The Hord Coplan Macht Cool Box is a place to get to know some of the people and personalities who are delivering great ideas and leading work for our clients. In the Cool Box today: Andrea Swiatocha, Associate/Project Architect, Education Studio.
Did you have an “ah-ha” moment where you knew you wanted to be an architect? What was it?
Ironically, my kindergarten teacher told my parents during a parent-teacher conference that I would be an architect based on the way I visualized the Olympic rings as 5 rings and not pieces. But it wasn’t until my junior year art show that a family friend asked if I was considering architecture based on my artwork. From that day forward, I only considered universities with architecture programs.
How does your background in architecture influence aspects of your life outside of work?
My older sister is physically handicapped and in a wheel chair. When I am out with her and see the struggles someone in a wheel chair faces firsthand, I think back to the work I am doing. Sometimes things might be considered “accessible,” but they really don’t work for the user. I often think about whether something I design would work for my sister.
“If I couldn’t be an architect I’d probably be a…”
Fitness Instructor. I have taught group fitness on and off over that last 6-7 years. I love watching people exceed their fitness expectations, knowing full well they are capable of even more.
What is your biggest strength as an architect?
Communication. I enjoy communicating and working closely with our clients. Especially in education, we often spend a lot of time with clients during the community meeting process or keeping the students and teachers informed. I enjoy providing a professional service that allows the clients to want to continue working with us.
Tell us about one of your favorite projects from the last few years.
Abingdon Elementary School has been one of the most fulfilling projects I have worked on. While it was exhausting and is still finishing construction, it was the first of a series of elementary school projects I have worked on. I learned an incredible amount during the community and design process that would carry over to projects that followed.
What is one of your favorite moments during a client or community presentation?
During a community meeting for a public elementary school, a student raised her hand to ask a question while I was presenting interior renderings for the new school. She asked, “How can I see the inside of the new school before its even built?” This was a fantastic question and made me realize that sometimes we forget who our audience is. I had been using the word ‘rendering’ a lot, but to her that meant nothing. Once I explained this was like a photograph of what we hope the new school will look like, she was excited.
If your studio had a mission statement, what would it be?
“Never underestimate the value of student input.” One thing I love about educational design is the ability to talk with the students about their vision for the school. They usually have the most creative ideas.
What drew you to work at Hord Coplan Macht?
HCM truly understands the importance of allowing its employees to grow professionally beyond just the projects we work on. Coming in, I was interested in growing my involvement with AIA. HCM has given me full support and sees the value in this professional development.
How would your clients describe working with you and your team?
My hope is that our clients feel the team provides a unique and specific process for what they need. We tailor our design process and client interactions based on the needs of the school. We like to understand what they perceive as their current challenges and then together we work through a plan to overcome them and get to a plan and building that serves their needs.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to up-and-coming architects?
Get involved in a professional development group outside of work. Whether you are interested in the design aspect, technology, sustainability, or other aspects of the profession, find a group to join. It’s a great way to stay energized and meet others in the profession and see the career path they have taken.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
Take it one day at a time. There are parts of architecture that I don’t get excited about but in the end, those are usually a small percentage of my overall job and role. Find what you enjoy most and try to focus your efforts there.
What’s the most exciting trend you see really taking hold in the coming 2 years?
For me, the most exciting trend is design + health. It’s critical that we consider occupant health in addition to sustainability. I don’t see it as choosing one over the other, but an opportunity to consider design with a health focus is exciting.