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Sharron van der Meulen of ZGF Architects: The Future of Air Travel in the Post-Pandemic World
San Francisco, California, USA
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Candice Georgiadis
Date Published: 
Airports, Transportation, Portland, Oregon, Interview, Q/A, Mentorship, Women, Leadership, Diversity, Architecture, COVID-19, Travel, Sharron Van Der Meulen
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2021-03-07 01:32:02
2021-03-07 01:38:12
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ZGF Architects LLP
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sharron van der Meulen

As Managing Partner of ZGF’s Portland office, Sharron van der Meulen provides thoughtful and inspiring design leadership, while guiding marketing and interior design for a diverse portfolio of projects including corporate workplaces, law offices, civic and federal institutions, higher education, healthcare, and aviation. Sharron works closely with her clients to articulate their aspirations and develop the program; employing a human-centric design approach to align a project’s vision and goals with the wants and needs of multiple user groups.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was one of those kids that was creative but didn’t know exactly how to equate that to a career path. It began with a love of the art and history and evolved naturally into the study of architecture and design. What kept me interested and intrigued all these years is just how important the role of the built environment is in building community, innovation and creating the best outcomes for people, no matter the market sector.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In 1999, Turkey experienced a devastating earthquake in Izmit, outside of Istanbul, that killed over 17,000 people, mostly due to collapsing structures. I was working on a project in Turkey and arrived several weeks after the earthquake. One afternoon, while in the client’s office, the entire building started shaking back and forth. People ushered us outside into the middle of street, where I saw people jumping from the second floor to escape the potential collapse of buildings. That experience gave me a new appreciation for the rigorous life safety standards we have in the United States.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my first projects was an history museum and I was working with Bob Frasca, one of ZGF’s founding partners and my mentor for many years. Bob informed me that I would be making the presentation to the museum director. Without much knowledge of how to present to a board or how to prepare, I launched into a high speed, high octane presentation. It must have been dizzying because the director stopped me mid-stream and asked me in the most polite, formal manner, if I could slow it down so he could try and keep up. Believe me, he had no issues in keeping up. He was a brilliant historian with a laser-quick mind, but he was teaching me a lesson about how to draw out a story and invite the audience on the journey.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

It’s all about teamwork. You know that saying, “many hands make light work.” Having a unified team, where everyone has a part in meeting deadlines is important to spreading the load and creating balance. When I started out, drawings were done on mylar with ink or pencil and we had an unspoken rule that at the end of the day if there were people still working, no one would leave unless they asked if they could help in any way. Seriously! Today it’s still a good approach to take. Teams become stronger and frankly it’s more satisfying when people share the responsibility.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who
helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been lucky enough to have many mentors, but there is someone that has been a mentor from the very beginning: Bob Packard. Bob was the managing partner of ZGF’s Portland Office for most of my career, and then last year I took on the managing partner role. There are too many stories to list just one, but I can say that Bob teaches everyone to look at the world differently; not to come to conclusions too quickly; and to always seek out more information, be curious and do your research.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Today I’
Organizations Mentioned: (4)
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC, USA
Government, Safety, Security, Immigration Control
FAA | Federal Aviation Administration
Washington, DC, USA
Government, Transportation, Aviation, Airlines
TSA | Transportation Security Administration
Arlington, Virginia, USA
Government, Transportation, Safety
ZGF Architects LLP
Portland, Oregon, USA
Architecture, Interior Design, Urban Design