2020 Women in Architecture
Mountain Living announces its inaugural Women in Architecture Awards, honoring eight outstanding architects for their work to create mountain homes in new and interesting ways
Like a number of pre-WWII careers in the U.S., architecture was considered a “gentleman’s profession.” Today, women account for nearly half the students in architecture school in the U.S. and in the past 20 years the number of women taking licensing exams has increased nearly 50 percent.
To honor female architects working in the Mountain West, Mountain Living invited homeowners, architects, designers and photographers to send us nominations for those women who are creating a wide range of mountain homes in new and interesting ways. Our team of judges selected eight winners for our inaugural Women in Architecture awards. Please join us as we applaud them here.
SPARANO + MOONEY ARCHITECTURE
Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California
Co-founder of the firm that bears her name, Anne Mooney didn’t know architecture was an option until she enrolled in a course (at the University of Utah) that encouraged her to consider the natural and built environment in a different way. After attending Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, she completed a master’s of architecture through the Southern California Institute of Architecture. “We studied at a campus in Switzerland, right on the Italian border,” she says. “They are experts at blending contemporary architecture with the old and historic.”
Sparano + Mooney designs only a few private residences a year, translating the client’s vision into a legacy home that sits lightly and quietly on the land and is meant to stay in the family for generations to come.
Mooney is particularly interested in new ways to use low- or no-maintenance materials that “age well” over time—wood-grained concrete, warmed Corten or blackened steel and eye-catching perforated zinc panels.
“I work to surround myself with talented creative people,” says Mooney. She credits her academic career (professor of architecture in the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Utah) with keeping her on the cutting edge but also with allowing her to have an impact on the next generation of architects. —Irene Rawlings
CHARLES CUNNIFFE ARCHITECTS
Erica Delak was introduced to the precision and symmetry of line drawing in a high school geometry class. During summer breaks from college, she worked on a framing crew, which helped her understand the connection between architectural drawings and actual buildings.
Working in the field was also a big confidence builder. “I was fortunate,” she says, “to be involved in projects early in my career that got me out into the field.”
Today, as senior project manager at Charles Cunniffe Architects, Delak enjoys meeting contractors and craftspeople on the building sites to address challenges and discuss solutions. “There are many different people on a successful team, and my goal is to understand everyone’s strengths and use them to benefit the project,” she says.
Delak goes on to say that every client is different; every day is different; every project is different. “One of the most important attributes of an architect is the ability to listen … to form a connection and really get to know the people we are designing for.”
In terms of new materials and technology freshly applied to architecture, Delak is very interested in the wellness initiative—going beyond sustainable materials and “looking at the interior environment of each home we design and how they affect our clients’ well-being.” —Irene Rawlings
RKD ARCHITECTS, INC.
Sally Brainerd is principal architect, vice president and co-founder (in 1990, with her partner, Jack Snow) of RKD Architects, based in Edwards, Colorado.
Brainerd grew up in Denver, surrounded by a family of artists, and assumed she’d follow in their footsteps. “But then, when I got into high school, I learned I was also really good at math,” she says with a laugh. “From that point on, everybody said, ‘Clearly you’re going to be an architect!’ So, it was planted in my brain, I guess.”
Brainerd ultimately combined all of her strengths to forge her career, earning a B.A. in mathematics and philosophy at Wellesley before training to become an architect at the University of Colorado.
In the early years, she dreamed of a city life designing skyscrapers. “But as I got into it, and got a little more experience, I realized that residential is where it’s at,” she says. Brainerd and Snow moved to Edwards in the late 1980s and never looked back, gaining a reputation for innovative, mountain-contemporary homes that harmonize with the landscape. “If you look at our work, there are no common threads,” Brainerd notes. “You can either do what’s expected of you, or you can push the boundaries and present something that’s new and different; I’m good at knowing where that tension can come from.” —Laura Beausire
Lori Ryker is principal and founder of studioryker in Livingston, Montana. Raised in a woodsy community north of Houston, Ryker fell in love with the idea of houses nestled into the forest at a young age. After earning a Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a doctorate from Texas A&M University, she headed to Montana, where she began creating her own modern interpretation of houses surrounded by nature.
“I was really excited to begin to think about how I could design homes that fit within the place but had a very forward-thinking disposition on the land,” Ryker says. “I wasn’t repeating old motifs or staying really close to the vernacular that came about in the 1800s, but taking the spirit of that idea and then moving it forward into the present time.”
Ryker is sensitive to the art and poetry of the built form, and sustainability is one of the cornerstones of her design philosophy. “I get to live every day in this place that is unbelievably beautiful, majestic and fragile,” she says. “I like the combination of working with somebody specifically on what their vision is for how they want to live, and then thinking about how to match that well to the land or landscape.” —Laura Beausire
ROWLAND+BROUGHTON ARCHITECTURE/URBAN DESIGN/INTERIOR DESIGN
Sarah Broughton, founder and principal of Aspen’s Rowland+Broughton, seems to have been destined for architecture. She remembers drawing plans and having a sense of spatial awareness even as a child in Portland, Oregon, and a talent for math made her a natural fit for the architecture program when she attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. After working for a time in both Australia and New York, Broughton and her husband, John Rowland, moved back to Colorado and founded Rowland+Broughton in 2003.
“What I love about architecture the most is that it’s all-encompassing,” Broughton reflects. “Architecture touches everything—it’s sociology, anthropology, technology, art, beauty—it’s the ultimate problem solving.” Today, the firm maintains studios in Aspen and Denver, and R+B provides services in architecture, urban design and interior design for a wide range of residential and commercial clients. Always eager to learn, Broughton says, “We want clients that mentor us as much as we mentor them.”
Broughton brings her trademark passion and energy to every project, from homes to hotels, office buildings to restaurants. “Architecture is a fusion of art and everyday life,” she says. “I just love that there’s an ability to change people’s lives, and there’s an ability to change the environment, the way we interact with nature and the way we interact with our built environment.” —Laura Beausire
WALTON ARCHITECTURE + ENGINEERING
Tahoe City, California
Clare Walton, co-founding principal of Walton Architecture + Engineering, clearly remembers her first architecture project. “It was a model of a house, made from foam core with a pressed-paper terra cotta roof,” she says. From there she set up a little studio where she would draw elevations using tracing paper, crayons, a triangle and a T-square.
Walton was passionate about residential architecture and equally passionate about living in the mountains. As soon after architecture school (Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and Washington University in St. Louis) as financially possible, she moved to the Lake Tahoe area. To start out, the firm did a variety of small projects, which it treated like “little jewels.” Because she worked hard on developing solid relationships, larger projects followed—often from second homeowners with a strong interest in architecture.
“Everyone is looking for something different—and we have a broad range of styles in our portfolio—but, basically, everyone wants one thing: a sheltering home for their family,” Walton says. Every new-client meeting starts with long conversations about programs and aesthetic goals. “I ask my clients to share about how their family life flows and what inspires them,” Walton says. Next come visits to the building site to learn the views, trees, the trajectory of the sun and other important features.
Walton’s goal is to build energy efficiency into each of her projects. “It is where we need to go based on the world today,” she says. —Irene Rawlings
“Creating dynamic spaces has always been a part of my life,” says Ashley Sullivan, design principal and managing director of JLF Architects and partner of JLF Design Build. Encouraged by her parents, she started by building “magical spaces” in the woods surrounding her childhood homes in Wilton, Connecticut, and in Nashville, Tennessee.
Sullivan’s place-based architecture and design sensitivity began at Auburn University and was reinforced by working with professor Samuel Mockbee at the legendary Rural Studio, where the students designed and built a home in less than a year. “The project I worked on was a family’s first home with indoor plumbing,” she remembers. “I saw the impact of my profession firsthand … how it can change lives.” She learned to love the craft of building—swinging a hammer, cutting every piece of wood, pouring concrete— and the importance of asking: “What is the most creative space we can build within the framework we have available?”
Today, in her position at JLF Architects, Sullivan works collaboratively within the design-build partnership to create beautiful homes that are equally timeless and innovative. “We transform our clients’ vision into a physical space that’s sacred to them,” she says. So, in a sense, Sullivan is still creating magnificent and magical places. —Irene Rawlings
SARAH TIEDEKEN O’BRIEN
VERTICAL ARTS ARCHITECTURE
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Sarah Tiedeken O’Brien is a partner and owner of Vertical Arts Architecture in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. O’Brien discovered her talent for design early on, thanks to high school drafting classes in her hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. When she went on to the University of Oregon, architecture seemed a natural choice. “It was a really nice blend of being able to be creative, but also to think technically,” she says.
After graduating and then traveling in Australia for nearly a year, O’Brien landed a job at Vertical Arts, and she’s been there ever since. “I really like being involved in everything,” she admits. “The up-front site planning and design, the detailing, helping pick out finishes down to furniture and accessories—you get this crazy scope; it just creates a really diverse profession.”
At the age of 33, O’Brien is just hitting her stride. She avoids the idea of a “signature style,” instead opting for what she calls “a cool clash of styles that really speaks to that specific client.” It’s a kind of intense collaboration that aims toward a complete, custom fit. “You’re designing something with someone that’s so intimate,” she reflects. “It’s fun to create something that’s really going to enhance someone’s life every day.” —Laura Beausire