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Women of FA: Jess Stuenkel

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?

I’m not someone who knew from a young age that I wanted to be an architect, though I did have a fascination with older industrial buildings and warehouses. I wanted someday to buy one and transform it into my home with large open spaces and a garden on the roof. I did my undergraduate degree in theater design, but that felt unsustainable as a career. I wanted to be able to have a bigger impact socially & environmentally which led me to pursue architecture. I’d always been both an arts and math/science person, so it seemed like a natural progression.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?

I like the whole process, from the first conceptual design to detailing and then seeing everything come together in construction. It’s important to me to have continuity of the initial design idea run through the details and site execution. I especially like working on the smaller projects that pack a punch. Smaller projects allow a level of design clarity and elevated detailing that can get pushed aside in very large homes. I also fundamentally feel that we all must use our resources carefully and good design can help us do more with less.

Q: How long have you practiced architecture and design? How has your understanding of the industry changed since the start of your career?

I completed graduate school 13 years ago with big dreams to work on impactful public architecture. Once starting with Feldman Architecture, I realized I loved the scale and intimacy of working on residences, and that we do have a large impact on our clients’ lives. We are also in a unique position to be able to influence the profession with the work we do, so it doesn’t just stop with our clients. I’m still interested in how we can make architecture and design more accessible for our local communities. We have been exploring this through our pro-bono, JEDI & CSR work.

Q: What challenges to do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?

I feel lucky to be surrounded by such a supportive firm and to work with very good & respectful consultants and contractors. That said, it’s certainly normal to be the only women in a room and it often takes a conscious effort for me to make sure my voice is heard. In our society we are systemically taught to believe what men say and question what women say, which bleeds into professional settings. I have at times also struggled with imposter syndrome which is fueled by having to constantly prove yourself.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?

Lina Bo Bardi! I love her unapologetically bold work both aesthetically and philosophically.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?

All my projects are interesting in different ways. One project is utilizing prefab elements for a design that you wouldn’t think of when you hear prefab. It’s been an interesting process but certainly not one without challenges.

Q: What project are you most proud of?

I spent 5 years working on Urban Oasis very closely and I love how it turned out. The spaces, finishes and details are all top-notch, and I learned so much from the team along the way.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?

I’ve been doing ceramics for quite a few years now and have recently been working mostly with atmospheric firing, which I love. I’m also a budding native plant gardener. I love spending time outside with my garden and have been learning a lot about the local ecology.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?

Be bold, believe in and advocate for yourself.

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