What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ perspectives. It’s a new monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee.
In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.
Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
“Curiosity is the root of creativity. I have always been curious and ask a lot of questions. This allows me to listen to everyone around me and to seek out opinions. It also adds in lots of observations! College was a huge exposure to the world of design. Upon graduation, I won a design competition and was awarded an internship with EDAW (now AECOM) in their Sydney, Australia, office under the helm of a great female leader, Jacinta McCann. Jacinta took me to meetings and gave me responsibility. She showed me how to be an equal design partner.
After Australia, I moved to New York City. I landed a job with Kliment Halsband Architects. I immediately started working with Frances Halsband, FAIA, who at the time, had already been New York’s first female AIA President and was continuing to trailblaze women in architecture. Frances taught me how to dig deep and be a comprehensive designer. Through more practice and understanding, my contributions became more valuable. My interest was met with openness and knowledge sharing.
I continue to draw on the lessons these great women leaders gave to me and am thankful for their mentorship and patience to train me. Through living in great, diverse metropolitan cities to being an avid traveler meeting new people and cultures, my career continues to be enhanced. I remain curious, ask a lot of questions, and seek multiple viewpoints and experiences—always with the intention of being more open and contributing.”
Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
“Diversity is not a matter of opinion for me—it is my entire life and my cultural outlook. My experience as a Black woman in this industry has exposed me to many different opportunities where I’ve needed to acclimate to foreign environments. I’ve always interpreted these instances as a positive in my growth and molding in my career. My studies at Auburn were the catalyst and most impactful to this exposure.
I recall participating in an interdisciplinary charrette with landscape designer Walter Hood for a Birmingham farmers market. This was the first time I had worked with designers who looked like me. I most remember the passion and explorative creative thought in the question: ‘What if?’ A light came on in my head, and the energy of the work was finally palpable. I had become accustomed to believing in my ideas or myself as the garnish or side dish to the main event. Yet in a single moment, I realized that there is validity in my thought process and how depriving sharing these expressions is only a detriment to the creative problem solving required. This is one example where my only wish was that I was more insightful, more involved, and more confident. I came away from it with the idea to ‘leave it all on the table.’
Currently, I don’t have as many opportunities to get that kind of exposure, but I realize I can be that experience or person for others. It brings me to a position as a contributor, which is incredibly important and necessary. My diverse experiences have empowered me in that while my place at the table revolves, the importance of contributing my thoughts remains just as important.”
Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects
“Experiencing diverse people, places, and experiences have allowed me to not only escape from my comfort zone, but also explore how unique and different perspectives can enhance the world.
In relation to architecture, oftentimes, there is a high level of comfort in staying within what is taught in American, post-secondary architecture education. Unfortunately, this does not allow us to see beyond what other cultures have done with the built environment to enhance the human experience. I think that, as a practice, there still needs to be a level of exposure to this.
Oftentimes being a minority in the profession of architecture has allowed me to tap into my own identity and cultural background. Being Mexican, I often think about how my identity can be reflected throughout my work. The practice of architecture stems from an architectural education that is primarily focused on American and Eurocentric examples, and this foundation fails to bring in other enriching examples that are non-western.
Throughout my college education, I found myself bringing influence into my studio projects from the Aztec and Mayan people. These civilizations brought about significant architectural achievements that were rarely taught about in my college education. Whenever I would explain this inspiration behind my projects my peers would be fascinated and shocked that they had not heard about these architectural feats before and even ask for resources where they could possibly learn more. What I learned from this experience was that although I was many times the only minority in the room, my cultural background, perspectives, and experiences would contribute so much to those around me. To me, this experience demonstrated that diversity is a contribution in itself, and it has the potential to contribute to an environment.
As I have now kicked off my professional career, I hope that I can continue to share my cultural experiences with my colleagues.”
Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects
“My father led a retail store planning design firm, where he worked on projects throughout North America. When I was young, I would spend a lot of time in his office, where my interest and passion for architecture started. My father was my greatest inspiration when I was young, and because of his affinity for design, our home was full of many mid-century classic furniture pieces and books related to design and architecture. This exposure allowed me, in some ways, to start the pursuit of education toward the architectural career I was so focused to achieve before I reached the age of 10. However, my father’s inspiration upon me, in retrospect, was devoid of much diversity. I mention this background, because today, we are discussing critically how to enhance diversity and equity in our profession, and it is not lost on me that the road I followed to become an architect was a much easier path to navigate than it has been for so many others.
International travel and time spent studying abroad during college and in the years since continue to have an immense impact on my career, due to the immersion in different cultures it provided. A broad global perspective is something so important to us as architects. With that said, it really wasn’t until I moved to Chicago for work that I was exposed to widely diverse people who truly enhanced my career so significantly. Almost immediately upon starting my position with SOM I experienced immense humility. The rigor, intensity, and talent of those I found myself working with caused me to realize how limited my experiences and exposure to diversity had been in the developmental years of my career. I was so fortunate to work with talented men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities, including Korea, Serbia, China, the Netherlands, the list goes on. These were some of the hardest working people I had ever interacted with professionally, and I learned so very much from them—lessons I reflect on regularly to this day. In some ways, I think I knew my path to the desk in that office was a bit smoother than the path many of my friends and colleagues at that firm had to follow to get to that same place, and this weighed on me, but in a way that made me a better architect and person. Because of this, I was inspired to work harder to earn their appreciation and respect, aside from their friendship I valued so much, while also gaining a greater appreciation for the struggles they had to overcome to achieve their professional goals. These experiences continue to push me harder today and to never take anything for granted. We have an immense responsibility as architects—and the profession demands that we all seek our highest potential—for the betterment of others and the planet.”
Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning
My career has been enhanced most recently by exposure to diverse people within the profession. I know distinctively how my career has flourished during times when I had high exposure to diverse professionals within the architecture community. Those diverse experiences have exposed my career to new opportunities and events I would likely not have considered or taken. Spending time with those who are different than I am is a diverse experience each time, most often happening in diverse places.
When I attended grad school at SCI-Arc for my master’s degree, I had the best time in my life, and I was in love with architecture. My colleagues and I would speak different languages and we shared our cultural dishes, sometimes right in studio. By being different individuals, we all leaned into our uniqueness, allowing us to learn architecture in our own ways without shame or denial. While I excelled, I was surrounded by diversity, I was also being taught by the most diverse group of educators in my life. My professors spoke multiple languages, and they were women, too. Experiencing architecture through this diverse lens elevated my thoughts on education and who can be an educator. I am a lecturer at the College of Architecture and Planning at University of Colorado Denver, because of the example I was shown where the value of one’s ideas and understandings around architectural education were not linked to one’s outward identifiers.
Another season of tremendous growth happened most recently when I obtained licensure while I was co-founding the NOMA Colorado Chapter. At a time where I should have no extra time or energy for other things outside of work, I found myself constantly inspired by the growing number of diverse professionals I was becoming acquainted with. Gathering so many diverse individuals who believed in the mission was motivation to get through the architectural registration exams. I have been thriving in the company of those who have diverse experiences to share and who have been enhanced by those experiences themselves. Now, we are dreaming and planning events around growing the next generation of architects. My career in architecture involves thinking about diverse experiences to jumpstart someone else’s career in architecture with Project Pipeline Summer Camps. I know how much my career has been enhanced by being in diverse places and I want that for the next Black woman architect, too.
Constant exposure to someone, somewhere, or something different lends us to constant reminders to be open minded, to think differently, to design differently—that’s the enhancement. And as architects—that’s the career.
We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the next four months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.