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: Valerie Caruolo a Designer in our DC Metro office’s Higher Education Studio.

What aspect of architecture drew you to the profession in particular?

How well-designed spaces made me feel!  I was able to travel in my early career while teaching, living, and doing construction abroad.  Travel showed me how buildings could have a profound effect on human experience.  Architecture as a profession is unique – it balances technical and intuitive aspects, science and art.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an “inventor” when I was very little!  I often sketched ideas for everyday kitchen or household tools and products to improve their functionality.  As a 4-year-old, I’d take these sketches through a fake patent drawing process after talking through why family members were frustrated with existing products.  I didn’t know the term “Product Designer” then!  By age 12 I had shifted my focus to tinkering with house design layouts, wanting to become an architect.

What parts of your personal life have influenced your work as an architect? Vice versa?

I love the outdoors!  Nature’s connection to wellbeing influence my work as an architect and directly sparked my interest in researching Biophilic Design for Learning Spaces.

I believe students can make an impact on the world!  As a University Innovation Fellow, Design Thinking Facilitator, I have worked together with students, school administrators from Higher Ed institutions globally to help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset.  These passion projects have allowed me to apply those same entrepreneurial principles to the architectural process at HCM.  Having a pulse on student insights has been a great inspiration for educational space design!

Describe your “dream” project.

Radford University’s Center for Adaptive Innovation and Creativity is a dream project!  This project will bring diverse disciplines together into one building to spark creativity.  Our team is focused on designing spaces for convergence within the building where students and faculty from different backgrounds can collide and combine their expertise, providing a platform for catalyzing innovation.  It has been an honor to work with our HCM team, our consultants and our end users to design spaces with future flexibility and adaptive learning styles in mind.  This project ties in topics I have been interested in ever since exploring innovation environments through my Graduate School Thesis “Creating Common Ground: Architecture for Tactical Learning and Creative Convergence.”

How are you different as an architect now than you were when you first started out in the field?

I started out working as a Site Superintendent for a General Contractor, then as Project Manager, and later as an Energy Modeler.  Years working in the Construction industry instilled an understanding of how buildings get constructed, a great respect for building science (and the importance of field diagnostics!).  Later, as a Design Strategist, I became curious about human centered design, focusing on strategies for developing “user” empathy and synthesizing insights gained from ethnographic interviews.  This curiosity has filtered into stakeholder and community engagement used in the Architectural process.  Bottom line:  when I first started out, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  Stay curious! I asked as many architects as I could early on and their advice was to find a way to travel and to learn how to build!

What’s the #1 myth out there about being an architect?

The biggest myth I have noticed is that architects design buildings by themselves.  Architecture is truly a “team sport!”  It’s all about communication and is grounded in listening. Our process is an inherently cyclical one that relies on constant communication, coordination and collective knowledge resulting less in a linear process and more in a feedback loop.

What’s the key to establishing rapport with your clients?

It is important to build trust with the client and I think the key to doing so is to listen, to champion the team by implementing effective ways to communicate within the team.  This allows for mutual respect and mutual knowledge to be shared between the client and the project team seamlessly.

What’s the first question you ask a client when starting a project?

I typically ask what excites them most about the project and what are their biggest concerns?  This helps the team tap into the client’s goals, vision, and their points of worry to better understand goals and perspectives on the project at the start.

Name a trend you don’t think is going away anytime soon and why.

Public Health challenges have continued to increase, along with public awareness of these challenges.  An exploration into built environment solutions to some of these challenges has begun to transform the AEC Industry.   As architects we have an opportunity to assume a role for championing the improvement of health and wellness through design.  Movements such as Well building, Fitwel, and Biophilic design will continue to grow in relevance as more evidence-based design devices that improve human health and wellbeing are implemented in projects.  Platforms like mindful Materials, which champions material transparency, is another trend that is going to stick around.  It has already triggered changes in building material manufacturing!

What’s something you don’t feel you can learn in school and that you have to be in the field to understand?

Construction!  The best way to learn about construction is to spend time on job sites and in the field.  It helps to be able to understand how materials get put together, and the processes and sequences that are involved in getting a building built.  Spending time in the field can help build mutual respect between roles of each team member, including between contractors, architects, owners, and consultants.

What’s one surprising fact about you that most people don’t know?

I love being outdoors, hiking, adventure sports, paragliding, and generally being surrounded by natural beauty!  Back when I was in college I sang the National Anthem before playing in my college lacrosse games.  I grew up in a family with a love of music and sports!

What’s a book you read that changed your life?

“Creative Confidence: Unleashing Creative Potential” by Tom and David Kelley.  Creativity is a muscle that can be built by honing skills for discovery, experimentation, divergent thinking.  Research has found that “creative people simply do more experiments.”  Their ultimate ‘strokes of genius’ don’t come about because they succeed more often than other people – they just do more, period.  They take more shots at the goal.”  I am a firm believer that creativity can come from anywhere, especially when people are empowered and challenged to think laterally.

What’s your go-to afternoon snack/drink?

Most definitely a good coffee!