An architect’s life isn’t easy. There are the long hours working into the night and into the next morning. The plans that are drawn up, scrapped and drawn up again. Meetings with clients. Meetings with builders. Meetings with designers. Meetings with decorators. The phone calls in the middle of the night letting you know “something happened” with the project and now everything has (pick one or more): changed / been put on hold / been scrapped / let’s start over. More hours. More plans. More meetings. And all the while, you’re constantly creating, honing your skills, your craft, your mind, your artistry, just so you can see the vision you have built in your mind become reality.

And one fine day, your hard work is recognized by your professional peers — the same people who have been through what you’ve been through, who know just how hard it is and how much it is all worth it, because they’ve been there, too. You are nominated, and then sponsored by American Institute of Architects members, and then elected to the Fellowship program. You receive an invitation to attend the investiture ceremony at the AIA Convention, where you will be honored.

In recognition of all that hard work, late hours and creative brilliance, you find that you are not to be inducted into the Fellowship program of the American Institute of Architects. You are to be elevated. Welcome to a very exclusive club. Welcome to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.

Each year, the Jury of Fellows from the American Institute of Architects elevates elected members to the prestigious College of Fellows. Founded in 1952, Fellowship is one of the highest honors the AIA can bestow upon a member. Fellows are “elevated” before the public and their profession as architects who have made significant contributions to architecture and to society on a national level and are recognized for their great achievements as an individual.

Fellowship is also a very exclusive club. Out of the total AIA membership of over 85,000, there are just a little more than 3,200 members who have been elevated and recognized for their work. Ten Central Texas women in architecture have been elevated to the coveted status of AIA Fellow, or FAIA. Some women embarked on their careers in architecture when the idea of having a female architect as part of a firm was considered quite the novelty, while others who entered the profession later can’t recall that there ever was a glass ceiling. And yet, for these women who entered architecture later, there is an appreciation of the groundwork laid, literally and figuratively, by their fellow women professionals. There is a sense of helping each other along, to get to that next level, to become recognized for good, hard, visionary work.

Jane Stansfeld, FAIA, now retired, has seen the shifts and changes in the profession, both in regard to gender and technology. Thinking back to when she began her study of architecture at the London University Bartlett School of Architecture in the United Kingdom, Stansfeld remembers architecture then as a very hands-on experience.

“In 1964, we wore smocks and drew our projects in ink on vellum and occasionally on linen. Our notes were in script. We had stand-up tables with parallel bars and used Rapidographs as our pens,” Stansfeld recalls. “In 1973 in the USA we drew in pencil on vellum with our notes in all caps frequently guided by a triangle set on the parallel bar. By 1985 computers were replacing manual drawings. By then I was managing projects and didn’t draw any more so when I ‘went out on my own’ the first thing I had to do was to learn to draft using the computer; now, of course, I’ve graduated to 3D software.”

When Stansfeld enrolled in 1964, her class of 30 included six women, or 20 percent of the class. In the United States at that time, only two percent of students enrolled in architecture schools were women. “After graduation, when I started my internship position with a small firm in London, my colleagues told me that the partner who hired me was shaking after our interview and hesitantly announced, during their tea break, ‘I’ve hired a woman!’” laughs Stansfeld.

Stansfeld’s mother suggested she investigate architecture as a career. “She naively thought that you could design in the home with children running around under foot. Although she knew nothing about the demands of the profession, she did know me. She was right that I combined an artistic bent with a strong aptitude in sciences, including mathematics and physics. I adopted her vision and focused my life to the pursuit of becoming an architect; from then, until 1971 when I became registered, I didn’t let anything distract me.”

Stansfeld moved to the U.S. in late 1973, and accepted a position in 1974 with Caudill Rowlett Scott, working with them until 1994 when she started her own business. “It was my career as a project manager of very large projects which ultimately earned my elevation to FAIA,” says Stansfeld. “In my projects, I am the team leader and glue which holds the design team together and creates an environment in which good design flourishes.”

While the times and technologies have changed, and more women enjoy careers in architecture, Stansfeld believes there is one steadfast rule that will always endure: the ability to recognize and celebrate the excellent work of individuals in architecture. “Nowadays firms hire the best candidate regardless of sex or ethnicity,” says Stansfeld. “I believe that every year we witness an increase in recognition of all female professionals and a willing acceptance by clients to treat them in the same way as they would men.”

So, what is the definition of good design? How does anyone know what good design is? Is good design a concept that can even be articulated? Or, is it something that is felt more than seen — a “you’ll know it when you see it” sort of experience? Urban Home asked the ten FAIA Women of Central Texas for an example of their work, as well as a few words about what they consider good design — because as architects, they can show you as well as tell you in their own inimitable ways all about what good design personally means to them — what they found inspiring, whether through relationships and friendships, seeing another’s work or reading another’s notes about design. In a profession such as architecture, there’s ample room for a wide array of styles and concepts marking each architect’s work as her signature style — her own particular spin on good design, that employs both loyalty to time-honored traditions, while not being afraid to push the boundaries on a project to create something truly special. 

 

CAROLYN PETERSON, FAIA

Ford, Powell & Carson, San Antonio Elevated to AIA Fellow: 1991 Over the years, working with historic and contemporary buildings, I have concluded that good design, in a wide range of material expression and cultural form, has a lot to do with the impact it has on one’s experience with the building….. especially if that sense remains with you over time. All of the design elements come together in a balanced interaction with one another, and the building does what is needed of it beautifully.

JANE STANSFELD, FAIA

J. Stansfeld & Associates, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 1993 To paraphrase Sir Denys Lasdun, “Good design is when the client gets, not what he said that he wanted, but what he never even dreamt that he needed!” Good design is so much more than aesthetics. Of course it includes form, and response to the site, but function and economy are equally important. In addition, if a client knows exactly what he wants, then he doesn’t need an architect; he needs a good builder. Good design also includes a meticulous attention to the use of materials and details so that the construction awes at every level.

HEATHER MCKINNEY, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C

McKinney York Architects, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2008 Good design is fitted to its context, exceeds the expectations of the client, creates delight and is responsible. To me that means that it conserves the earth’s resources, is energy-efficient and enduring.

DONNA D. CARTER, FAIA

Carter • Design Associates, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2010 To rephrase Louis Sullivan’s famous “form ever follows function,” “Design follows purpose or goal.” The art of revealing excellence in design, and the special quality an architect brings to any project is the ability to solve problems, answer the questions posed by the task at hand with a design solution at once sustainable and sustaining; accessible and engaging; of its time and timeless; functional and delightful; useful and inspiring. In every respect, resonating with the user and exceeding their expectations. 

DIANE B. HAYS, FAIA

UTSA College of Architecture, San Antonio Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2010 Good design is rooted in an idea, is well proportioned, well-crafted with appropriate materials and connections, all of which are independent of “style.”

ELIZABETH DANZE, FAIA

Danze Blood Architects, The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2009 Good design is what makes architecture relevant. It is seen in the exploration and understanding of problems at a range of scales: from a single piece of furniture to policies and infrastructure that effect entire geographic regions. Good design embraces different perspectives whether they be theoretical, cultural, social, technical or formal. At the scale of a building, good design in architecture poetically addresses the realities of construction while elevating the human spirit and the human condition. It has the potential to possess a quality that touches something deep within us and that transcends time, place and culture. The most extraordinary buildings have an ineffable quality, a quality that is difficult to put into words, but moves us deeply. Poetic application of intelligent, beautiful and compelling solutions to problems of any scale or type will change the world for the better. The power of good design in architecture has the power to unite all of us.

SUE ANN PEMBERTON, FAIA

Mainstreet Architects Inc., UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, San Antonio Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2010 Good design is timeless. In historic preservation projects, any new intervention, additions or modifications should prove just as timeless as the building’s original fabric.

EMILY LITTLE, FAIA

Clayton & Little Architects, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2013 Good design is a good response. Architecture happens because of a need, one that can range from personal to global, and one that encompasses every nuance of culture, technology, aspiration and economy. The architect’s challenge is to comprehend the entirety of context and insert a meaningful component that not only meets the need but inspires and delights as well.

 

JANA MCCANN, FAIA

McCann Adams Studio, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2013 Good design is bringing together an understanding of and response to project constraints and opportunities into a balanced whole that makes sense and brings both pleasure and function.

LAURIE LIMBACHER, FAIA

Limbacher & Godfrey Architects, Austin Elevated to AIA Fellow: 2014 I like this thought from Yoshio Taniguchi, a Japanese architect who (among other things) did the recent addition to MOMA in New York City: “Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.” I think it relates to my point about architecture as a practical art, with both beauty and function. Photo by Paul Bardagjy