Tania Salgado, AIA, is a principal and cofounder of Handprint Architecture in Denver, a four-person firm that operates with a very simple and honest philosophy: Partner with experts, great clients make great projects, and design rules above all. She’s carried those same ideals into her board and committee work, both at AIA and in her city, all with the goal of creating modern buildings that work for everyone.
Our approach at Handprint is maybe not unique but deeply important: To deliver innovative approaches and quality environments. As architects practicing today, we believe it is important to have projects that actually get built. Built work delivers true impact to the places where people engage, in their lives and day-to-day experiences. There’s a lot of paper architecture happening, but something physical that makes a real impact in people’s lives is what we choose to engage.
When I started in architecture, my goal was not to be a female principal. My goal was to be a great architect, and to make a difference using the built environment. But I do have to say: My eyes might have been closed when I jumped in. I went for it without thinking, “Maybe it will be tougher for a woman.”
And that’s probably a good thing. I focused on putting my mind solely to my goal. My deep persistence and passion have landed me where I am today.
But my eyes are open now. As my career has progressed, I’ve worked with different firms and have met people from around the world. I see clearly the challenges, struggles, and inequity that stem from unconscious gender and racial biases. Now more than ever we need to create a greater urgency within the profession. I’ve been thrilled, as the chair of the Diversity Council and a member of the Equity Commission, to push the AIA to put these issues into the forefront. There is a very real need for mentorship, role models, and a change in how we operate.
Back home, I still think of Denver as a relatively new city. It’s developing a personality, and the architectural scene is changing. I’m chair of Denver’s Lower Downtown Design Review Board, where the design guidelines were once very traditional but are now expanding. It’s very exciting to see that and help lead the way for architecture that’s more relevant but still fits in.
Architecture is a tough profession. You have to love it and you have to live it, both in what you deliver and the path you take. And it’s about people. When I was young, I was so moved by architecture; I continue to be, even now. I hope that those who see my work are equally moved, and feel included in those spaces. —As told to Steve Cimino