When she founded her firm, Andrews & Anderson Architects in 1990, Nan Anderson, FAIA, netted $3.15 an hour for her first project. And she couldn’t have been happier.
“There was joy and rapture and a glass half full,” said Nan. “The second year we earned more on a project for the new airport, and I thought that life was just fabulous.’
“When I was becoming licensed I realized I’ve always loved the challenge of running a business,” recalled Nan. “So in the depths of a recession, with no client base and just a snippet from the newspaper that said the City of Manitou Springs was looking for someone to develop design guidelines, I launched a firm with a good friend from grad school.”
After 20 years in business, the firm became Anderson Hallas Architects as new principals joined the firm.
Fortunately, Nan had great architect and business mentors along the way, including Jonathan Saiber who shared his passion for detail and Jim Henderson who taught her the art of programming and interior design.
As a female leader in a predominantly-male industry, Nan feels lucky to have been supported by her male counterparts, rather than what many women architects face.
“From the get -go, I worked for men who threw me into the deep end and allowed me to succeed,” Nan said.
And still, Nan is aware of the unconscious biases that can sometimes face women in architecture. “We just have to persevere,” encouraged Nan.
She also believes in calling men—and women—out if they make an offensive comment, but to do so in private.
“I believe that having a private conversation after you’ve cooled down is really the right approach,” Nan said. “So often people make comments without a clue as to how they’re being perceived.” She recommends having a cup of coffee with the person to discuss the situation.
“I think that’s how we’re going to change the world—one cup of coffee at a time,” said Nan.
Because of her own positive experiences with mentors and with addressing negative situations head-on, Nan is a champion for mentorship. She participates in AIA Colorado’s 5x5x5 mentorship program, led the mentorship session at the 2017 Practice + Design Conference and encourages informal mentorship at Anderson Hallas.
“We are really asking people to seek the training they are passionate about. You’re not going to make someone love code if they don’t, but we want to support them in their learning because we know how much synergy we can have as a firm if everyone has their own sparkle.”
Nan notes that in good mentorship relationships, both parties benefit. Despite being a “mentor” in the 5x5x5 program, Nan believes she is learning just as much as the mentees. She enjoys hearing the heartfelt perspectives of those who are in staff positions because she believes it makes her a better business owner.
She also suggests that we are no longer in the “simpler time” of apprentice architects. For better or for worse, the world is more complicated, so an architect may need many mentors in order to learn the variety of skills required, from business financials, to code, to design, to work-life balance.
But how can a young architect ask for mentorship or for other professional development when they have project deadlines to meet?
Nan believes it’s always best to have a straightforward conversation with your boss.
“Go to your manager and say ‘these are my professional goals for the year and here’s how I think it will pay dividends to the firm,’” she recommended. “Then, you’ve made a business proposition to your firm, taken responsibility for your learning and have likely gained the respect and admiration from the people with whom you are working.”
Nan has an impressive resume of accomplishments and public projects, but among her most memorable experiences was her FAIA induction. “A tearful and joyous moment as my father-in-law, John D. Anderson, FAIA, walked me across the stage to become inducted,” she said.
Beyond fellowship, one reason Nan is actively involved with AIA Colorado is because she is concerned about the “commoditization” of architecture.
“We must use our innate talent as leaders in our communities and profession, to demonstrate architects’ value, otherwise our profession will continue to erode,” said Nan.
When she’s not working, Nan loves to, well, work some more. She and her husband, Dave Anderson, AIA, enjoy working on projects together. Currently, they are rehabilitating an old train freight depot in Leadville. (Check out her Instagram–@freightleadville for photos and videos of the progress).
Perhaps it’s her optimism, or maybe it’s her fine arts and architecture training, but Nan continues to be inspired because she believes “the next piece you make is always going to be your best.”