Newsletter | Jan/Feb 2022
by Mui Ho
Many of our members are thinking about retirement, already into their retirement or determinedly un-retired. There are options. Retirement is a big transition in our lives. The unknown can be a bit scary because we have had a regular work life for thirty to forty years. We value our work, our contribution to society, our relationship with clients and consultants as well as our day to day working relationship with a group of colleagues. Losing all these, for many of us, can be rather devastating. Some of us worry about losing status or respect if we are no longer a partner in the firm or the CEO or the professor in the university. Since everyone's situation is different, there is no one good way to retire, but exploring options and planning ahead is the key for this transition. I am very glad that a few OWA members are sharing their thoughts on the subject in this issue of the newsletter.
My concept of retirement is a transition to fewer hours on architecture and more time on personal interests. I have always split my time between teaching and working as an architect, so when I retired from teaching in UC Berkeley in 2008 I was able to continue my architectural work but gradually reducing my work load. The transition was rather seamless. I will continue the pro bono work for the college in China that I have been involved with for the last 25 years. I am devoting more time to my garden, our farm in Napa, singing in our community chorus, numerous exercise groups, and volunteering in the community. Some activities unfortunately, are now relegated to zoom. I can also be more judicious in what architectural projects to take on. A small shophouse project in Pondicherry, India, allowed me to explore another part of the world and learned about a new place. I considered myself fortunate to have this combination of working and traveling.
The side benefit of having projects in Asia was that it allowed me to combine visiting family in Hong Kong with work. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, I have not been to my job site in China for two years and have yet to see the latest finished academic building.
I would love to hear more from our membership on how many of us transition into a different phase of our life.
by Kathleen Cruise
Mui told me she is focusing a newsletter on retirement and asked me to contribute. I so sincerely appreciate Mui and her unending contribution I agreed to her request.
Since I do not look at what I do as a job or even as a career, but rather a calling, perhaps it is no surprise that I think more about reinvention than retirement. Even though I am long past the age when most people retire, today I had a second interview for a promotion. Although I did not think that I would stay in Public Service for more than five years, I am past 16. People ask me all the time when I will retire. The truth is I do not know, other than it will be the day that it feels like it is less than more fun. I feel so lucky and enormously grateful that I always knew what I wanted to do, and I am still captivated by the built environment.
When in 7th grade they started asking us what we wanted to be, the records show that I wanted to be an architect before I knew how to spell it and that my intention was constant year after year. Earlier on our weekly trips to the public library the only books that interested me were the architectural books"”the more photographs and floor plans the better. Even earlier my father noticed that I always requested the same walk when it was my turn to choose the route for our daily constitutional and confirmed that it was because we saw Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope house. He showed me the architectural books in the library, I was a goner. Even though my mother told me, "Girls cannot be architects, be a nurse," I was undeterred.
Through astonishing good fortune, the best architect and finest person I ever met hired me at age 16. I was his first employee, and he was unbelievably successful. Although his alma mater, the University of Virginia, did not accept women I was able to get into Virginia Tech's first class that did. At that time the university had 6,000 male students, most were ROTC, and 200 women.
By the time that the OWA entered my life, I had made my peace with the fact that I was different. Even so, when I was first approached when I came to San Francisco in 1972 I said no, "I am not a club person and certainly not a women's club person." But I was about to take my licensing exam and was persuaded to join a study group that included Mui Ho and Lucia Bogatay. The professional and social networks proved invaluable. Discovering I was less different than I thought was life enhancing.
My employment journey amazes even me"”some of everything from private practice, including my own practice, PG&E, Stanford, Microsoft, non-profit, public service and more. It feels like I have done everything there is to do in the built environment from planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance, real estate portfolio management, energy services and so much more. I am committed to sustainable, regenerative development, am an architect and general contractor, have a long list of credentials, an MBA in addition to my 5-year Bachelor of Architecture, many awards, a lot of recognition, some publication and a mind-blowing amount of accomplishment. And I still love all of it. Today I was highly energized by Championing Climate Action in the Federal Workplace put on by the Office of the Federal Chief Sustainability Office and I saw a training video on chillers, among other things.
For now, I am happy to be ably doing what I am doing. A top head-hunter once told me you are fortunate. "You are in the only industry that I know of that you do not age out of. Experience counts." For certain, my wealth of experience is invaluable. I often feel like Yoda must. But here is the thing. I am old. That fact blows my mind, I frankly often wonder how and when it happened. But it did. As "other" as I have often felt as a (once) very small women in was overwhelmingly a (usually big) man - s industry, it pales as compared to old. In the last decade I only recall encountering one woman my age - but many men. Although there is a LOT of conversation about gender, race, ethnicity and religion, I hear no discussion about age. I do hear ageism, "That old guy talks about smoking cigarettes on the job site." It is interesting since, if we are fortunate, we all become old.
What I do everyday engages and energizes me, and I feel youthful. In addition to the work, I love the mentorship. It seems every day some bright young person asks for my advice. Everything from the gnarly work-related problems to career counselling or "how should I heat my water at home." It requires developing new skills and keeping the old ones honed. As always, I like the intergenerational interaction and the challenge of solving big problems that require big teams and seamless teamwork. Most of all, being a pathological optimist, I hope and pray that we are about to course correct, to address the environmental justice, social justice, ecological, financial, spiritual and other issues that are adversely affecting all our lives and threatening our health and happiness if not our lives. I am hoping for the Build Back Better Bill while there is still something to build back. Our infrastructure is so degraded, and it is degrading our planet. I want to be in the arena if only as a wise, generous elder as we course correct. The desperately needed funding will require all our best if we are to do right by the coming generations. We have urgent, important work to do.
by Marda Quon Stothers
I clearly remember declining any financial advice that focused on retirement because I didn't believe in retirement. I loved working. Many years later while at the Stanford School of Business getting a masters in business management and trying to understand why getting wealthy had eluded me, I realized that just making more money had no interest for me. I had chosen to continue the security, power and better chance of equality in a government career. I had transitioned from designer to project manager and then program manager. At age 50 I learned that Financial Independence (FI) was my worthy money goal. FI is the place where income from any source matched my needs. When you don't HAVE to get paid you are FI. At age 59 I thought I could live on my pension and retired from federal government service. My pension was 55% of my salary but I would save deductions, commuting and professional expenses and we had some other income.
My husband had plans for us to move to Ireland so I had a few years to transition. I joined a professional job hunting group for three years and learned a lot about transitions. I was certainly less desperate than most of them as mine was only an identity issue and not a financial one. I had already transitioned from architectural renderer to intermediate draftsman to interior designer to master planner to architect to project manager to supervisor to branch manager to ship repair management and then back to division director for engineering management. Architect was an identity label. I was a licensed architect. My professional track had moved away from the traditional long ago. At the time OWA member, Kathleen Cruise, was also contemplating a move to Ireland and I fantasized that we'd work together. I always thought I might seek a consulting gig after we settled. Instead I learned to make porcelain pottery and became a minister's wife. In Belfast I had few occasions to speak of my career or my professional skills. My architect self became invisible but my life was full.
It took me a while to retire my State license but I did. I counsel young people to explore the types of people who make up a career field and see if their personalities are a fit and then where their skills are, get trained and find a way in. I love good architecture and the built environment. I love engineers, bless them, when they help us improve and build our designs. I love interior and graphic designers. I love planners who envision the future and integrate the natural and built environment. I love the trades and the people who build things. I love 99% of the architects I've met and worked with, which includes many of you. Through the OWA+DP I have learned to live through and welcome many transitions. I have lived through my transition into retirement by FI. I will continue my architectural career by being a resource to younger architects as a retired architect. I will continue my gratitude to OWA by taking on the role of Treasurer advocating FI for all of us. I will celebrate all of you and applaud the transitions that you make. Retirement is just one of them.
Thoughts about Retirement
by Janet Crane
Although retirement might not be the first thing on your mind while you are working hard in your job or in your own practice, here are some thoughts about my experience in leaving the field after 50 years.
Why retire? Many architects continue practicing beyond the traditional age of retirement for other professions and architecture is a profession where experience really counts. Consider I.M.Pei and Frank Gehry, practicing into their 90's. Certainly technology changes in construction and in the way buildings are designed and documented, but so many aspects of the whole architectural process do not.
In my case, my partner in life and in architecture is 12 years older than me and wanted to prioritize other things in life after his over 60 years in the profession, being beholden to other people's deadlines. I continued to run my own projects in the office as he moved away from the daily routine and after 2 or 3 years, followed in his footsteps. We closed the office gradually over another 2 years as staff moved on to other jobs or to open their own practices. It was a remarkably smooth landing: we didn't have to let anyone go and we gave one remarkably talented associate all the contacts and recommendations necessary to take on any outstanding projects and future work with clients as she started her own firm. So no regrets there.
And what comes next? During the last 8 years of our practice I co-founded a non profit supporting seniors who are aging in place in the North East neighborhoods of San Francisco, NEXT Village SF. (nextvillagesf.org) I juggled developing this organization with working and as we closed the practice, NEXT filled all my time and more. Community building was always a love of mine in architecture and so this step was a logical one for me. NEXT now has 3-1/2 staff, an office, is funded partly by the City and has provided an enormous amount of support to seniors during Covid. So I am now as busy as ever (a full time non-paid job!) and enjoy this new direction as much as I enjoyed starting and growing an architectural firm. The skills developed in architecture are wide ranging and valuable in many other endeavors.
I would love to ask those of you who have recently retired to share your experiences, which might be quite different from mine.
New Steering Committee members
I graduated in Architecture from the University of Tehran, Iran and continued my education in France. I experienced practice and research in the field of Architecture, Sustainability and BIM for over 10 years, both as a freelancer and for companies in Iran, France, Canada and the US.
I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2015 and attended Interior Architecture classes at AAU, where I met professor Suzan Swabacker and was introduced to OWA+DP. I am glad to serve as a new member in charge of Policy and Procedures at the Steering Committee in 2022/2023. My goal will be to ensure that the organization continues to grow while supporting its precious members in architecture and design.
I am an architect, focused on project management consulting to the tech industry. I served as a mentor for many years, as part of AIA's Mentorship program. My husband and I retired recently, to spend more time sailing our boat up and down the coast. This is my second time serving on the OWA+DP Steering Committee.
I will be serving as the OWA Membership Administrator.
I completed my Bachelor of Architecture at SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) following course work in Civil Engineering at LBSU. I have had the privilege of working with master architects, Arthur Erickson, and Arata Isozaki designing an array of well-known cultural, educational, civic facilities. I have had the opportunity to work on great landmark projects with major firms of KPF, SOM, HOK, and WSP on corporate high rises and interiors, historic preservation and National Parks projects, such as the Hamilton Grange. I designed my first airport in 1998, Boston Logan International Terminal and then in 2009, I went back to concentrating on programming, planning, and management of Airports. I love the complexity of airports and the huge role they play in every traveler’s life. I've served in accountable leadership positions representing airports and providing direction and oversight of multi-disciplinary Design-Build teams for design and construction of airport and transit and train facilities. I am a collaborative team leader who fosters consensus among clients, consultants, and stakeholders to achieve not only program objectives but innovative solutions especially with environmental sustainability in forefront.
We live in Berkeley. I have a daughter who is a junior in high school. We love traveling as I did around the world with my husband of 32 years. His early death 5 years ago launched us into a new normal we didn’t expect, but one we’ve grown through and into. It is with this lens that I try to pursue my purpose in every venture and hope to be effective on the OWA Steering Committee as we shape the future of our built world. I am serving as the Information Director and look forward to updating our website and continuing to roll out BaseCamp for member communication. It will take teamwork.