This weekend is Mother’s Day- a first for me and a first for many of my friends. This post marks my very first interview with an architect, a series I hope to continue monthly. It happens to be with Jen, a fellow new Mom and friend I’ve had for several years now.
This is kind of exactly how I picture Jen when I think of her. Smiling face and orchids. She loves orchids. I had the pleasure of meeting her back in January of 2005, when we were both traveling to Switzerland for an architecture studio. We were seat mates. Seat mates once we finally got on our way after being side-lined in the Newark airport for a full 24 hours due to a blizzard. Seat mates during a very bumpy, turbulent flight highlighted by lightening and air sickness. I won’t tell you which one of us got sick, but needless to say we became fast friends. Jen is easy to like because she’s just so darn sweet. And completely sincere. Jen is the friend who I trusted to do my hair for my wedding, and she put up with all my nit-picky opinions of hair-doing even though I have no idea of what I am talking about or skill to back it up. She also did hair for my attendants. And sat up with me the night before the wedding folding napkins. And the next day, in the June heat of Georgia, she arranged all the place cards on strings in our backyard. All 285-odd of them. A task I had no idea would be so tedious and difficult (apparently all the cards wanted to flip over on themselves and in general be big pains-in-the-neck).
This is the kind of girl Jen is. She’ll give 110% no matter what the task.
This is the kind of architect you want working on your building. One who won’t rest until it’s just as it should be.
I could go on and on about the things Jen has done for me. But I need to get on to her interview. She graciously spent some time answering some questions for me so you could get a better idea of what it’s like to be an architect these days.
Here we go!
Tell us a little about yourself- where you're from, where you went to school, what you are doing now, etc.
I was born and raised in the northwest side of Chicago. I stayed in the city for architecture school at the Illinois Institute of Technology, because what better city to study architecture and what better studio space than Mies's Crown Hall. I worked at the Chicago firm VOA Associates from my second year all the way through the summer of my graduation. The experience I gained there was truly invaluable. I then moved to Austin, Texas to pursue a post-professional M.Arch degree with an urban design concentration. I stayed in Austin for an additional three years, working at ERO International, a firm focusing primarily on educational and civic architecture. I know live Denver, Colorado, where I've been for three years. In 2009 I earned my architectural license and LEED accreditation. Last spring I had my first child, and I now am a project manager at a small commercial firm, Kenney Architects.
How did you get interested in architecture?
I was always captivated by downtown Chicago growing up, but had no real thoughts as to designing buildings myself. I grew up interested in art - particularly drawing & painting, and it was later pointed out in high school that I also had a knack for physics, geometry, and writing. So my parents prompted me to consider architecture. I honestly studied it because it made logistical sense - not really out of an intense passion for it. It wasn't until my semester abroad in Europe, where I traveled to 12 countries in four months, that I really found my love for architecture. And, the more I worked in an office the more I loved it as a career.
What projects are you currently working on?
Well, we all know times are tough right now, so I'm currently doing more marketing work than anything. But I do have a new bank under construction, as well as an attorney's office that's about to going into the construction document phase. Other than that, I'm trying to get a design-build team up and running for some dental office work, I recently revamped our website, and I'm working on a variety of proposals. You’re jealous...I know. :)
What do you think is the biggest misconception about architects or architecture?
Probably the glamour of it all. People outside the profession seem to assume more hours are spent on the creative ideas than is really accurate. Few people realize a typical day is more likely to include redlines, RFI's, and product research. Fortunately, I love the day to day tasks as much as the coveted design moments.
What's your most memorable project?
At this point it is still probably the Weslaco Middle School in south Texas. That project was my baby, having worked on it pretty much since day one all the way through its construction. While I didn't do it alone, I certainly lived and breathed it pretty much ten hours a day for a year.
What was the worst project you worked on and why?
Probably a toss up between an elementary school trash enclosure and a printing press addition in an existing room. I'm guessing your savvy readers don't need me to elaborate. :)
What architect or architects inspire you and why?
At the moment, I'm particularly inspired by Cameron Sinclair & Architecture for Humanity. They are a non-profit that does pro-bono architecture work around the world. I've always wanted a way to utilize my skill-set in a way that gives back. While I'm not at the liberty of picking up and taking off for a 9 month stint in another country, I have been fortunate enough to get involved with the local Denver chapter of AFH and was recently made one of the new co-directors. The Denver chapter has already had a successful relationship with Feed Denver, working on developing local urban farms. We are also exploring projects with the Denver Rescue Mission and Edge of 7.
What is your favorite city for architecture?
Berlin - such an amazing mix of old and new all jumbled together.
Do you read any architecture magazines or blogs, or design blogs?
Primarily just the magazines that come with the AIA memberships.
What work of architecture would you most like to visit?
Well, I'm very fortunate to have seen many amazing works. I always welcome a chance to visit Renzo Piano's various museums.
I think my next desire would be to see the architecture in Asia - Japan, China, India, etc. - but that won't be anytime soon.
What, if anything, would you change about architectural education?
I think it’s important to work on integration with real practice - through internships, collaboration with the engineering department, more study into building code and city codes, and a better education on working within a budget. Don't get me wrong, architecture school is a place to dream up big ideas, but wouldn't it be nice if the student could learn how to make them become a reality?
Thanks, Jen! And Happy Mother’s Day!