Origin Stories: Félicie Krikler On How Pencil Lines On Paper Can Change People's Lives
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
The daughter of an illustrator, who inherited his fine draughtsmanship skills, Félicie Krikler takes pencil and ink on paper seriously in a way that many do not. For Krikler illustrations can be attractive in their own right, but they can also make lives better in the tradition of France's celebrated École des Beaux-Arts.
Krikler is French and grew up on the outskirts of Paris. Having trained as an architect for seven years both in Paris and London she joined Assael Architecture in London as a newly qualified architect in October 2000. She is now a director, and a proud Londoner, living in the city with three sons and architect husband James, pursuing a passion to rethink the way housing, particularly build-to-rent housing, works.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to property?
Krikler: My dad was an ‘interior architect’ and illustrator. He was often talking about his job, that he both loved and loathed. I remember being really young and visiting with him some housebuilder houses, for which he was producing marketing watercolours. These houses seemed amazing to me, brand new, all fresh and so different from my own home. I was enthralled by them, but I clearly remember him saying ‘don’t be fooled by the freshness of it all, they are basically built out of papier mâché and they have no character whatsoever, they are like cookie-cutter houses that blight the landscape all over the country’. That thought stuck with me.
Bisnow: What was your first job in property?
Krikler: I worked throughout my studies for small architectural practices. It wasn’t a part-time course but actually there was enough time to fit it all in, earn some money but also work for real clients. My first ever job in property was working for a husband and wife architects’ practice in Paris. I was doing a lot of hand-drawn illustrations and when their clients asked if these were CGIs (it was in the early 90s) they would point at me and say, ‘this is our computer’.
It was a summer job and my boss Gerard somehow always managed to get the timing right so that meetings and site visits would finish in time to watch the end of the Tour de France étape of the day in a nearby café. It meant that we had time for many conversations about running an architecture practice.
My first UK job was working for Stephen Levrant Heritage Architecture. An incredible experience, giving me access to so many listed buildings and structures: climbing up the scaffolding around the Richard Cobden statue in the middle of Mornington Crescent roundabout to check the renovation of his hand, going to survey intricate staircases at the Home Office or walking around the empty and abandoned St Pancras hotel in the mid-'90s.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in property? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Krikler: I started training at the Ecole d’Architecture de Paris la Seine, which was the architectural branch of the École des Beaux-Arts. The school was very traditional, and it really suited me; learning to draw architecture on paper, with Rotring pens and a watercolour wash. It included a lot of life drawing and perspective studies with some incredible artists and architects. It was all really formative and inspiring.
Then I took the Erasmus opportunity to go and spend a year in the UK, going to Greenwich University, which was at the time located on a campus in Dartford. It was a bit of a culture shock and that was the best thing I could have wished for; a real contrast. English architecture school felt like a much more modern approach somehow.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into property?
Krikler: It’s not like there was a particular skill that I would have needed or that would have helped at the time I started working. An important thing about architecture is that a lot of it is about continuous development; learning, evolving and adapting. This is true for how we create, with the use of BIM, for example, which has had a definite impact on how we produce and monitor information. The development of new technologies in relation to construction methods for example necessitates regular training. There is so much we need to learn, so I would have probably told my younger professional self to try and keep up with the learning and made that more of an objective in my career.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Krikler: The architectural profession is quite different to any other because being an architect can mean a lot of different things. There are about 42,000 qualified architects in the UK and around 75% of these work in practices less than 10 people. In 2021, Assael Architecture is the 60th largest architectural practice in the UK with a total of 42 qualified architects, it feels like a family business but in comparison to others we are a fairly large practice.
Although I never wanted to change industry altogether and move away from architecture, I have felt at times that experiencing a much smaller practice environment, at least for a period of time would have been good training for my career.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in property?
Krikler: I’ve never had a formal mentor, but I have been lucky to work closely with many people that I respect hugely and that have helped shaped the way I approach my work. And by that I don’t just mean architects that I have worked with, but clients, advisors, planners, consultants, designers, artists, etc.
One of the characteristics that really fascinates me about our industry is the huge variety of actors involved — and the fact that our work can ultimately have such a big impact on all the people that will live in our buildings.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Krikler: One day, very early on in my career, my team leader at the start of a large design team meeting turned to me and said, ‘you’re chairing this one’. I had never done it before. I thought I was terrible, and I didn’t enjoy it at all, but I managed. That taught me two things: prepare for all eventualities, prepare your thoughts, know your stuff and don’t try to wing it. The other obvious lesson was: be kind to the juniors that work with you by helping them be prepared and confident about their own abilities.
My other key experience was taught to me on a train on the way to Leeds. It was in 2004, I was with a senior colleague and we were talking about our project. A passenger sitting next to us interrupted our discussion and asked what the project was about. When we explained he laughed and said he had thought that because we talked about ‘units’ we were designing a prison. That was the end of using the word ‘units’ for me, a pretty vile term to talk about people’s homes.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Krikler: I don’t really ‘warn’ them about anything, I would be more likely to tell them to enjoy it and to try to understand how our architectural work relates to all the other strands that make up the property industry. Understanding the basic mechanics of funding/finance/planning/local politics/co-design, etc, is all worth it.
I would also tell them that designers’ collaboration is key and that they should see their peers as their best possible allies, rather than just competitors, as is often the case. We like working with other architects as better designs often come out of collaborative work, through healthy competition and through the variety that can be achieved.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Krikler: I have absolutely loved my career so far. I have been very lucky to have three children when I was quite junior, which meant that coming back to work wasn’t overly stressful but felt like the right thing to do and most importantly what I wanted to do. I have made some sacrifices along the way, but they were all my choice, not impositions.
I am now 45 and my three boys are past primary school and the eldest is starting university. Life is super busy having to keep up with lots, but I feel so very lucky to now be a director of an architectural practice, working with amazing colleagues on projects that ultimately will improve the lives of all the people that live in the places we create.