Newsletter | Mar/Apr 2021

Our New Steering Committee Member
by Suzan Swarbacker

Factory OS Tour with OWADP in 2018 (Pre-Fab Modular Housing) (Suzan in back row)

If the saying is true: third time’s the charm, then this is my lucky term on the steering committee!

A lot of life has passed since my first time on the OWADP committee. About 35 years to be exact. So, what happened in the meantime you ask? Marriage, children, work in Indonesia, and lots of CA onsite projects including the SF Airport, several Ritz Carlton hotels, 2 shopping centers, and a new Google campus at Moffett Field.

I feel lucky to have worked in design all these years. I also have a civil engineering degree, and my first job after undergraduate school was related to obtaining a Ph.D in civil engineering. It turned out to be not very fun. Instead, one OWADP founding member, Wendy Bertrand, persuaded me to apply for a rotating internship with the U.S. Navy. The internship sent me to work onsite for the Camp Pendleton Hospital, a fabulous project from beginning to end. That federal government job evolved to hospital projects with KMD, and then Ratcliff Architects. Soon enough it became clear that I most enjoyed the programming, the design, and the CA for big projects, especially hotels.

In my day there were 2% women who stuck it out in architecture and interior design. Three years ago, working on the Google project, where most of the engineers were young women, I heard the same worries that have not changed in 35 years. “Where are the women partners? Where are the women who dropped out after they had children? Why does no company hire women part-time while they are raising children?” Go to the link below for an in-dept NSPE article covering this topic in 2017.

The Covid pandemic will change the work habits of employers, I predict, including the work-from-home p/t mothers who are highly employable with their skill sets. Hopefully, the world will be kinder to OWADP mothers after this disaster. We anticipate that the shortage of graduates in the architecture and interior design profession will force employers to hire women part-time. A huge boon for women with children. Maybe one silver lining. However, working from home is isolating, stressful and usually not fun. Some people claim they remain highly productive but that is not my observation.

Yes, I did continue to work while raising daughters who are now young adults. As kids my idea of fun was walking them through buildings, noting the height of the ceilings, the acoustics, and the colors that a designer chose for that space. The girls swore they would never be interested in fire sprinkler systems in ceilings, or how to logically find bathrooms in a strange building, but one of them works for the architects who designed the Uber headquarters in SF.

To date I have at least 2 goals while serving on the Steering Committee. One is to create a questionnaire asking each of you to analyze the good/the bad/and the ugly during this pandemic. The second is to ask you for ideas to encourage more women in any aspect of the design business to join OWADP. Our group must be inclusive, not exclusive, as each of you knows. Please contact me with your ideas to help achieve these goals.