Women’s History Month Highlight: Holly Briggs, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
The managing director of IA’s office in Washington, DC, holds nearly 36 years of experience in interior architecture.
In honor of Women’s History Month, IA is highlighting female leadership within the firm. Where the conversation around women in architecture has recently bubbled to the surface—AIA’s posthumous Gold Medal award to Julia Morgan in 2014, and the proliferation of advocacy organizations like The Missing 32% and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, for example—IA Interior Architects demonstrates a position unique in the practice of architecture. Approximately half of IA’s offices are managed and operated by female architects and designers.
I’ve wanted to be an architect since I was in the 4th grade. I would sit for hours and draw entire towns in plan and perspective views, but I didn’t know that was a job until an architect visited my class and explained what he did. That was it for me.
There weren’t a lot of female role models in architecture when I was young. Once I decided that I wanted to study to be an architect, the reaction I typically got was not dissimilar from the look you would give your great aunt expounding on her dream to climb the Matterhorn, but I didn’t care. Fortunately, I had parents who supported and encouraged my dream.
Early in my career, networking in a world dominated by men—such as developers, brokers, client representatives and general contractors—was a challenge. Men were happy to meet you for lunch, but the idea of drinks or dinner was a barrier for women that male colleagues didn’t experience. Fortunately, times have changed. Having more women on the other side of the table has helped develop long-term business relationships immensely.
The fact is, we work in a male dominated field of architecture and real estate but the design process is a team oriented and collaborative process made up of men and women. When we look at our work, our best projects are those that were the result of a collaborative effort and not that of a single individual. In terms of design, I see as much difference between individuals as between genders.
Work/life balance issues are a constant challenge in this industry. For those of us that have been in this business for a long time, we tend to accept this as “just the way it is.” It is an issue that needs to be, and is increasingly, addressed by the industry on a case-by-case basis. It has been identified as a barrier to entrance for many women and has been the catalyst for many talented individuals to leave the field.
When I graduated from architecture school, only 3 percent of my class was made up of women. At that time, 4 percent of architectural personnel were women, and 250 women where members of the AIA. Today, an equal number of male and female students graduate from architecture school, and 16% of licensed practitioners are female.
I’ve worked hard to be recognized as an architect; not a woman architect or female architect but for my work to stand on its own merit. Success is due to hard work, but I can’t discount luck either. I found myself in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions early in my career, and that contributed greatly to my growth and professional advancement.
This profession has many challenges but they are outweighed by the rewards. My advice to young women is to follow your passion.
Holly Briggs, AIA, LEED AP holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the Catholic University of America. Her professional experience includes work for Capitol One, the Department of Homeland Security, and McCormick & Company. Holly is passionate about skiing, sailing, and spending any free time on the Chesapeake Bay.