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From the Architect's Desk



In From the Architect's Desk
Rants and Wisdom

By lthomas

When I grow up/My story Part 1.

On 25, Nov 2014 | In From the Architect's Desk, Rants and Wisdom | By lthomas

Why did you become an Architect? What led you to become an Architect? How did you get to this point in your career?

I am asked these questions frequently enough that I have had to come up with an answer or three. I recently had a troop of Girl Scouts come visit me at my office. They were working on their design badge and wanted to learn more about what I do and how I came to do it. Turns out, explaining how I got here is simple, but not.  Easy to explain, but also difficult.

I really do not remember wanting to do anything else. But I am not sure how I first associated what an architect did with myself. I do remember loving to build things with Legos and organizing a fab’ house for my Trolls (a child of the 60s, I have to admit). I consider myself organized and intuitive, good at languages but not brilliant at math. I really enjoyed “Drafting Class” in High School, complete with T-squares, triangles and well pointed 2H leads in mechanical lead holders. I learned to ‘letter’.  Yet, I did not know that I could sketch until much later when I was in architecture school.

I did somehow, at the ripe old age of 16, apply early decision to a five-year Professional Program in architecture. My parents were big believers in public education and reminded my sister and me that we were free to apply to ANY university—as long as it was a public university and in-state. Luckily we lived in Virginia and the choices were good, and, for Architecture, excellent. My application was accepted (thank you Virginia Tech), and I was on my way to my Architectural education at barely 17. That’s where I started to understand what an architect was. Turns out, I was barely scratching the surface.

Five years and a multitude of “I am going to quit” moments later, I had the beginnings of what it would take to make it in the field. I began to understand that an Architect is not a problem solver, but a puzzle solver.  I had to do a lot of creative thinking, intuitive thinking and use a large portion of common sense. In the years since then, in a profession where we are constantly learning, I strengthened my awareness of my surroundings and conditions and the “unsaid” in the built world —the visual. I developed really sensitive eyes. I became a translator.

Now, as a woman Architect and business owner, I look back at my 30-plus years and counting as an Architect.  There has been much written recently about the lack of women in Architecture and why the percentage of women to men architects is so abysmal. (“While numbers of male and female architecture students are equally balanced, only just above 20% of qualified architects are women.” Venessa Thorpe, The Guardian) I don’t really have an answer to this.  Only a few observations. Courage plus what I call my “Secret Sauce.”  Kind of my combo of ingredients that have worked for me and helped me to keep working in this challenging profession.

Secret Sauce ingredients:

  • A strong woman architect mentor.  (Thanks Dell)
  • A supportive family and/or spouse.
  • Great childcare. (Thanks Dee)
  • A flexible schedule and attitude.
  • Passion for what you do.
  • And the last, my super secret, all-powerful ingredient: Living, working and having my kids go to school in one zip code.

Now you know.