Women in Architecture Series
Interview with Teresa Wilson, AIA, LEED AP - Principal
Teresa is an architect and a Principal at Steffian Bradley Architects (SBA) based in our Boston office. She sat down with us to talk about her experiences as a woman in architecture.
Teresa was drawn by chance into designing for healthcare. After college, many of her friends from architecture school were moving to Boston, so she decided to seek out opportunities in the area. Teresa interviewed with Kurt Rockstroh, who is now head of our Boston office and CEO.
SBA was interested in Teresa’s background with historic preservation work, which had been the focus of her master’s degree. At the time, SBA was engaged on the Watertown Arsenal Renovation project, so Teresa’s specialty would be particularly useful. It was only later, after she had been working at SBA for some time, that she came to specialize in the healthcare field.
Over time, Teresa’s experience has taught her a lot, and she has been amazed to see just how much you need to know in order to be successful in healthcare design. She has appreciated more and more the kind of impact that can be made on people’s lives: “The biggest thing that interests me now is how to provide healthcare in a way that really maximizes the time a provider spends with a patient.”
Recently, Teresa has been doing work with Lean models for design, a new healthcare industry practice that focuses on maximizing efficiency and reducing wastes. She participates in many Lean events, working intensively with medical staff, doctors, and nurses, to scrutinize daily processes and improve workflow as part of a holistic-based approach to design.
Part of the design process in healthcare architecture also includes working within the regulatory requirements of public agencies. These often stringent requirements, however, ensure that ethical standards are met for all healthcare spaces, and that’s a unique aspect of this area of design. “These standards are a great equalizer,” Teresa explains, “because whether I’m working with a client who has vast resources or very limited ones, there’s a minimum standard that everybody has to comply with, and I appreciate that.”
For this reason, one of Teresa’s favorite projects has been working with Boston Health Care for the Homeless. “Many of the occupants are at a low point in their lives. But they’re getting the same services and the same quality of facilities and safeguards as those who might have significantly more money.” She feels pride in being able to offer those high-quality facilities. The clients themselves “were such self-less people, and what they do is so important.”
Aside from favorite projects like this, Teresa says that she has enjoyed the variety of work within the healthcare community and mentions “The client is usually in healthcare for a reason,” she finds, “so they are the kind of people that care about others, and both of us want to do the best we can.”
Even though Teresa may have developed her healthcare specialty later in her career, she did know she wanted to be an architect from a very young age. Her parents encouraged her and steered her towards art and math. They enrolled her in drafting classes and gave her free reign to experiment with building and image-making in her father’s woodshop and darkroom.
In high school, Teresa went to visit her older brother, who was then in architecture school. She recalls, “That was the first time that I witnessed women working in architecture, in my brother’s open studio. They were all collaborating and it was really exciting for me. All those women were very encouraging and wanted to give me advice.”
Inspired by these women, Teresa attended the University of Michigan, where she earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree, followed by a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation. While she was in school, she remembers knowing that the number of registered female architects was terribly low, perhaps less than 10%. Inside of school, however, it felt quite different. Already there was an almost equal split between male and female students.
This was a moment of tremendous shift in the thinking about architecture of the time: it was the end of the remnants of a modernist era, with her professors still advocating modernist techniques and traditions and many still required final presentations using ink drawings on museum board with Helvetica lettering.
Towards the end of Teresa’s time at the university, as her professors retired, she became aware of being on the cusp of a major shift in architectural design towards post-modernism and explorations of more organic techniques and forms. She felt it was an exciting time to be graduating from architecture school, having learned the older disciplines and techniques of her professors but also experiencing a shift towards a new era with new design standards. She also liked seeing this shift coincide with the entrance of many more women into the profession, which she has happily observed continue to this day.