Building more equitable futures begins with community. For international practice Woods Bagot, the firm's three US studios are now each run by women, and their combined leadership is creating more inclusive and dynamic designs that rethink past traditions. Each Director has taken the reins before the global pandemic was underway, and now the trio is working to rethink how the practice can address diverse challenges in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Vivian Lee, FAIA, the New York studio Executive Director, joined the firm in February, a week before the city closed down. Maureen Boyer, AIA, was appointed to the same position in San Francisco in July, while Christiana Kyrillou, AIA, the Woods Bagot veteran, has risen through the ranks and opened the LA studio at the beginning of the year. In an exclusive interview with ArchDaily, the three architects discuss their design inspirations and challenges, as well as what it's like to practice today.
Why did you each choose to study architecture?
Christiana: I grew up in a small village in Cyprus with traditional homes, some of which were made of mud bricks. As a kid I would go around the neighborhood looking at buildings with my scale and my pencil, and try to capture them on a piece of paper. Growing up, I saw the traditional homes disappear as my village became a tourist resort and they became service apartments or hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The character of the streets I had walked to school disappeared, and the experience of the town square and village center vanished. I became interested in capturing the cultural evolution of architecture through different stages, and in creating new experiences that endure and reflect a sense of place.
Thatâ€™s what made me want to become an architect! I studied both Architecture and Historic Preservation with the intention of going back to Cyprus and joining the preservation movement. Instead, I joined SOM, where I discovered mixed use tall towers which transformed my career and took me along a different journey. I still appreciate older buildings â€“ preservation, renovation, repurposing. You have to respect and cherish the old, learn from it, and then find a way to have it coexist with the new.
When you were in high school Christiana, did you want to study architecture?
Yes, it was clear in mind when discussing my career options with my counsellor thatâ€™s what I wanted to be. I grew up in a traditional family, where women are not meant to aspire to careers but rather focus on home and family. With the support of my sisters, and seeing how focused I was and how hard I was studying, my dad helped make my dream a reality.
Vivian: I lived in Paraguay during my elementary school years. In third grade, I found my calling when I handed in my homework assignment about the sun's orientation. I had drawn with a floor plan showing room layouts that captured the sun and natural light. My teacher said, "Wow, this is really great. You might want to think about becoming an architect." When you are a kid, and a grown-up tells you something, it sticks. I have always been fascinated by how humans inhabit buildings.
Back then, my family lived in a primitive house with one single faucet. We drew water from a well, gravity-fed it from a tank with a hose through a hole in the wall. Every day, my dad went with a bucket to a nearby creek to get fresh water. We had no other plumbing and used an outhouse. That experience made me aware that people can live sustainably, with very few resources, and use creative solutions to design a built environment.
I consider myself very fortunate because I always knew what I wanted to do. Coming to the United States, I charted my path to architecture. To date, I have peers who are asking themselves if they are going to continue practicing. Still, I never doubted my decision despite all the challenges this profession encountered over the years.
Maureen: Your stories are so different from mine. I was born and raised in Southern California to a pretty affluent family. As was pretty typical for that time, I was the first person in my family to go to college. I was always artistic, dreaming, painting and sketching but never thought about architecture as a career. A lot of very modern houses were being built in my neighborhood. As kids, weâ€™d go into the houses under construction. We weren't su