Member Spotlight: Catherine Smith, AIA
business. All things considered, particularly the economy, I have done fairly well (knock on wood). In the words of a dear friend, I just want to do good work for good people. This has been the mantra. And so with eyes somewhat blindfolded I have gone about looking for work, finding work, and doing work. There have been no large endeavors, at least in the physical scale of architecture; in fact one job was simply to modify a bookshelf to accommodate a TV. Some people don't consider this architecture. My theory on this kind of work is, if I can make one small change that improves the value of someone's life, then I have succeeded. If I have done that job well, then that person will likely become a referral source for me later. That said, I have been blessed to work on almost thirty projects thus far, for some folks a couple, and thankfully the phone keeps ringing.
Together with Frank Bain, I have worked to start the local chapter of AIA CRAN, the Custom Residential Architects Network. The membership meets bi-monthly and is attempting to spread the word about the value that architects bring to residential architecture. We have a dedicated Steering Committee and welcome AIA members interested in custom housing as well as allied professionals such as interior designers, photographers, and contractors. Being a part of CRAN has opened up a number of new networking opportunities for me and is focused on my favorite aspect of architecture: houses. Perhaps my favorite event thus far has been the Best Practices panel, where we brought regional architects in to discuss the true practice of architecture. Posing about five questions to the panel and allowing them to answer directly, openly, and honestly while sharing their opinions about the matters of practicing architecture. We all know it is practice after all and making mistakes is part of it, and sharing successes as well as failures allows everyone to gain better insights. Hopefully out of this, and future, open dialogues, everyone will be able to improve their own practice as well as the field of architecture in its broadest sense.
I have never liked being called a Woman Architect. I don't much care for the title; I'd rather just be an Architect. However, the fact is: I am, by virtue of a simple pair of chromosomes, a woman, and in some cases it has benefited me. Apparently some women only want a female to design their laundry room, and that is just fine with me. Because it isn't an easy world to work in, the one with oftentimes gruff, unmannered construction crews who think I know nothing of what I speak. Since I try to only talk about things I do, asking questions when I don't, I have made it a game at times. I'll admit to playing around with them ultimately proving my points to them. Constantly having to defend that knowledge is rather tiring and if anything I do here with CRAN or WIA will keep someone else from having to do the same I will have accomplished no small feat.
Beginning my career in a small firm (I was the 7th employee) with a vibrant and cheerful boss, and father of two daughters, probably helped more than I will ever know. Ebo Fauber was unbelievably supportive and patient. He set aside time every day to answer the list of questions I had compiled. In fact, everyone there was willing to answer my seemingly endless questions, which only meant that I had to come up with more. I loved the small firm environment and the opportunities that it afforded by allowing me to participate in most aspects of a project. He was a mentor early on as was the rest of the staff.
As I opened my own solo practice, I became involved in all aspects of my projects and love it to this day. Sometimes it is hard to shift gears from one role to the next, and I have found a few people to help in the areas that I couldn't or shouldn't do. But I have found that even at this point in my career, over 15 years in, I am looking for a new mentor. My choice to go it alone was not an easy one, and was certainly nothing I had thought that I would do before 2009. I miss being able to bounce ideas of design and practice off of design-minded folks and having someone to help me see some of the errs of my ways. So I am actively seeking a new mentor or peer group to substitute for a lack of co-workers. And while making my mistakes as I go along, I am learning every valuable lesson too, or so I hope. I'll keep expanding the network, learning the business of architecture and perhaps growing from the solo practice to my own small firm. Trusting that along the way I too can mentor a few good people aiming to do good design work for good people too.
Some people have called me crazy, some may have called me brave, but I decided in June of 2009 that I would indeed quit a perfectly secure and well-paying job to move 600 miles back to South Carolina to start my own residential architecture practice. I knew that I would be doing everything from whole houses to closets, whatever it took to make people happy in their house. That has been the goal and remains so today – just over three years into this adventure. The mere fact that my door is still open I take as a good sign, regardless of the fact that I knew nothing of owning or operating a