2021 AIA Young Architect Award Recipient Patricia Culley on Leadership and Professional Growth

Patricia Culley, AIA, LEED AP, an associate principal in our Pittsburgh studio, has been recognized with a 2021 AIA Young Architect Award, honoring individuals who have shown exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the profession in an early stage of their architectural careers.

In her leadership role at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Patricia’s responsibilities include driving engagement, cultivating innovation, instilling trust, mentoring staff, and ensuring accountability. She has been instrumental in a diverse range of projects over her 14 years at the firm, including the Frick Environmental Center, ANSYS Hall at Carnegie Mellon University, and the recently completed eighth grade classroom at the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh.

Beyond her work with our practice, Patricia is an active voice in the profession at the regional and national level, speaking regularly at conferences on sustainability, biophilia, design, and practice. Those activities have led to her recent recognition by Pittsburgh Magazine as a Pittsburgh 40 under 40 honoree in 2019. We spoke with Patricia about leadership in the design profession, fostering a more equitable workplace, and more.

You have taken on leadership roles in professional organizations outside of the firm. What larger impact do you hope to make from your participation?

Pittsburgh has experienced enormous growth over the last few decades, but with this growth comes gentrification and, inevitably, social inequity. Local non-profit organizations such as the Green Building Alliance and AIA Pittsburgh are trying to foster growth in a positive way through sustainability initiatives and design dialogue. By serving on the Board of Directors for both organizations, I hope to inspire and educate individuals within the building industry and throughout the community to understand why design consciousness and sustainability are critical to future development in Pittsburgh, and why architects are uniquely positioned to help guide that shared vision.

Waldorf School of Pittsburgh Eighth Grade Classroom © Nic Lehoux

How have you sought leadership within the firm and what advice would you give to those seeking leadership opportunities but face barriers?

Leadership is a combination of experience and attitude. Leadership is not in a title; it is about having the vision, passion, and ability to shape your surroundings (organization, family, community, etc.) in a way that equally benefits yourself and the greater good.

Through my professional work and my personal ambitions, I have gained enough varied experience over time that I can articulate my thoughts and ideas with confidence. In my day-to-day interactions, I strive to exhibit the qualities I value most in a leader; qualities that include innovation, transparency, diligence, and professionalism.

Individuals seeking leadership opportunities should ask themselves what differences they want to make. They should focus on areas of practice that resonate closely with their passions, finding ways to learn, engage, and challenge those currently leading that conversation; with knowledge and passion comes leadership opportunity.

Frick Environmental Center © Elliott Cramer

What are the most significant equity challenges in the architecture industry right now, and what is one thing each of us can do today to help foster a more equitable workplace?

Overcoming implicit bias — engrained behavior developed over time through an individual’s personal experiences and environment– which unintentionally results in bias. Implicit biases exist within all cultures and all industries. Within the architectural industry, there is less bias occurring within younger practitioners, as equity is taught and practiced in academia and better supported by emerging professional. The industry needs to continue having conversation and policy changes to promote equity in order to ensure this progress continues.

What architectural building achievement are you most proud of and why?

Early in my career, I helped lead the design and construction of an intensive research higher education facility in California. Though programmatically technically demanding, the design was centered on the well-being, safety, and productivity of its users. The design was expressive of the building tectonics and natural material usage, providing connection to nature in a variety of forms, and has been recognized with many awards. From a professional development standpoint, the project occurred at a time in my life that was impressionable, and the opportunity to help lead the project provided invaluable knowledge, confidence and compassion, forming the basis of my leadership abilities today.

Further Reading

2021 AIA Young Architect Awards
Eighth Grade Classroom at the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh
ANSYS Hall, Carnegie Mellon University
Frick Environmental Center

Designing buildings that inspire connection and wonder in every person who experiences them.

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