Introduction by Paola Alvarez, Curated Text by Jennifer Fillip, Sound Editing by Paola Alvarez, Photography by Paola Alvarez and Sherr Aspiras
One indecisively gloomy Saturday, Jen and I drove towards downtown to meet with Corinne. We parked, fed the meter, and walked over to You & Yours, one of the many places Corinne had suggested which certainly had a unique, charming character. We’re early so as we wait for the space to open, Jen and I prepare. We soon find out that You & Yours was booked for the day. A few minutes later, Corinne meets us outside, we tell her the news and instantly she thought of a second destination. “How about we go to El Jardín?!” Corinne charmingly asks. “Great!” Jen and I respond. As we walk down the sidewalk of Liberty Station, we pass by the inner heart of Liberty Station’s Market. There is a playfulness in nature, in the skies, and soil. The greenness of the grass was soon to be echoed by the trees. Glasses clink, savory aromas linger in the air as we approach our destination. Jen firmly holds her blue notebook as we make our way towards the back corner of the restaurant.
“Bienvenidas! A El Jardín..” the waiter kindly greets us. We step inside as our senses are instantly awakened by the savory and sweet aromas traveling out from the kitchen. We are visually struck by the vibrant colors and textures of the walls embracing us. “There she is!” I say. Jen and I walk towards Corinne as she is waves at us with a smile. We all sit and begin to chat about the space, the colors, and the intricate elements. Corinne explains the roots of El Jardín, the food, the drinks and how it’s woman-owned. Jen proceeds with our first question.
Jennifer Fillip: Ok… hi!
Corinne Lloyd Moody: Hi!
JF: Could you start out by saying your name, what you do, and maybe where we are?
CLM: My name is Corinne Lloyd Moody. I am an architect and an educator. We are in El Jardín in Liberty Station. I love this restaurant for so many reasons. I find the interiors whimsical and inspiring and clever and colorful. I think it really plays to the region. It’s kind of this blend of Tijuana and San Diego. It’s beachy and vibrant, so that’s why I love it. And the cocktails are amazing!
JF: And it has blue velvet couches! You definitely have this passion for women-owned and women-run spaces. That was a theme with other places that you suggested to meet.
CLM: This is true. I am on a mission in life to promote women, lift them up, and encourage people to learn from and be inspired by them. It helps that all the places I love have amazing beverages and interiors, but most of my favorite places in San Diego happen to be owned and run by women. At this restaurant, the executive chef, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins, is a young woman, a very inspiring feminist, and an incredible chef. I’m just impressed with young, successful, talented women who are driven and don’t see boundaries in life. They just charge in and go for it.
JF: It’s like the slogan “girls support girls”. It’s simple, but the most effective way to progress women in our industry and other industries.
CLM: Yes! I’m grateful I never sensed competition between women in architecture. Many of my mentors have been women. The women to advance my salary over the years and the women who have advanced my position in firms have all shared that same philosophy that we only improve women as stakeholders in the industry by building them up.
JF: Can you give us a little background of how you got to working in architecture and in San Diego?
CLM: Well, I was born and raised in a very small town in northwestern Pennsylvania, called Bradford. It’s a special place. It’s nestled in a valley surrounded by tree-covered hills. So it’s very rural and rustic and beautiful, but it’s also an industrial town. We manufacture Zippo lighters, Case cutlery, and we are an oil refinery town. So it’s both raw and beautiful at the same time. I grew up across the street from an oil refinery, and I could look out my bedroom window and see the flame flickering from Kendall Refinery. There were literally rainbow-colored chemicals that flowed in the river that went right past my house. I think the visual inspiration I had as a child was the huge oil derricks and tankers, and they were very clean and metal and modern. So I’ve always been obsessed with industrial architecture. I spent a lot of time in the woods, in forested hills. As a child, I had no idea that I wanted to pursue architecture. I just know that those were my two influences: the landscape and then these clean, stark, white, metal buildings. When I went to university for undergrad, my majors were philosophy and art history. I’ve always been a lover of art. It wasn’t until the end of sophomore year, when we started studying architectural history, that I really found my passion. And my passion originally wasn’t to build, but to study architecture, photograph architecture, and write about architectural theory. I loved reading and writing about architecture. My undergraduate degree ended up being architectural history with a focus on historic preservation. I found my way into an architectural office kind of circuitously. I started right out of college working for Terry Necciai documenting historic farmhouses in upstate Pennsylvania. I was driving through the hills, the beautiful, rugged, rural hills and sketching farmhouses, writing about them, and describing them architecturally to nominate them to the state historic register. Through that process of drawing homes, that connection between head and hand made the language that I had been reading and writing about come to life for me. So after working in historic preservation, I moved to single-family residential working with an eighty-year-old architect, George Anderson, working out of his own historic home. He used to work with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 50s. He took me under his wing and mentored me. He taught me everything about architecture, and that was the summer of 2000. After George retired, I found myself working in a large corporation. George referred me; he trained me and taught me hand drawing. He referred me to a firm in Pittsburg called The Design Alliance. They were a 150-person firm.
JF: That’s a jump.
CLM: It was a huge jump! I went from working with one gentleman sitting side-by-side with him every day to a 150-person firm. And I loved it. It was really energizing just being surrounded by young, talented, architects and engineers. They were a full-service firm. They did interiors, planning, and architecture. So that’s when I got my first taste of what it really felt like to be an architect in an office, and I was hooked from that moment on.
JF: Do you think there was any trepidation on your part not having a formal architecture education? You have to jump in and you either sink or swim.
CLM: Absolutely. I think you said it best. I’m never happy unless I’m challenged. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that it would be a barrier or that I couldn’t do just as well as any other young graduate. I come from a matriarchal family where my mom is one of ten children, nine girls and one boy. All the women in my family are very strong and smart and fearless and funny and intelligent. I’ve always had incredible mentors, so the thought of not being able to do something because of a piece of paper or feelings of insecurity just never occurred to me. You roll up your sleeves and you get it done. Was there trepidation on my part? Yes. Did I feel ill-prepared? Yes. Before my first day in the corporate firm, I went to the library and found a copy of the building code. I literally read the International Building Code, all the chapters prior to my interview. I remember telling that to the first architect I worked with and he was appalled. He was aghast! He had never known anyone who had considered doing that.
JF: I mean that’s kind of a rare form of torture.
CLM: But I didn’t know any better. I thought that everyone that went to architecture school knew the building code forwards and backwards. And I, having not gone to a proper five-year architecture school, had no idea what the training was. So I just assumed you had to know everything. I do believe in over-preparing for everything in life and then using your instincts and intuition.
JF: You build your toolbox. Whether you use all of your tools or not, it gives you some sort of confidence or security. How did you get from Pittsburgh to San Diego?
CLM: Ultimately my goal was to move to San Francisco. My partner at the time and I both wanted to live there. It was the beginning of the tech boom, and prices in San Francisco were through the roof for rentals. So we started looking at other cities along the California coast where we could land and get residency. My end goal was to apply to Berkeley and get my graduate degree within a few years of living in California. That was the vision. We’re architects. We plan things, but things don’t always go according to plan. I’m grateful for that actually! We drove cross-country, landed in Ocean Beach where the 8 just ends, and fell in love with it. I found an apartment in Ocean Beach. I was twenty-two, and within a few weeks, I found a job working in La Jolla at a residential firm called Island Architects. Incredible firm. Lots of great mentors there. It was an office of, say, thirty people. And thus began my architecture career in San Diego. What drew me here was kind of a happy accident. We came here not intending to stay, and now, nineteen years later, it’s my home by choice.
JF: I think I share some of that sentiment being a transplant myself. I came here with no intention of staying past the two years of grad school and now I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Your trajectory is interesting because you did leave San Diego for grad school and came back to it. I’m interested in what brought you back and what keeps you here.
CLM: I think it’s important to talk about why I left as well. At the time in 2011, I was a professor at New School under the direction of Gil Cooke, who was the dean and an incredible architect and person - one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He is married to Alison Whitelaw who is another inspiration and mentor to me. Gil was encouraging me to stay in San Diego and get my graduate degree at New School. He offered me an advanced track. I would have had my masters in less than a year. I could continue teaching if I wanted or take the time off. He was willing to work with me so that I could continue working. I was an Associate at Carrier Johnson at the time and had a very busy workload. He said we could make this work, be flexible, get the classes needed to get through quickly. So I was gifted an incredible opportunity to stay in the city that I love, take direction from my peers, who I had tremendous respect for, and continue working, which I didn’t think would be possible. I was thrilled that he offered me that advantage. I had to do a lot of reflection about what I was hoping to get out of a graduate degree and how I was hoping to evolve. And what I determined was that San Diego is so much my home because of the people here. My friends have become my family. I have a very rich life here.
CLM: So I knew that I wouldn’t take my studies as seriously as I would if I had to force myself into the unknown. I was also very comfortable at New School. I need to be uncomfortable to change, evolve, and grow. So, I took a leap, and I left San Diego. Also, I was feeling a bit nostalgic for the east coast. As I mentioned, I come from a very rural and beautiful place that’s covered in trees and foliage. It’s green and verdant. I was feeling nostalgic for fall and for snow and for the traits and characteristics that make people different in different places. I was at the point where I was taking Southern Californians for granted - their positivity, their optimism. I was missing a little bit of that grittiness. So I left and I went to school in upstate New York and loved it. But it took me leaving to recognize that San Diego’s my home. And it took me leaving to recognize that I was taking amazing benefits and advantages for granted. It really crystallized my love of San Diego by leaving. I knew I had to come back, not just for the typical reason, which is our perfect weather and our gorgeous coastline. It sounds passé to even say those things, but they are very real.
JF: It’s true!
CLM: They have a huge impact on my mood and my temperament.
JF: I almost hate that I’ve become the person that says something about our weather.
CLM: You can’t not!
JF: It’s the people too. When you said that your friends have become your family, I do refer to my friends here as my San Diego family. I’m curious about what pockets in the region you gravitate towards. And I define the region as ranging up to LA and down to Ensenada based on where I traverse back and forth.
CLM: It changes, of course, as I change. So what do I define as the region? I do include LA. For me, growing up in a town that was both industrial and rugged, I need both extremes. I do spend a lot of time in Los Angeles. I love taking the train up to LA. I love going with a group of friends, drinking wine on the train, laughing, enjoying the commute. I really don’t enjoy the drive, but I do love public transportation. Going to LA to see shows, I go to the Hollywood Bowl a lot. Music is one of my great loves so I go there to hear bands and acts that don’t come to San Diego. We’re always fighting to get more musicians to do that three-hour drive. I spend a lot of time in Hollywood. I spend a lot of time in downtown Los Angeles, the historic downtown near the Fashion District. I think it’s urban and gritty and paved and historic. It’s everything I love about cities. I spend time going to the museums: the Broad, the Velvetaria, which is one of my favorite little kitschy museums in Chinatown. I love the different neighborhoods in LA: Koreatown, Chinatown. So I do consider it part of my region. It feels like a global city to me. However, I don’t think I can live in Los Angeles, so I love having access to it. I love the proximity. I love the ease with which you can get there, but I also love to head south. And as much as possible, I go to Mexico. I try to go every two or three months. I’d love to go more frequently. I like to retreat to Valle de Guadalupe. It’s my very favorite place in the region right now. The architecture is incredible. My particular stance on architecture is... I know that’s a bigger question, and you didn’t ask that.
JF: Let’s do it!
CLM: Well, it’s critical regionalism! And what I love about the Valle is that it is distinctive. It’s unique. It’s all its own. They’re using materials that are being sourced locally; everything’s coming from a close proximity. It’s responding to the terrain. It’s responding to the climate. It’s responding to the lack of water and the intensity of the sun. Everything about it feels organic and natural and beautiful. At the same time, it’s cutting edge. It’s some of the most contemporary and daring architecture I’ve seen anywhere.
JF: Absolutely. Why do you think this architecture is happening there?
CLM: What keeps me going back, besides the incredible food and incredible wine, is the soul and the soulfulness of the architecture. I find myself drawn repeatedly to the spaces that Alejandro D’Acosta and Claudia Turrent have done. D’Acosta has created every space that I have fallen in love with down there. Every time I go, I go to a new one of his wineries, and I’m just in awe of not only the talent, but where he’s sourcing his materials, how creatively he’s using them, his play with light. He’s just an incredibly talented architect. He’s soulful and he’s regional and he’s repurposing and reusing materials that were slated for landfill which is my other great passion. My take is that D’Acosta, who is an architect from Ensenada, and his wife were the initiators. They were the spark, and they started creating spaces the likes of which had never been known and people would take pilgrimages. They’ve done the Wine Museum, Vena Cava, and Clos de Tres Cantos which might be my favorite. It’s a spiritual journey visiting that space. It’s holy. The way he manipulates light, again he’s using repurposed materials but in a very reverent way. It’s sophisticated. The whole experience is very emotional being in Clos de Tres Cantos. I highly recommend going. My very favorite winery is Bruma. The adjacent restaurant is called Fauna. It has the most delicious food. They were rated Mexico’s best restaurant last year, also really young, creative chefs, David Castro Hussang and his wife Mirabel Adalco Silva. But the adjacent winery is stunning. It’s like Alto’s work. It’s buried in the landscape incorporating an incredible hundred-year-old tree into the architecture. It is completely sustainable. It is hidden, which is what is most exciting to me. The experience in the architecture is a journey of discovery. You don’t even know it’s there when you approach. I could go on!
JF: I think part of it is that there’s space and there’s the ability to engage the landscape that we don’t often have in Tijuana and San Diego. Architects that are based in the city are thirsty for that. And the Valle is like a playground.
CLM: But that’s a choice. Every time I go down to Valle, there is a new winery. There are new Air Bnb’s popping up. There are new restaurants. It’s very quickly developing, but what you can see is a common theme of treading lightly on the landscape. A lot of the buildings kind of float above the landscape on piers. It’s recognizing, but it’s also a reverence for the land and the understanding that they grow wine there. It’s a vinicultural economy, so anything that prevents the water from reaching the vines is not only destructive to the environment and the ecology, but their very economy and way of living.
CLM: I do want to mention a few places in San Diego. There are so many little pockets in San Diego that I love and as I mentioned it changes over time as I change. When I left for three years to go to graduate school, I found myself longing for and missing San Diego. I came back and made a commitment to live in my city like a tourist. So much of our local economy is dependent upon our tourism industry and yet we sort of treat tourists with disdain. We’ll say that we don’t want to go to SeaWorld or Balboa Park because it’s going to be packed. Those aren’t the venues I’m frequenting now, but I did make the commitment to live here and behave the way I do when I travel. I do travel a lot, and every city that I go to, I try to immerse myself in the streets, get to know the neighborhood, try new foods, try new coffee shops, go on historic tours, and learn about the architecture and the history. So that’s the commitment I made when I moved back here in 2015. When I came back, I found Urban Safaris run by this fabulous woman, Patty Fares. On Saturdays, every month, she does a walking tour of a different neighborhood of San Diego. She’s brilliant! She’s a former professor from San Diego State, and she talks about the history, landscape, and architecture. She also talks about, which is of interest to us as San Diegans, a little bit about what houses are selling for. You get the sense of what neighborhoods are rapidly gentrified. She always meets at a different coffee shop. So if you love coffee and you love history and you love San Diego, it’s a great way to spend a Saturday Morning. I started doing that every single month. Another way I like to acquaint myself with the city is by riding Birds. I have a core collective of women, and we rent Birds on a Saturday. And we scooter around in a different neighborhood every time and go to different coffee shops and restaurants. I’m constantly trying to reengage with the city because I find what happens with me is that I get comfortable in my little neighborhood and pocket. I live in North Park, and I love it. But I frequent the same venues over and over, so I’ve had to force myself out of that. I love Ocean Beach. I take my dog there to the dog park. I love Coronado Dog Beach for the same reason. I’m trying to spend as much time on the water as I do on the land. Every weekend, my husband and I rent a boat on Sunday. It’s kind of like my form of church. We rent a sailboat and are slowly and poorly teaching ourselves to sail.
JF: It’s easy once you start working to get in this routine and settle there. I think naturally people become unhappy and complacent when that happens. If you’re not challenging yourself, you’ll fabricate challenges where maybe they aren’t. At least that’s my theory. I have to find ways to push myself, and it sounds like you’re the same way.
CLM: Apathy is the killer of progress for me. And I find when I’m still for too long, I get restless. I get bored. I get depressed. Yes; you create challenges when there are none. I’m very goal-oriented and obsessed with lists, so every year I define new hobbies to pursue to avoid complacency and restlessness.
JF: When you’re not pursuing all these hobbies, working, or educating, you also have a firm you started that you are wrapping up projects with. Let’s backtrack to you finishing grad school and how the firm got started.
CLM: I returned to San Diego in 2015 and fully intended to go back to working in a large firm, which had provided me so many opportunities throughout my career. It was exciting; it was energizing. It allowed for tremendous personal and professional growth. So I intended to go back to Carrier Johnson actually, which was the firm I worked at for eight years prior to grad school. Within a week of moving back, my best friend, Jennifer Landau, invited me to meet her for lunch. We were chatting and catching up. And she said, “Hey, I have to go to a new client interview across the street. Why don’t you join me? I’m attending with my contractor. We do a design-build partnership. So Brian and I will be going for an interview and I’d love for you to join us.”
CLM: So I went with her and I watched her wow this client with her intelligence and her warmth. She was wholly feminine. And I mean feminine in that she was empowered but comfortable. Poignant, but still soft. She was incredible, and I’d never seen architecture and leadership done that way. I’d never seen a client won over by a woman being wholly herself. And maybe that sounds wild, but for years in the corporate culture, I was emulating my male peers. I was trying to mimic the strategy that led men to be successful in the corporate industry. In doing so, I was denying a side of myself or tamping down aspects of my personality, and it felt inauthentic. To see an architect be authentically herself and win people over, made me realize that there are other ways of getting the job done. We had a conversation after that interview, and she asked me to join her. And so my corporate plans went out the window. I said “Why not?! If not now, then when?” So the two of us formulated a business plan, and we started a corporation. We were 50/50 owners of L2 Architects. The L2 is Lloyd and Landau, which are both of our maiden names. And it was a small, boutique architecture firm. We did residential, multi-family residential, and small commercial spaces. We did lots of different project types over the years and we had a lot of fun doing it. It was an absolute privilege to work with my best friend. I have no regrets about the time we spent together. After four years, we did decide to end the corporation.
JF: After I finished my four-year bachelor’s degree, I distinctly remember saying “I just want to work with my friends and design cool things.” That was the crux of what I wanted to do once I had graduated. I’m realizing now that there are challenges working with friends. It’s complicated. You have to create boundaries. It’s way more multi-faceted than working at an office where you only see coworkers from eight to five, Monday through Friday, and that’s it. But I think there is so much richness that comes from working with friends.
CLM: When I look at my group of friends, most of my very closest friends I have met through working in architecture. And Jen is someone I met through working at Carrier Johnson. We worked side by side in the firm. We’ve been friends since 2005, so a very long time. She was my bridesmaid, I was her bridesmaid. We’ve cried on each other's shoulders. We’ve laughed, we’ve traveled together. So I agree with you. There is nothing like working with your best friend. I’ve never worked with my partner; my husband’s not in architecture. But I imagine that same intimacy, joy, shared creative capacity, the energy that’s built, and that dynamic would be the same. There’s nothing like it. Not only have I worked with Jennifer Landau, but I’ve also had the opportunity to work with Kristi Byers, Dan Smith and Jason Maune, all the best of friends. We all collaborated on great architecture projects here in San Diego. It’s a privilege. It’s an honor. It’s exciting. It’s energizing. But in all cases, what I’ve realized is that I value my friendships more than I value the work. And I never want to put greater emphasis on the work than the relationships in my life. I do think, as I mentioned before, there is a symbiotic relationship since the friends in my life come from architecture. I love working with friends to create architecture, but first and foremost my value is always to preserve the friendship and preserve the ability to kick back, laugh, and talk about something else. And so, that becomes the challenge. When the relationship becomes wholly architecture, there is a certain richness that’s lost. In the end, Jennifer and I chose our friendship over projects. Moreover, the choice to end the business had much to do with project type. Her great passion is single-family residential and she’s amazing in that capacity. My passion is for multi-family or higher education - larger projects. I’m just not creatively satisfied unless I’m out of my comfort zone, unless I’m being pushed.
I find with larger projects, there’s so much complexity. The teams are bigger. The challenges are greater. There’s more money involved. There are more stakeholders. It’s dynamic, constantly shifting terrain. So we were pulled in opposite directions. And we realized that not only to preserve the friendship, but to honor our individual strengths, we needed to go our separate ways. I’m glad we did because we’re still close. Now when we talk, it’s not just about the projects. It’s about her amazing children, her husband, my husband, our travel, and the things we laugh about. It’s not just work-related.
JF: That’s why I brought up the topic of boundaries. That’s one of the most challenging things to hone. I think you two putting your relationship before the work is a prime example of that.
CLM: It was hard for us to find those boundaries though, to be honest, because we are so close. We’re both over communicators. So every aspect of the business was discussed at length.
JF: Could you talk more about the transition back to a traditional firm setting?
CLM: The choice to return to a larger firm was from my want to work on larger, more complex projects. I missed the collaboration and working with a team of really driven, really intelligent people.
JF: If you have more players in the game who you don’t know and you’re trying to form these new relationships, it’s a different ball game.
CLM: Yes. And the very act of collaboration creates better projects. The more diversity you have on the team, the more the project and the product is enhanced. So yes, I wanted more complexity. And I had to ask myself, “Do I want to build that on my own?” It’s a tough question, but here’s the nugget: I think to run a successful practice with large, complex projects, it takes twenty to thirty years to build the client list, portfolio, and the rapport. You need to come to the table with years of experience and a long list of satisfied clients. Like everything in life, this business is relationship-based. It takes time. In the four years that we put into growing our business, every year we met our financial goals. Every year we were doing better and better projects. Every year we were raising our fees. We were on the track for growth, but the time it would take to get the type of projects that I wanted to do, I was unwilling to be patient and wait. I had to choose whether to invest the next twenty to thirty years and grow to get those projects or do I want to work on those projects now while I’m in my architectural prime. I do consider where I’m at in my life to be the prime of my life intellectually and creatively. I want to take advantage of it. It was a difficult choice, but for me, it came down to timing. I was too impatient to wait twenty to thirty years. For me, it wasn’t a loss. It wasn’t walking away from a dream. It was pursuing my dream honestly.
JF: Are there aspects of owning your own firm that you think you will need to fulfill in other ways? Ways that you won’t fulfill working in a larger firm.
CLM: You know, the most energizing and fulfilling thing about being a firm owner was taking on all the risk and reward. There’s a phrase we used to use as business owners: “You only eat what you kill.” So our paycheck, our ability to pay our rent, our ability to pay our insurance was completely on our shoulders to go out every day and win that job; and to perform spectacularly on that job so that we are referred and get the next one. It was thrilling to write a proposal and receive a “yes”. We literally jumped up and down and laughed and hugged each other when we got our first check from clients. It’s incredibly rewarding. My greatest take away was the confidence and the strength to know that I can write proposals. I can manage a team. I can write contracts. When things go wrong and I need to own up to them and be the main point of contact, I can get through that. I can still maintain a healthy client relationship when things go south. So all of those things, the responsibilities, the risks, all the things that come with ownership, those aren’t lost for me now. I have transitioned, and now I’m working for a firm. And the firm that I’ve chosen to work for has given me a lot of control and a lot of freedom. They have given me a lot of trust. Although I’m not writing the checks to the insurance company now. I’m not taking on all of the liability. It’s not my stamp on the drawings. I am leading my team. I am the main point of contact for my client. I’m making decisions on a $32 million budget that will impact generations of school children for the next fifty years. I have a lot of authorship. I have a lot of agency, and that’s critical for me. If I had chosen to work for a firm that didn’t give me the freedom, flexibility, and the power to make decisions, it would be very hard for me. I would struggle. I’m not capable of letting go of the reins entirely.
JF: Well it wouldn’t be challenging anymore.
JF: And you wouldn’t be happy.
CLM: I’m grateful that I found the right place. So your second question about women in leadership positions. This is a struggle that I have and I’ll continue to have throughout my life and that I think deeply about. I do feel a responsibility towards other women in architecture to serve as a mentor, to give them opportunities at every turn that they might not otherwise have, to encourage to take on challenges that they might not feel comfortable taking on. I feel it’s my responsibility because I have had a lot of opportunities in my life. I have had great mentors. I have had great experiences, and I want to pay that forward. I want to share that experience with other women in the field. So as a small business owner, we made a commitment to, wherever possible, hire women. Not wholly; we would hire the best person for the job. But if it came down to two qualified candidates, and one was a woman; we chose the woman. Our bookkeeper was a very talented woman with a young child and she was pregnant. She had the ability to work from home and that worked really well for us as a small business. She designed her life to suit her needs, and we loved that about her. It was inspiring to us. Our accountant was a woman. Our first lawyer was a woman. We really wanted to build a powerhouse collective of talented, driven women. However, you have to think about where you will have the greatest impact. This is where I have an anxiety about the profession. I feel like I might better be able to serve, inspire, mentor, and advocate on behalf of women in a larger firm because there is a lack of female ownership at the highest levels in the larger firms. But I’ve also learned to value, above anything else, my own happiness. It is the ultimate currency in my life. To climb the corporate ladder specifically to act as an agent on behalf of other women is not enough of a driver for me to do it. I need to love my job. I need to love what I do every day. I’m at the point of my life where I’m choosing to inspire and mentor when I can.
JF: That’s completely fair. As women, I think it’s in our nature to sacrifice for the greater good. To step into that role is common. Whether it’s being a mother and sacrificing for the greater good of your family, so I think that can also translate into a corporate job.
CLM: But you can’t aspire to be what you don’t see. You know? If you’ve never seen a woman at the helm, you can’t imagine yourself in that position. I think it’s important from a symbolic perspective to inspire.
JF: That’s why visibility is so important! I do have a topic that I’d like to get your thoughts on. We talk about gender and race in terms of representation, but I’ve found that the conversation often stops there. I guess lately I’ve been wondering why. Why do we not talk about visibility and representation of LGBTQ folks in the architectural profession?
CLM: I’ve been thinking a lot about you since you sent me this topic. You used the phrase, “the conversation often stops”. In this case, you sent me an email. I read the article. I was about to reply, and I realized it required more introspection before I responded. So the conversation did stop, but it only stopped in that moment. I continued having it at home. I realized that I have a singular perspective. I am passionate about promoting women within the industry. I’m very liberal and a feminist, and I’m outspoken on those fronts. But I realized that I can’t give voice outside of my own singular experience. When I was about to comment, I realized I don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated against in the workplace based on nationality, sexual preference, or religion. I don’t know and I didn’t want to give voice to it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think the work that you are doing right now - collecting narratives, creating a dialogue, giving space to multiple voices in the profession - is the most important thing that we could do in this regard. I don’t feel like I have the right to have an opinion about it, frankly.
JF: That’s fine! It’s just been a wondering of mine lately.
CLM: It never occurred to me. And that’s crazy.
JF: And I think that’s the issue. It’s not a topic that is necessarily avoided. It’s just not at the forefront. I might not be bringing it up if it wasn’t something that personally affects my life. That’s why I’m asking these questions.
CLM: What do you think is a critical step to feel like your voice is better represented within our industry?
JF: My only answer right now is to continue this conversation series and continue highlighting voices within the design community. That’s all I have right now. We’re not solving the world’s issues!
CLM: I’m actually really intrigued by the topic because it made me reflect back on my nineteen years in this industry. Of all the people that I’ve worked with, did I ever consider it? Did it ever play into my decision making or the way that I worked with someone? And I feel like it hasn’t. I only had the authority to hire and fire for those four years when I ran my business, and it had no bearing. But again, I’m not aware. Is there a disparity in terms of wages for LGBTQ employees? Is there a lack of promotion?
JF: I can only speak for myself as well and my own experiences. But to your questions, I don’t know. I have what you could call the luxury of not being apparently queer. I can fly under the radar. We also have the privilege of living in a state where it’s illegal to fire based on sexuality. It’s not so where I come from in my home state. Recently, I’ve been counting my blessings in that regard. I think that the design community in San Diego leans more progressive, so I don’t think discrimination is a large issue. But I’m sure there are firms where people feel uncomfortable talking about their personal lives or bringing dates to professional events. If you are trying to build a firm that’s family-oriented or foster relationships within the firm, that could really be an issue.
CLM: I was going to say that it comes down to your personal level of comfort, but it doesn’t entirely. It has a lot to do with the culture that a company creates. If it’s not a welcoming and non-judgemental culture, you wouldn’t feel comfortable regardless. It’s never occurred to me that there might be discrimination based on sexual preference and we’ve never talked about it. And now I feel like I really need to do more investigation and open my eyes.
JF: I need to formulate my thoughts on it more too. It seems very fragmented when I talk about it.
JF: Ok, we definitely got sidetracked.
CLM: One thing I’d like to say, is that the study of architecture and the profession of architecture is balancing the feminine and masculine sides of my nature every day. I don’t mean to imply that left brain or right brain is masculine or feminine. But there is a certain softness and sensuality and openness and gentleness and vulnerability that you have to bring to this profession that culturally and historically have been assigned as feminine attributes. Then there’s a strength, a precision, a technicality, and a command that you have to bring to the field as well. Those things come naturally to different people at different levels and it doesn’t really matter if you’re a man or a woman. But to me, I do find that it’s balancing both sides of my nature. And I’ve always found that within architecture. We’re all artsy and all my friends have always been artsy. It’s sort of the great gender equalizer, I find. The men aren’t the guy on the Brawny paper towels and the women aren’t so overtly feminine. We’re balanced individuals because we have to be. It’s the way our minds work. It’s the way we work. I’m grateful for that too that there aren’t huge extremes of masculinity and femininity within the office place, I have found.
JF: I think that’s well put. Like you said, the nature of architecture and the nature of being in a creative profession requires vulnerability, which isn’t exclusive of gender. It requires vulnerability of everyone because to create something new that wasn’t there before is a very vulnerable process. You have to be courageous to do so. That’s true of any creative or design-focused industry. I think it’s a big reason why I love it so much because it’s risky. It’s personally risky.
CLM: It is! It’s terrifying to face a blank page, and it’s terrifying to show something that you have designed and that you have created and that you feel passionately about to someone and hope that they love it too. It is terrifying and risky and brave.
JF: I wanted to ask you about the waves of Women in Architecture (WIA) in the city.
JF: Why do you think we have gone through these lulls and surges of people who are interested in WIA?
CLM: This is a very interesting topic. So in 2003, the AIA National Convention was held in San Diego. I had always been very active in the AIA locally, and I was volunteering on the AIA Convention Committee. One of the events was held at the San Diego Zoo, and I was standing in line for the women’s bathroom. There’s always a line, as we know. I was surrounded by female architects, several of which were from San Diego. I’m sure we started making jokes about the line for bathrooms and we, as women architects, should address this and why haven’t we found a better way and how unfair it is that you need to have an equal amount of toilets. Somehow, we got on the topic of what I thought was the first generation of Women in Architecture and how my brilliant friend, Charlotte Lantz, started this AIA group. The woman behind me was Jean Zagrodnik, and she said, “Huh! You’re kidding! We started that group in the early 1980s.” We started chatting. The summary that I learned is Jean Zagrodnik, Jeanine Christopher, and Alison Whitelaw had started a Women in Architecture group in the 1980s to talk about issues of wage disparity, challenges of wanting to be a parent but the need to work twice as hard as your male peers to receive the same amount of recognition, the issues of balance, and the issues of timing. They were quite excited that a new generation of female architects had formed a similar group. I said, “We’re talking about the exact same issues.” They had a little chuckle and never shared their opinion about whether that was good or bad or how they felt about it. And I do regret that. I think it would be amazing actually to have the first generation of Women in Architecture in San Diego and the subsequent generations of the group in the same room to talk about why we are asking the same questions again and again. What kind of progress has been made? What work is still left to be done? Sharing stories. I actually chatted with Charlotte recently, and I said, “What happened? Tell me why WIA was founded, and tell me why and how it died off.” In that second iteration, she had gone to the AIA Director, who as the time was a woman named Libby O’Malley. She was such a powerhouse. She’s an incredible woman. She’s not an architect but we as women were all very inspired by her and felt very comfortable talking with her about anything. Charlotte had gone to Libby and said, “I'm looking to connect with mentors and be inspired by other women in the profession.” Libby said, “Why don’t you do something about it? Start a committee.” So at Libby’s urging, Charlotte started this committee with two other women, Ada Mancilla and Sema Yavuz. Their kickoff was held at Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy. It was a new building at the time designed by Jennifer Luce, who is one of my local architectural heroes. They just staged a happy hour. They didn’t reserve a space. They didn’t know how many people would show up. It was basically advertised through word of mouth. There was one post on the AIA San Diego website. And at that meeting, fifty women showed up and it floored Charlotte. She had no idea that there was such a need or such a desire to connect. When all these women showed up, they didn’t have a road map or plan for what they thought WIA should be. They just started asking questions of the room. What do you need? What do you want? What do you feel is lacking? So the entire organization was built around listening rather than planning or telling. To me, that’s a profoundly feminine trait that is one of our many great advantages. So from that first happy hour, the group crystallized into forty key members. They were in place as a group for about five years.
CLM: They would travel to a different venue every month and just open dialogue for whatever people wanted to talk about. They had lectures. In rotating venues, they would try to highlight spaces designed by women in San Diego, which was a critical component of their brand and messaging. They came to Carrier Johnson and posted up in the conference room. We had a round table discussion about pay disparity in the workplace. It was the first time in my life that I’d ever sat in a room with other women architects and talked openly about the fact that we were getting paid less than our male peers. I was able to share that frustration. It was the first time anyone had asked those questions and talked about them openly in my presence. It was really important just like I think the work you’re doing now is very important. So the committee ended. One of the women had a young child and was pregnant and was working full time. It was just an overwhelming workload. She was no longer available to volunteer for the group. The second had a job opportunity in LA, so she left San Diego. Then, Charlotte was left at the helm. After five years, it became too much responsibility and too much volunteer work outside of work. And so it died out. I wonder if that’s what happened to the first generation of WIA as well. You just get really busy. The issues don’t go away. The problems aren’t solved. Just the burden of balancing work and life and volunteering became too much. I think it’s really critical that the baton continues to get passed to the next generation of women. I don’t think they have any more time than anyone else in the field. But if you have the fire burning, you need to take full advantage of it and keep driving these issues forward.