clean water, and at the end it is not just about using the right material and how we can reuse them when their life cycle ends, but most importantly it is about paying attention to the way it looks, designing a building that will look beautiful to the eye just like a flower.”
In January 2016, Ayoub established Egypt’s first Green Academy, Tree, an online platform promoting sustainable education. “I’ve always noticed that most people have the impression that sustainability is an expensive concept, something only the privileged can afford. I wanted to raise awareness and present people with free education about LEED and the Living Building Challenge to help spread the word faster,” she explains.
Attending conferences in many schools and universities in Egypt, as well as Kuwait and Qatar, Ayoub’s main concern is always raising awareness. “I do it everywhere; at public events, whenever I have the chance,” she said. Succeeding in designing the first completely green building, following green building standards and strategies, in Saint Catherine, Sinai, Ayoub is currently going through the process of registering it as the first Green Building in the MENA region.
Ayoub has taken on the Living Building Challenge, “which was more holistic than anything else. It addressed beauty, people’s happiness and health, how to design a building with positive energy; not just designing a building that is ‘architecturally and mathematically accurate’,” last month, becoming the world’s first biophilic designer. “The concept of biophilia was revealed in 1953 by E.O. Wilson, which is basically the human-nature relationship – how houses and buildings should connect us to nature and that we should not just be sitting in a box. Being indoors 90 percent of the time is against our nature as humans,” Ayoub stresses.
Ayoub’s role model is Jason F. McLennan, founder of the Living Building Challenge and a distinguishable figure in the green building movement. McLennan is chair of the international Living Future Institute, which Ayoub represents as ambassador.
On working in a male-dominated field, Ayoub comments, “it is both challenging and rewarding at the same time. Particularly challenging when you deal with personalities who cannot accept the fact that a woman can establish a career and make a name for herself in our society, but absolutely rewarding when you can actually see them changing their mind about it.”
Ayoub believes a huge part of what she does is related to women, particularly mothers, being the essence of any home. Ayoub’s main target in her ongoing awareness campaigns are women who are starting a family or mothers who want to raise their children in a happy, healthy environment. “Not just by following anything that says ‘green’, like ‘low fat’ items which turn out to be full of sugar, but by learning the real meaning of living green, applying it to their homes and getting in touch with nature,” she explains.
“Being successful is not just about being a career woman; the key is to find the balance between your career life and your home and children,” Ayoub maintains. She explains that a big part of her success comes from her passion to “never give up no matter how many obstacles you face”, and above all, “the more I learn about what I do, the more I understand why living green and sustainability, following all these concepts is at its core, for my children, the future generations, learning not to be selfish and encouraging them to learn with me in the process,” she adds.
Ayoub acknowledges the support of her husband is another key to her success. “He encouraged me and pushed me forward. The fact that he believes in me and in my cause was and still is a huge plus. It is not just about following your passion, but having a real meaning to it. My husband shares my same views and passion; we agree on the same principles of sustainability and living green. We both believe that we should save our resources for the coming generations and even more so after we became parents. I am now more committed to the cause, and my husband’s support has made my life a lot easier.”
Juggling a family and a career is far from easy, Ayoub admits, adding, “Maintaining a work-life balance is never easy, and it is an ongoing process that does not end. You always have to maneuver your way to keep the harmony, and there are no set rules to do so. Of course your relationship with your children comes first, and others can help in cleaning, cooking or other house matters. I would not call myself perfect in maintaining the balance. After all, who is? But I am still trying.”
Fighting gender-based violence and discrimination can take many forms, including highlighting and documenting female role models who challenged stereotypical gender roles. Doing this normalizes women’s presence in sectors recognized as “male only fields” and betters perceptions of successful female entrepreneurs.
This article is part of Egypt Today’s “Break the Silence...Say No to Violence” campaign, marking the 16-day campaign of activism against gender-based violence (GBV) from November 25 to December 10.