BUILDING PRACTICE:

THREE PERSPECTIVES OF WOMEN DESIGN LEADERS

On December 13, 2022, INFORM Studio’s President and Founding Principal, Gina Van Tine, gave a public lecture for the NORR Ed lecture series to share her experience in building INFORM Studio. To broaden the discussion, she invited fellow female design leaders from the Detroit area, Saundra Little, Principal at Quinn Evans, and Courtney Piotrowski, Founding Principal at livingLAB. Each speaker presents the pathways that have led them to founding and leading architecture practices at smaller and larger scales and how pivotal projects impacted these trajectories. They also discuss the importance of mentorship and of client relationships and right sizing their practices. 

 

Here is a link to the lecture:

Silvio Baldassarra presents December 13 NORR ed lecture with Gina Van Tine

Gina Van Tine discussed the importance of mentoring designers, and the collaborative nature of INFORM Studio, where “we all have different strengths and work better together.” She also highlighted the importance of long-term relationships with collaborators and clients, such as the long-term relationship with Verizon, for whom INFORM has designed over 500 projects. She also talked about how digital fabrication and computational design has allowed for INFORM to save time and money and deliver high-quality design for Verizon and for many other clients.

 

Saundra Little discussed her concept of a “Living MBA”, which focuses on relationships and networking early in one’s career and understanding the business side of architecture. She also stressed the importance of “working on your business, not just in your business.”

 

Courtney Piotrowski discussed her approach of “Community-Driven Design” and her commitment to community engagement in all of her work. She also talked about the importance of being an advisor to her clients and bringing her collaborators with her to support her work with the clients.

 

The speakers also discussed how their practices have evolved over time, with more focus on leadership, visioning, programing, and supporting conversations with the community. They also mentioned how digital technology has greatly enhanced their ability to work and the amount of time they are able to do it in. Overall, the lecture provided valuable insights into the experiences and perspectives of female design leaders in the architecture industry.

 

A few takeaways from the discussion about the business side of running practices:

 

Gina: “I’ve redefined what success looks like for a small business. Anyone can start a small business. The tough part is how to keep a consistent work load. You are responsible for the people in your office. Part of the triple bottom line is Prosperity. You’re helping people make a living. The decisions you make have a big impact on that. I’ll take that as a great responsibility. If you don’t intentionally do something, it won’t happen. You have to work on your business. You have to make a plan. Reach out to people. I still do some architecture, but now mainly have to manage the projects, make sure our people have what they need, and make sure the clients have what they need.”

Clockwise from top left: Courtney Piotrowski (livingLAB), Saundra Little (Quinn Evans), Silvio Baldassarra (NORR), Gina Van Tine (INFORM Studio)
 

Courtney. “How practice has evolved… in the past, programs were clearly defined and there was less leadership on our end. Now there is much more leadership. Visioning, programming, and supporting conversations with the community.”

 

Saundra: “From my own firm to a larger firm, always maintain an Inward focus toward the staff. The work we are doing is a movement for the entire firm. We want to impact our clients. Pair clients with staff who align. Movement and impact on the community, this is a major change recently. Inclusive design. Not designing for, designing with.”

Gina Van Tine presents pivotal moments in the INFORM Studio timeline

For more about the NORR ed Speaker Series: NORR ed – Teach, Learn, Improve Continuously

 

NORR ed is a lecture series established in 2007 to bring the most distinguished Architects and Engineers to share their career and professional ideas of the built form. The core purpose is to Teach, Learn and Improve continuously across three streams: Architecture Series, Engineering Series and Master Series.

 

Created by NORR, a global architecture and engineering firm, NORR ed was initially an in-house education program, complying with the Registration of Architectural Associations Continuing Education core requirements and was offered to clients, consultants and colleagues.

 

As the Series gained recognition in 2020, NORR ed went virtual and is now offered to employees, clients, consultants, and colleagues across the globe – still providing valuable continuing education and credits.

 

Starting in 2021, NORR partnered with prominent Schools of Architecture in locations where NORR operates offices. The Series is offered virtually to students at no cost, introducing a new generation of students to the A&E Industry and engaging them in real-world conversations.

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Clockwise from top left: Courtney Piotrowski (livingLAB), Saundra Little (Quinn Evans), Silvio Baldassarra (NORR), Gina Van Tine (INFORM Studio)
 

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Northville, MI 48167

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Chicago, IL 60601

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