Founder and managing principal of Seattle-based architectural consulting firm Studio Pacifica, Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, has earned the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for her significant contributions to accessible design. Here she responds to our architect's version of the Proust questionnaire.
What is your greatest achievement?
Raising a strong and confident daughter.
What is the most memorable moment of your career?
Receiving the call from President Elefante with the news of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award!
What was your most rewarding collaboration?
My business partnership with my co-founder of Studio Pacifica.
When did you first realize you wanted to specialize in accessible design?
I can’t say there was a defining moment when I realized I could make this my life’s work, but at each step, it felt right to keep going.
What is the greatest challenge right now in the field?
The lack of research funding to enable increased anthropometric analysis of people who have disabilities—research that would create the basis for more accurate and functional dimensional criteria so that our build environment would better serve the needs of all users.
What is the most promising recent development?
Technology provides the most promising changes for people with disabilities and the most inadvertent barriers at the same time. As an example, autonomous vehicles pose great potential for creating accessible means to get people to disabilities to school, work, and around the community while at the same time being potentially silent and hazardous to those who are blind or deaf/blind.
What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about accessible design?
Accessible design is just good design–design that supports all users of all abilities, ages, and cognitive and sense acuity. Architects should be designing for all humans to thrive in their buildings.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an architect?
The first day in studio when I laid out all the cool tools and realized, this is going to be fun!
What jobs did your parents have?
My dad was an executive and my mom was a community volunteer.
What would you have been if not an architect?
What keeps you up at night?
Liability issues. Did we catch all those barriers?
What is your favorite building?
Here in Seattle, the Chapel of St. Ingnatius on the Seattle University campus.
What is your most treasured possession?
My hearing aids.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Travel and yarn, lots of yarn.
When and where were you the happiest?
The evening I married my husband on the shores of Lake Union.
What is your greatest fear?
Not finishing. Anything.
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be a better cook.
What’s the last drawing you did?
Self-drafted sweater pattern.
Which living person do you most admire?
Which book(s) are you currently reading?
I just finished Michelle Obama’s Becoming.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Inspector Armand Gamache of the Louise Penny mystery novels
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To exercise more often.
What’s the one question you wish we had asked (and the answer to that question)?
What two words would you use to describe yourself? I’m a problem-solver and a maker.
What does winning the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award mean to you?
I hope this award elevates the need for accessibility in the built environment and reminds AIA members of their power to better our communities for people with disabilities.