23 March 2021
3:00PM

Design Like a Girl – Joanna Schmickel, AIA

IAWA, 2021

During Architecture school and as I started my career, I was one of a very few women in the profession. In those days, Architecture was a “man’s job”. But I didn’t let that bother me. From a young age I was filled with the passion and commitment to be an Architect and to design buildings. I didn’t question my role for one minute, I was comfortable being the only female architect in the room. My parents told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, including an Architect. In the 30+ years since then, the number of young women in the profession has been catching up to the number of young men. But still there are relatively few women in leadership positions and therefore few female role models. Almost unintentionally, I began to mentor women in my firm and in the profession generally. That inspired me to provide guidance to college and high school interns, and to found a program for middle school girls called Design Like a Girl Mentor Program. With this program I am ensuring that young girls know that they can be whatever they want to be, including an Architect.

In the 30+ years since then, the number of young women in the profession has been catching up to the number of young men. But still there are relatively few women in leadership positions and therefore few female role models. Almost unintentionally, I began to mentor women in my firm and in the profession generally. That inspired me to provide guidance to college and high school interns, and to found a program for middle school girls called Design Like a Girl Mentor Program. With this program I am ensuring that young girls know that they can be whatever they want to be, including an Architect.

As a practicing Architect I have had the wonderful opportunity to work closely with independent schools to create architecture that celebrates their culture and strengthens their communities. My team and I spend many hours on campuses observing and listening. We see firsthand how the schools operates, what does and does not work in their current buildings, and most important what makes each one unique. We identify the goals, needs and priorities that will be the basis of our design. Only after we arrive at this understanding do we pick up a pencil and start designing.

The design process begins by developing a Campus Master Plan which articulates a vision for future campus development. Site projects and new building projects are identified and prioritized. As funds become available buildings from the Master Plan become projects that are designed and built. There is great professional satisfaction playing the role of Planner, setting the design direction for the campus, then following as the Architect, designing the buildings.

Designing for school communities has been extremely rewarding, but the process comes with some natural constraints. Schools have boards to approve designs and budgets, contractors need complete detailed construction sets to share with an army of subcontractors, and schedules must be met. When I had the opportunity to design my own weekend cabin in the Shenandoah Valley, I was able to follow a different path. Aided by a designed-oriented builder and an open-minded husband, I experimented with numerous details in an organic way. Free from the normal constraints of my commercial projects, I was able to explore an undulating creative path expressed in dozens of small sketches. Through the cabin project I experienced the complete joy of being both architect and client.

 

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