3/3: Three Page Women on Women in Architecture

Page is the sponsor for the Women in Architecture exhibit being held at AIA Houston this fall, and several Page women contributed ideas and designs for the exhibit. Three principals in the Page Houston office shared their thoughts about the profession, their careers and advice they would offer younger women who are either students or beginning their careers.

Joan Albert, Principal / Design

My path to architecture was circuitous.  After getting an undergrad degree in Anthropology, I quickly learned that there were very few opportunities for that in the job market.  A friend, knowing I was always into art, suggested that I try architecture.   I moved to New York City and got a job that I found in a newspaper ad, as a materials librarian in an Architecture firm, and took classes at night.  I fell in love with the whole crazy world and started applying to grad school programs.  I picked SCI-Arc which was the perfect place for my eclectic background and affinity for design. 

One of three design studio leads in the Houston office, I support the young design talent in the group by making sure they are able to realize their vision.  I am also constantly involved in marketing efforts.  I see myself continuing to help grow and promote the firm, especially within the realm of design.  

I have definitely felt effects of being a woman in Architecture.  Always being the only woman in a room with 10 men can be intimidating as a young architect.  I used to hesitate, and lacked the confidence to speak up.  Over time I learned to speak my mind.  I have learned that what I have to say is just as important as anyone else, so I no longer hesitate to speak.  I have also learned that if I have a question, someone else probably does too, so I don’t hesitate to ask and learn. I think women’s ability to multi-task, be good listeners, and sincere speakers, will serve them well to become great leaders in the field if they grab hold of their opportunities, believe in themselves, and speak up!

My advice to younger women: I see women around me making big strides.  I do feel like women in architecture face many of the issues that occur in most professions.  It takes a little more hard work and a little more time for women to get to the top.  I think women generally hesitate to self-promote and ask for the raise or promotion.  They need to “lean in” and “sit at the table” and demand to be respected and compensated for their hard work and accomplishments.  Be patient and expect to make it!

Julie Rusk, Assoc. AIA, Principal / Director of Operations

As a student at the University of Houston, I was unsure of my future direction.  Design was not my true expertise, but I loved architecture and creating spaces that work for people.  As I was pursuing internships, I was able to learn about the other potential opportunities available.  I began my architecture career in pre-design services, which included both Master Planning and Programming projects.  Learning about the projects and the office environment allowed me to establish a role that was a good fit for me: Project Manager.  Working with a vast variety of clients and budgets, I learned to balance relationships and client needs and challenges.  Over time, I was asked to take on the role of Operations in the Houston office, assisting not only my external clients, but my clients within the office (employees). 

Both roles of Project Manager and Operations have traditionally been held by men in years past, but more and more women are stepping into these roles.  As many women are working mothers we have become experts at multi-tasking which makes us unstoppable in managing multiple endeavors.  I see more women joining the field of architecture because there are endless opportunities to use our creativity without being a “designer”. 

My advice to younger women: I would suggest to anyone wanting to get into architecture to keep an open mind and do not give up.  You may not start with your dream career, but there are endless opportunities to use your education and skills.

Marissa Yu, AIA, LEED AP, Principal / Interior Design Director

Architecture is complex and universal. You have to learn a lot about a lot of things. And it is important to learn every aspect of the business in order to be successful.  I am in the field of architecture because I am motivated by work that requires creativity, innovation, and teamwork. I am also inspired by the fact that our work as architects has the potential to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

I eventually chose to specialize in what I enjoy most. I chose to focus on interior architecture because I am interested in working out the details of a space—down to varying shades of a paint color or functional details of an office workstation—and the team collaboration that comes with it.

Women are needed in most fields, especially architecture. It helps to be aware of the inherent qualities that both women and men uniquely possess that make them successful in their careers.  Women should embrace those that come naturally and learn other traits through observation and practice.  Regardless of gender, talent must come with hard work and a vision to see oneself as a part of a broader team.  Do your best work always and the companies and clients you work for will always want you to succeed. 

My advice to younger women:  

  • Find new ways everyday to innovate in design and in the delivery process.
  • Learn to work with people as more can be achieved as a team.
  • Work with people who share your values and choose to influence those that may not do so.
  • There is always more to learn and learning can come from many mentors along the way.
  • Watch out for opportunities, evaluate them thoroughly, move decisively and be committed to them.
  • Always have a ‘Plan B’.
  • And lastly, always have a sense of humor and have fun!

Contributed By

Joan Albert, Julie Rusk and Marissa Yu