Immediately following the completion of my Master of Science degree in Architecture and Urban Planning at the Warsaw University of Technology in Poland’s capital, I moved to one of the toughest real estate markets in the world - NYC. Not having any local professional connections, I applied for various internships and was accepted into the practice of Robert Siegel Architects. I worked over the summer of 2002 on the competition for the Grand Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt. Although we did not win, it was a tremendous experience and allowed me to get the proverbial foot in the door.

My love affair with architecture started when I visited renaissance Florence, Italy in elementary school. There is something particularly captivating in the city’s architecture—not only the shapes, textures and materials, but the scale, the light and shadow, the fact that there is an interior and an exterior and that they are in constant conversation with each other. Naturally, I get inspired by precedents, the work of present and past masters. Human psychology in relation to the built environment also interests me. Architecture is like a movie set where you imagine how people act and interact in different spaces. My clients significantly impact the way my projects turn out, with their unique personalities and preferences predominantly guiding my designs. 

Certainly, especially in the construction domain. The greatest challenge is to be heard––not only in a literal sense, although women are frequently talked over. I find that women in our field are often believed to be less competent than men. The numbers of professional women in architecture and engineering are rising, however, the construction industry is still dominated by men. It seems as though it is difficult for men to find women credible if they have not actually built something with their bare hands. Some contractors seem to have a hard time accepting that women have sufficient construction knowledge. I find this to be particularly true with older generations. I find the new generation of contractors to be much more respectful, accepting, and focused on a successful collaboration towards a common objective.

To me, the assumption that female designers contribute different values than men would be a stereotype. The differences are a matter of the individual and their approach. However, given the gender gap among architects, I will say that women bring to the table strong resilience and determination. Those qualities tend to be a propeller that fuels the project, and gives the process momentum.

There are two sorts of role models that shaped me as a professional: working women and architect mentors. In the first category are women who were able to reach professional success while raising a family. My grandmother ran a very successful garment manufacturing business while she raised three amazing daughters. I like to think that I inherited her work ethic and her drive to success. She was incredibly hard working; I only wish that she found more time for self-care. As for architect mentors, no-one in my family was trained as an architect or engineer. I am lucky to have had incredible male architects as employers. I learned a lot from every single one of them, starting with my first boss, John Block, during an internship while on a college exchange program in Detroit, and most recently my current principal David Katz. I have always felt respected and supported, and never felt any sort of bias stemming from the fact that I am a woman. My young female colleagues Julia Mackenzie and Shana Kim here at Katz teach me a lot through their desire to learn and their positive attitude. 

Although there are challenges, it is exciting to enter the AEC industry as a female professional. My advice is to be confident in your knowledge and abilities. There tends to be a lot of conflicting egos in the AEC industry and it’s an obstacle that needs to be navigated. The fact that you have not been doing construction for 20 or 30 years does not diminish your value. You are bringing fresh ideas to the table. Be confident to share them and watch them come to life. 

Building Enclosure Celebrates International Women's Day

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Jacqueline Beckingham Melvalean McLemore Lisa Haude Erin McDannald Ashley Smith Samantha McCormack Rachael Lewis Taylor Starr Stephanie Lafontaine Christine Faverio Erin Carlisle Melissa Strickland Lisbeth Jimenez Ula Bochinska