In our July/August issue, we take a look at 15 women leading the design world, one of whom is Laurinda Spear, cofounder of the Miami firm Arquitectonica. We spoke with her and three other women who have climbed to the top of corporate architecture to learn about how they got their start and what advice they'd give to other women in the field. Here's an extended interview with Spear that ranges from vampires to balancing work and family to her elation at having her daughter Marisa join the firm.
Where did you do your undergraduate studies, and were they in architecture?
I went to Brown and graduated in Fine Arts in 1972.
Where did you do your graduate studies?
I got my MArch at Columbia in 1975.
What was your first job?
I designed my parents house in Miami, the so-called pink house.
Would you say that you've had a mentor in design?
Probably the person who gave me my first jobs, which were summer jobs, Morris Lapidus. I worked in his office on the projects that he was doing at the time, which were apartment towers and hotels.
When did you join your current firm as a partner?
I was a founding partner at Arquitectonica in 1978, but we've diversified over the years to do total design. In 2006 we launched Arquetectonica Geo which is a kind of standalone landscape firm. We do work for the architecture side, but we've also got projects for other firms. We're doing the landscape work for the new art and science museums in downtown Miami. We have an interiors company as well that does commercial and residential interiors and now I'm giving a big push to a product development company that is part of Arquetectonica too. We're really interested in specifying products that we believe in so we're pushing along textiles and things like that.
What's the biggest building you've designed?
Oh I don't know. Some of the landscape projects have huge areas, so that's a different kind of bigness. A couple sports stadiums that we've done are on television all the time—American Airlines Arena in Miami and Phillips Arena in Atlanta.
What are you currently working on?
On the architectural side we're starting a little wildlife center in the northern part of Miami and that includes both architecture and landscape work. We've also got a resort in Peru going that is made up of a lot of little pavilions and a manmade lake with the purest water ever.
What do you wish you were currently working on?
No wish. We're really excited about what we're doing. And I'm really excited to have my daughter Marisa, who just graduated from Harvard's Graduate School of Design, working with me.
What are you reading right now?
I read Twilight and was amazed that Stephanie Meyer really tapped into this youth market so well. Then I read Dracula and it's so much better. Bram Stoker was a fascinating man. It all made me wonder how Meyer managed to hit it so big.
One hears all the time that architecture, especially the big corporate stuff, is a man's game. Have you had much trouble because of your gender?
I think that women will come into their own soon. It's true that the clients and the architects on bigger projects tend to be men, and it's also true that there are not always a lot of women at these big power meetings. But women know so well how all these pieces fit together. Women are very good at making sure that buildings go together in the right way.
What's your favorite project that you've worked on?
I don't think I have a favorite.
Would you give any advice to young women looking to get into architecture?
Architecture is a slow-moving field which makes it very easy to dip in and dip out of if you want to take time to have a family. It's unlike other professions in that regard and that makes it very forgiving for women. Or even for a man who wants to take a year off and go to India or something. You can leave and come back without having missed the boat on your career.
Are there any women in the design field from the past that you've looked to for inspiration?
Frances Halsband, who was my teacher at Columbia, and Charlotte Perriand. Also Queen Hatshepsut, who may have done some of the design on the West Bank of the Nile. The early work that Jane Barnes did in textiles is also really interesting to me.
What needs to change in the broad practice of architecture? Where are architects getting it wrong?
We're still recovering from Starchitecture, which is really not where the practice should be. The AIA has been at it for a while, but I really think they're on the right track pushing for architectural education in K-12. We need a bigger base of people who might know how to work with an architect, and it's critical that the general population has some kind of architectural education.