Linda Thiel, partner at architectural practice White Arkitekter, on how she got started in property, her top TV and book picks, the celebrity she would most like to meet and her number one travel destination.
How did you join the property industry?
Growing up in central Stockholm, I was always interested in buildings and why places in the city felt so different. Combined with a fascination for drawings, this led me to study architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. I co-founded a practice right after qualifying and worked closely with clients and contractors, which was a steep learning curve and gave me a deeper understanding of quality, production, cost and viability.
What does your job entail?
White Arkitekter’s diverse client base means my projects range from affordable housing and urban regeneration to retrofit and commercial timber buildings. I always knew I wanted to remain hands-on, so although I spend a lot of my time public speaking, hosting workshops or presenting, I set aside days dedicated to drawing and designing.
What do you like most about the property industry?
The fact that we have the ability to develop a built environment that can change people’s lives for the better. We can design and build spaces that enrich communities and enhance the quality of life of every generation.
And what do you dislike most about it?
When the industry produces unsafe, poor-quality places that are not based on inclusive or sustainable principles. Our cities have become investment banks and, as a community, we need to reclaim them so they can truly be places for people to meet, respect each other, grow and thrive.
What would you change about the property industry?
We need to accelerate our net zero goals. Our planet is on fire and we cannot wait another decade or two before real change happens. We need to drive this revolution and prove it can be done.
What barriers or challenges have you overcome?
When I started working back in the late 1990s, I was usually the only woman in meetings and on sites, and I felt I had to be better than all the men just to prove my point (which was exhausting). Now that there are many more women in the ranks and I have gained experience, I am able to relax, trust the team and enjoy the collaborative process.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Founding my own practice in the early days of my career and then going on to open White’s London office. One project I am particularly proud of is the Gascoigne Estate. It was our first big competition win in the UK, and we brought the best of our Scandinavian design ethos and merged it with BeFirst’s aspirations and the context of Barking. It has involved working closely with the community, client and contractors across many phases and typologies within an overarching placemaking strategy.
What advice would you give someone starting a career in the property industry?
Make sure you look at the bigger picture. Creating places needs a holistic approach, so even if you are an expert in your specific field, consider different perspectives. We are all the same but unique in our own way, and places need to reflect that.
Something to watch:
I have just finished watching the TV series Succession and did not initially think I would enjoy it. The family has such a complicated relationship – they are all so incredibly mean to each other – yet there are moments of humour, warmth and love in there. I enjoyed following the individual characters, despite their absurd billionaire lifestyles, and seeing how they evolve over time.
Something to read:
The narrative in Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory weaves together personal stories and their relationship to nature, trees, history, beauty, science and myth. It is also dreamy, weird and fascinating – just a great read.
The celebrity I’d most like to meet:
I chose architecture instead of music when I started university and don’t regret it, but even so the celebrity I would most like to spend an hour with (in a music studio) is pop star Robyn – to be in the room with a great creative mind, see her process, feel the music and talk about what music means to her.
Top travel destination:
My number-one travel destination is Kebnekaise, the highest mountain in Sweden, for the hiking, mountain climbing, sleeping in tents on the glacier and being the first ones up on the peak in the morning. There, one is close to nature and it is cold as hell, but it is an amazing experience. I have done it once and am looking forward to the next time.