Julia Miner, AIA, was a member of the first class of women at Dartmouth College and currently runs her own eponymous design studio in the Boston area. Although her architectural chops have attracted clients in both residential and commercial sectors, Miner has also flourished as a book illustrator, painter, and teacher, by drawing on a holistic design philosophy that has been influenced by Charles Moore and Charles Schultz in equal parts—all in service of celebrating the art of architecture.
After my first year of graduate school, I was told in an interview: “We can’t send a girl to the construction site.” And as a young professional: “You’re being paid less than Joe because he has a family to support.” In both cases, when they saw my reaction the statements were retracted—but it didn’t change the practice.
The support and wisdom we have now— about appropriate office behavior, leaning in, understanding your self-worth when negotiating—didn’t exist then. I relied more on a spiritual perspective that looked past mistakes; I forgave and moved on. The women who were vocal and took on the dark side—or sacrificed and stuck with it for high-profile practices and positions—are great role models. We owe a debt to them, as well as to everyone who has quietly worked hard with less recognition.
One reason I’ve kept going with a woman-owned architecture business is to inspire other women to stay in the profession. I recommend working hard in the beginning and getting your license as soon as possible. Although it can seem time-consuming and expensive, we owe it to the profession to keep our licenses and credentials. Otherwise, we get lost in the sea of designers. The public needs to understand how our skills, from long years of training, matter.
The business end does not come naturally to me. I lean toward the artist side. Yet I still am working to expand my practice and collaborate with other architects late in life, after years of solo design work, art, and parenting. It helps to take potential obstacles—like age, gender, and time away—and see them as advantages: skill with nurturing and communication, a fresh perspective as a painter and a storyteller, and a goal to relate to clients on a different level than bricks and mortar.
While the recent focus on content marketing and social media is invaluable, you could spend your life connecting online and feel even farther behind. I’ve learned it’s not about selling; it’s about understanding where your potential clients are coming from and educating them about the unique way you can help them achieve their goals. —As told to Steve Cimino