Malaika Carr is a fully qualified black female architect, with a passion for hand crafted jewellery. Malaika's designs on her online store have a range of collections which entail, architectural influence and bold coloured cultural patterns.
Even though Malaika runs this jewellery business, she is still a practicing architect, which is amazing as both are demanding. The link between architecture and the jewellery is captured through the line work and shapes within the designs. Malaika has a whole collection dedicated to Hamlyn Hall (Royal Opera House), the shapes and colours are a reflection of the architectural language of the hall. This week I discuss with Malaika, her passion and the ways in which we can balance more than one dream.
"I have always wanted to be my own boss"
| So I would like to start with where your passion for architecture originated from? Was it a career path you were always aware of from a young age?
It came about when I went to a family BBQ, and one of my mums friends were quizzing me about what I wanted to do and I was uncertain, and he just said “What are you good at?”…and I said “art”. He says “are you good at team work?”.. and he asked me all these types of questions. Then he said “why don’t you look into architecture?”. Following that my mum and I looked at universities to see what the course was like. But yeah that’s where my architecture stemmed from really.
| I know your passion for jewellery making stemmed from architecture, how did this begin?
That came from model making techniques and the access to using a laser cutting machine during my Part II to make models. I also had some jewellery from a brand called Tatty Devine, they’re kind of pioneers of laser cut jewellery and I had had their stuff for years. When I realised, I could do that myself with the laser cut machine it just flew from there.
| What was the real driving force in deciding to make it into a form of work and not just a hobby? Were you wearing it and people would ask where’s this from?
Well I have been doing it for years now. But yeah. Lots of people liked it. In the beginning I was just selling to friends and family, then I sold at markets, and then from there I set up my website. So it’s a gradual process this hasn’t happened over night. But I have always wanted to be my own boss and run my own jewellery practice. So on the side-lines of doing architecture I’ve always had this in the back of my mind.
| How do you balance an architectural career and your jewellery work? Especially as you hand craft the pieces your self.
I was lucky. I’ve been at Michaelis Boyd for four years and after my first year there I said… look can I go part time and do four days a week? Because essentially, I was doing jewellery in the evenings and on my weekends. But I was starting to get more orders and I didn’t have any time for any other things. It was jewellery or architecture. I thought I want to see my friends, spend time with my family and I didn’t get the opportunity to do that because I was always working. So now I’ve got a much better work life balance.
| What advice would you give in balancing two passions?
I think that having two passions gives you more focus. Even during my Part I and Part II, I worked. So my weekends and some evenings I worked a part time job. So I found that that made me a bit more focused than the guys who just had their studies to do. I had to really structure my day, so that I could fit everything in and when I didn’t have that I felt a bit lost, and wasted time…procrastinated a bit more. So I would say, the more things you have to do, the more you actually get done! I think it helps. So if I had to advise you, it would be managing time is key and I always create a list and actually allocating time to specific things. Once the time is done it’s time to move on
| Oh I am so bad at this. I will tell myself just a little more time on this, I can make it look better.
See you should save it till the next day. It can be difficult
| Especially when it’s creative.
And that’s the reason why architects don’t get paid enough. Because its something you love doing, and therefore you’re willing to spend more time on it, but you know you’re not billing all of those hours, so I think loads of architects lose out on money because of that.
| Through looking at your designs it is clear to see the relationship with architecture in the forms you create. Do you think the inspiration could be reversed in that the jewellery could influence architectural design?
Yeah I think so. I think its just all about scaling things, when I’ve taken an element from a building I’ve literally scaled it down, abstracted it and then it forms the jewellery piece. So I don’t see why you cant make the transition the other way and revers that thought process and make a plan or elevation out of it.
| What are some of your other inspirations for the shapes you produce within your designs apart from architecture?
Its funny you say that because when people look at my work, they generally think its Afrocentric, and that’s not it. I mean some collections have been inspired by like the Samburu tribe or a Lagos print. But the majority have come from architecture. I think its really interesting that people assume when they see bigger bolder forms and colour, they instantly associate that with culture and the architecture is lost from it.
But yes, I do take inspiration from patterns, I look at traditional jewellery and modernise what they would have done. Like the Samburu tribe use beads to make their necklaces and earrings and I looked at how they formed those patterns, then interpreted it into a contemporary style. But architecture is my first point of transition.
| Do you still find you are just as passionate and driven in architecture too?
I would say this is why generally people move from practice to practice, there’s only so far you can get in one practice. Generally, firms specialise in certain typologies. At Platform 5 I was doing education and housing… and I though I want to try out restaurants or high end residential. As the company didn’t do that, the love I had in the beginning dwindled and I lost the love for it. I felt I learnt all that I could there. I moved to Michaelis Boyd and got a totally different feel for how they design. I think its important to experience different practice and see how they develop a building, because it’s so different. And they gave me a lot of freedom in coming up with ideas and pushing it through.
| Where would you like your architectural career to go?
Within architecture I would say that now I just want to do freelance work. I still want to take control of my time and doing freelance should allow me to do so. I don’t want to have to commit to a practice for so long, so I’m happy to do 6 months a year contract but not full time anymore.
| What are the next steps for Chalk Jewellery?
I’ve got so many ideas. I’m focusing on two new collections that are on the horizon. I have started to design mirrors that I would like to bring out soon. So more homeware stuff actually. That’s my dream next. Coffee tables, candle holders, mirrors… that’s my next design challenge.
To find Malaika's jewellery designs clink here: https://www.thechalkhouse.com/