AIA Voices -- Katherine Ball, AIA
Photography: Dana Hoff

Katherine Ball, AIA, is a creative writer and researcher at LS3P’s Raleigh, N.C., office; she’s also a licensed architect. You seldom see architects go from designing projects to writing about them, but for Ball it’s the culmination of a winding career path—from public school teacher to design school—that ended up combining her two passions. Now she uses her architectural knowledge to turn bullet points from a project manager into detailed narratives for various audiences. “Our CEO leads with the mantra ‘Design matters,’ ” she says, “and I start with that premise in telling each story.” As she puts it: “Each piece of writing is its own design process.”

My career path is a bit unusual; I was a teacher for 10 years before switching to design school. After graduation and about three years as a design professional, I spotted an open creative writer position at LS3P. Writing was my long-term goal, but I didn’t expect to find a job writing about architecture, particularly so close to the beginning of my career. And though this writing job didn’t require me to be licensed, my boss was extremely encouraging and worked with me to finish the last of my intern hours.

Understanding both the architectural lexicon and the design and construction process from Day One has been an invaluable asset. Sometimes when I’m tasked to write about a design, a project manager will send over a few bullet points and a set of photographs; I have to extrapolate everything else. Because of my training, I’m usually able to pick a project apart and put it back together as a cohesive story.

Though we often create pieces tailored to specific industry audiences, we also strive to tell stories that have appeal outside of the field. Internally, our architects don’t always get to see what teams from other offices are doing, so we try to highlight “transformation stories” about projects at all scales that made a difference. We then share them externally on our website, where we hope to communicate the real value that architecture creates for the people who will ultimately use it.

We work in just about every market sector: healthcare, K–12, higher education, commercial, and at least a dozen more. The things that matter about each design may be different for each project type. For healthcare, it’s: “What makes this place safer for patients, a better place to heal, or better for doctors and nurses to function?” For K–12 schools, it’s: “What produces the best learning environment?” For office spaces, it’s: “What makes a worker’s day better? What makes this a better workplace for the owners?” Storytelling lets us shine a spotlight on the thought process behind the designs; people are at the center, and each project matters a great deal to someone. Getting to articulate why is the fun part. —As told to Steve Cimino