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Meet Caitlin: Architect

I’m so thrilled to be sharing Caitlin with you today! Just look at her amazing photos and you know she is fulfilling all of my #workingmomgoals. I think her mantra might be my favorite that’s ever been shared on Livlyhood!

Tell us a little about yourself and your career

I’ve been married to my husband for 10 years, am a mother to an energetic 2.5 year old boy, have another boy due in October, and I’m a licensed architect working full-time in Boston, MA. I work for a large global firm that specializes in a variety of building types, but my primary practice area is schools and I specialize in sustainable design.

Everyone has heard of the architectural profession, but I’ve found that many people don’t really know what architects do. The short answer is, we sort of do it all. We work with the client in the very beginning to understand their needs, goals, and how spaces within the building should be organized (this is called programming). From there we undergo a Schematic Design phase where we start to put those ideas to paper, and come up with a rough building plan and concept. The design process is iterative so there is a lot of back and forth, and redesigning. Once we’ve reached a preferred solution, we’ll develop that further in the Design Development phase, this is where we get more specific and start to identify specific materials and details. Then we’ll take that one step further in the Construction Document phase where we’ll draw large scale details showing how things are assembled.

At the end of this phase we’ll have produced a large drawing set, and accompanying written specifications from which the contractor will build. While the building is under construction the architect is involved through regular site visits to observe the work and respond to any clarification questions. This phase is called Construction Administration. Throughout the entire process, we work very closely with consultants of different disciplines (structural, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, etc.) to make sure all aspects of the building are coordinated.

Why do I love architecture? The work is always changing. For example, this week I spent one day sketching by hand broad interior concepts, the next day I was picking out brick samples and trying to develop a color palette for the exterior, and the next day I was working on highly technical details at my computer. Architecture is very challenging, but I also find it incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing quite like seeing something that you’ve only pictured conceptually in your mind become a reality.

How does your community of women you surround yourself with support you?

Architecture traditionally has been a male-dominated profession, and while that’s slowly changing there’s still a lot of progress to be made in regards to equity in pay and advancement. Professionally, I have sought out female mentors to observe and go to for advice. I’d recommend this in any profession. Throughout my career I’ve had many wonderful male mentors, but talking honestly with a woman who has gone before you is invaluable.

Outside of work, a large percentage of my girlfriends are stay at home moms. Honestly, the way I feel most supported by them is simple acceptance of, and respect for, my decision to work. There seems to be a latent battle between working moms and stay at home moms. Ultimately every woman and every family is different, and to be an empowered woman to me means having a choice. If you find being home full-time fulfilling, wonderful! If you find working full-time fulfilling, wonderful! If you fall somewhere in between, wonderful! We as women can support each other by simply suspending judgement, and respecting these differing choices.

What advice do you have for women who want to pursue a career in architecture? 

My advice to anyone wanting to pursue architecture is that it is a labor of love. The hours are long and the pay isn’t exceptional, so only go down this path if you love it. To become a licensed architect, I had to complete a 3 1/2 year master’s program, work 3000 hours in a variety of project areas, and pass 7 registration exams. It was a long road, but because I love what I do it’s been worth it.

My advice specifically to women, although I hesitate because I personally believe that the burden of work-life balance is as much the man’s job as it is the woman’s, is decide what you want long term regarding family-life. Architecture is not the best option for someone seeking flexibility or the ability to work remotely. With that said, you can practice architecture well into your later years, so if you want a fulfilling life-long career, the sacrifices made early on may be worth it.

My only other piece of advice is to find a supportive partner. Truly, I wouldn’t have made it through architectural school, my exams, or be where I am now career-wise if it wasn’t for my husband. He’s been my biggest support and advocate.

What do you wish you could go back and tell your younger self re: your career aspirations? 

It may sound trite, but “believe in your potential”. As a kid I didn’t see myself as the smart one, or the driven one so I never had big dreams for my career. It wasn’t until college that I started to recognize my strengths and really believe that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to and worked hard at. I wish I had understood that sooner.

 What is your career-related mantra? 

One of my mentors early on in my career told me, “the last 10% is always the hardest, but it’s also the most important.” I have found this to be so true, and a statement I have come to believe wholeheartedly.  I’ve worked with so many people that allow their work to be “finished” at 90% but pushing through to that last 10% is what takes a design from good

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