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Sylvie Rosokoff / Sylvie the Camera
The founder of Madame Architect speaks with RECORD about the value of mentorship.

Julia Gamolina, who works in business development for FXCollaborative, founded the website Madame Architect in May 2018, after having published interviews with women in the profession on SubteXXt, the digital journal of gender-equity organization ArchiteXX, beginning in 2015. Since then, she has interviewed some 150 women in the profession, with more than 50,000 unique visitors to the site. The 28-year-old graduate of Cornell’s architecture program spoke with RECORD about her goals for Madame Architect and the value of mentorship in work and life.

You were born in Russia, immigrated to Canada at age 8, then moved to the U.S. when you were 14. How has mentorship—and specifically working with and looking up to other women—played a role in your life and career?

It’s been huge. When we immigrated, my mom told me, “I will offer you the guidance that I can, but I’m also new here—there are some things that I won’t know.” So as a young kid, then throughout high school and college, I felt very comfortable asking my teachers for advice. I’ve always had different mother figures in my life, and advisors in my professional world, and I think immigration is really what triggered it.

So was Madame Architect a natural extension of seeking out guidance?

Yes. I found that, after graduation, that built-in system of mentorship no longer exists. I started to look for my own advisors. Writing about them wasn’t originally part of the plan at all, but once I found women who were so generous and energizing to me, I thought, I have to share this. I pitched ArchiteXX, and it published my first Q&A, with Vivian Lee, a principal at Richard Meier & Partners.

How do you identify your interviewees?

One of the biggest goals of Madame Architect is variety—the full gamut of age, focus, background, location, everything—but it started with women who had leadership roles at firms, purely for guidance on how to get there. After the first few, I thought, I’m talking to women at the peaks of their careers; what is it like to speak to someone in the trenches?

What common themes have emerged?

People talk about being open and nimble, and saying yes when unexpected opportunities arise. While I was working on my thesis and about to start looking for jobs, I watched all these commencement speeches by people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey, who send the message to find what you want to do and just do it. I had started my career with that mentality, and it was extremely frustrating, because things took longer or didn’t work out as I expected. I thought I was doing something wrong. But having interviewed more than a hundred women now, no one has ever said, “Set your eyes on the prize and go for it.” And, in fact, everyone has said, “Be open, you don’t know what’s coming, but surprises are good, and you’ll learn a lot by trying different things.”

What has surprised you?

Almost every single woman I have talked to who has her own firm founded it when she had her first baby. That’s really mind-blowing to me. Seeing who my followers are has also been surprising. A lot are younger women and new mothers, but I also have men writing to me all the time. I didn’t think I would hear from men at all when I started, and while it’s still more women, it’s more balanced than I expected.

What misconceptions do you think people have about women working in architecture?

So many women are so tired of being asked what it’s like to be a woman in the field. They deal with the same challenges that come with different stages of life, for everyone, in every field. They no longer want to be thought of as “women architects”—they just want to be thought of as architects. That has probably been the most consistent feedback from the interviews.

You publish a lot of content—around 10 stories each month. Do you see this becoming a fulltime job?

I actually really like having my feet in practice. I don’t design at the moment, but I like being on the ground in the collaborative environment of a firm. So for now, at least, it’s good for me to do both. But monetizing something like this, having a business plan and all that—oh my God [laughs] . . . Not my skill set.
This Mexico City practice aims to " transform space into place."

Firm name: Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura
Location: Mexico City
Year founded: 2009
Firm leadership: Rozana Montiel
Education: B.Arch., Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico; M.Arch., Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, Spain
Experience: Diego Villaseñor Arquitecto y Asociados; and has taught in different universities in Mexico City and at Cornell University.
Firm size: 10

We transform space into place. Placemaking is the result of seeking formal content in context, changing barriers into boundaries, shifting spatial perception, approaching the landscape as the program, re-signifying materials, working with temporality, and holding beauty as a basic right. More than an aesthetic decision, beautiful design is an ethical stance impacting people’s lives.

First commission:
My first significant commission was the Void Temple in 2011, a landscape intervention that touches all the themes that concern me as an architectural designer: public space, social fabric, re-signification of simple materials, re-signification of tradition. This land art piece sits amid pine woods and blends with the site topography; it consists of a white concrete wall forming a 40-meter (131-foot) circle that serves as a haven containing the macro-cosmos within the micro-cosmos. The project was part of a collaboration with Dellekamp Arquitectos on a 117-kilometer-long (73-mile-long) pilgrimage route in Jalisco, Mexico.

Second favorite project:
At the 2018 “Freespace” Venice Biennial, we presented our book HU: Common Spaces in Housing Units (Mexico City: Arquine, 2018), which compiles the research and findings of three of our most important public space projects. The book, which advances a new design methodology, collects in a series of post-it graphic aphorisms our observations and solutions for common spaces. The book is one of my favorite projects because it involved a great deal of reflection about how we design and the role language plays in building.

Biggest career leap:
When I began to receive commissions for public projects. It was then that I realized the urban responsibility that architects have when designing collective living spaces. Also, in 2017, I won the Moira Gemmill Award for Emerging Architecture given by The Architectural Review in London. It was an important turning point in my career not only because the prize validated my studio’s approach to architecture, but also because it has funded my research.

Biggest design challenge you’ve overcome:
Every project at our office is a research opportunity that brings a new design challenge. We approach architecture as a form of “willing simplicity” that integrates more with less.

Special item in your studio space:
Our green roof terrace. It keeps us grounded and sensitive despite being on a fourth floor. It connects interior and exterior in an organic way: We can be at the heart of an urban center and yet stay connected to each other through nature.

Design aggravation:
Stale atmospheres. For me, disharmony in a place begins through the sense of smell. If a space has a moldy or stuffy odor, something was poorly designed.

Bad taste in design is not about how things look, but how all spaces and materials come together in an atmosphere. And smell is a tell-all aspect.

Recent inspiration:
I visited the Musée Fragonard d’Alfort in Paris and was fascinated by its écorchés (figures depicted in art showing muscles without skin) and cabinets of curiosities. These cabinets evoke the manner in which architects “make room” through spatial design: Architectural order creates readings and narratives that can only be decoded in space.

Most urgent policy change:
Public space development in Mexico City. Most of the public space interventions lack a long-term vision, due in part to the three-year cycles of political administrations. There must be a way of shielding aspects of policy from political change. Currently, we just get snapshots of progress with no cohesive long-term effect.

Favorite rule to break:
Playing by the rules to their ultimate consequences is the best way to break the rules.

What are you reading?
I love to read several books at a time. I am current
Carole Wedge
Real leaders identify and address biased, uninformed, or simply "idiotic" actions and comments, says the CEO of Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch.

At some point in your career, people will start asking how you got there. Though I started 33 years ago in the mail room at the firm of which I’m now the CEO, my response is simple: I put one foot in front of the other and kept showing up, sharing ideas and pushing for the good ones.

But serendipity played a role. Where I worked, women of my generation were treated as architects, not “women architects.” We were encouraged to get registered and grow into leadership roles. My generation had grown up with Title IX and were told we could do anything as career women. It never occurred to us that this was not true everywhere.

That said, the generation of women before me did face biases. They noticed when their ideas were ignored or ascribed to a man in the meeting. But in our office, people didn’t just notice things—they also made an effort to change them.

When someone challenges your values, intellect, creativity, academic qualifications, inclusion on a team, gender, race, sexual orientation—the list goes on—it often indicates ignorance, an unchecked bias, an inflated ego, or an insecurity. And yes, you can address it.

I recall on a flight when a slightly older man sitting next to me asked about my work. I told him I was an architect. “Oh,” he said. “They let women be architects?”

Keep in mind, this was around 2010, I was about 50 years old and the president of my firm.

“Are you kidding?” I replied. “Yes, we do encourage women to become architects—and African-Americans, Latinx, Asians, Native Americans,” et cetera. Not only did he quickly apologize for the bias that slipped from his mouth, but he also thanked me for correcting him.

These are important interventions—the idiotic comments that you have to be prepared for and willing to address when your values won’t let you stay silent, no matter how scary it might seem. You may need to rehearse a prepared response, which can be as simple as “Wow, that comment made me uncomfortable.”

And there will be times when it feels difficult to respond in the moment, and you miss the momentary chance to speak up. But if the opportunity remains, prepare your thoughts, write them down, muster your courage, go back to that person, and say, “I regret that I didn’t say this when it happened, but that was not OK with me. I do not want that type of thing to happen again.” Make sure they understand you. Ask them to repeat what they heard from you so it’s in their own words and so you know you were heard. Make a plan for moving forward.

Of course, the more power you have, the more people will listen. However, you might be surprised to know that many firms do listen closely to their new hires and emerging designers—they represent the future after all. If you are worried about being fired for speaking up, then you are in the wrong place. (And if you are fired for defending equality and fairness, you can explore legal channels.)

It is never too early to develop your vision for how you want to inhabit your career. I recall reading in The Art of Possibility (Penguin Random House, 2002) about the idea of “servant leaders,” the people who help when there is an accident or a problem, and authorize themselves to help fix it. I want to work with servant leaders. Not only do they take a project from good to great and create lasting relationships that help generate repeat work, but they also speak up when someone makes a racist, sexist, or misguided comment. They stand up for their values.

The ability to articulate values and vision is a leadership trait, and one that is improved with practice. Only you can stand up for your values. Don’t be a bystander in your life.
Tolga Kavut Photography
The landscape architect discusses his career path.

If you are in Miami and see the lush gardens on the rooftop of Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony, or the grounds around the Grove at Grand Bay by Bjarke Ingels Group, you are looking at the work of Raymond Jungles. The landscape architect’s practice, based in Miami’s Coconut Grove, is known for its vibrant native plants, often arranged in curvilinear patterns evocative of the work of the late Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Jungles has also taken on a very unexpected assignment: overhauling the garden that Dan Kiley originally conceived in 1967 for the atrium of the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice in New York. The garden is part of a renovation that Gensler undertook for the landmark designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates. Jungles’s knowledge of subtropical plants helped him meet the challenge of choosing botanical specimens that would thrive indoors in a temperate climate. RECORD talked to Jungles about the trajectory of his career.

About your last name—Jungles. It’s perfect, but what was it originally?

It’s my real surname. I was born in Omaha, and my father’s family came from Germany, where it was spelled Jungels or Junglas.

In the name-as-destiny department, how did you end up as a landscape architect in Miami, with its, well, jungle-like vegetation?

I got interested in plants in high school in Columbus, Ohio, and began working part-time in a nursery. When I got out, I headed for Florida to do more of the same thing. Soon I entered a community college, and then transferred to the University of Florida at Gainesville, where I studied landscape design in the architecture school. I was very interested in environmental concerns: Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature was extremely influential‚ and still is today in my work.

While you were in college, you began developing your particularly exuberant approach to gardens. How did that happen?

I was influenced a lot by Roberto Burle Marx—from the time I heard him lecture at the University of Florida. After graduation in 1981, I got to know him when he had some work in Miami. He said, “Come to Rio de Janeiro,” which I did, a number of times, and just followed him around. When Burle Marx came to Miami, he would give me crits on my gardens. His designs could be graphic and bold, but softened by his plants.

In the last 15 or so years, you have received very notable commissions
Alison Brooks Architects
During her visit to the Melbourne School of Design for the Dean’s Lecture Series in October, Alison Brooks, principal and creative director of Alison Brooks Architects, sat down with Donald Bates to discuss her career beginnings, philosophy, and her award-winning projects.

Donald Bates: You’re Canadian and attended the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo, but you have lived in the UK for some time. How did this journey take place?

Alison Brooks: I left Canada immediately after graduating from Waterloo. After seven years at Waterloo and working in many practices around Ontario through Waterloo’s co-op programme, I needed to escape from a place of familiarity. Britain seemed an obvious choice because I felt an affinity to the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA). I knew their publications and the work of AA alumni, such as Rem Koolhaas and Zaha Hadid. I had a working holiday visa from Canada so I went for two years and never came back.

DB: Did you think about going to New York?

As a Canadian, I couldn’t work in New York without a green card. I flew to London with my portfolio, five hundred pounds and my working holiday visa so I knew I could stay for two years. But I had to get a job pretty quickly.

DB: When you got to London, you immediately started working as opposed to going to school. Was this the plan?

My plan was to work for two years then to do a masters at Cambridge, but after two years of working in London I was completely broke and there was no way I could afford it. I managed to extend my visa as I was right in the middle of projects with Ron Arad who I joined when I first worked in London.

DB: Ron Arad is a very different kind of designer, not a conventional architect at all.

Exactly, totally uncommon!