Katie Faulkner, AIA, is a founding principal of NADAAA, overseeing firm operations, fabrication, and design on select projects. Since 2011, she has directed efforts to expand the firm's prototyping facilities and portfolio, extending NADAAA's georgraphic reach and capacity to deliver large projects. With over 20 years experience in residential, academic, institutional, and health-care projects, Katie has been recognized with notable awards, including the 2014 Holcim Award, 2017 Boston Society of Architects Women in Design Award of Excellence, three Green Good Design Awards; six Progressive Architecture Awards; and numerous AIA and BSA Awards.
1. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
At a small firm, there are a variety of operational decisions to be made, big and small, that have a significant impact on the lives of our staff and the studio culture. In my position, I am sometimes casting the final decision on things like benefits and expenditures, and I try to be mindful of the repercussions on employees. Equally important, I make decisions about design and project delivery. I try to employ the same thought process with our clients – what decisions will yield the best outcomes? At NADAAA we are defined by the quality of our work, and I recognize that with choices of materials, systems, and configurations come ramifications. In the A/E/C industry everyone is beholden to schedule, budgets, and program goals. Therefore, in the pursuit of design excellence, we seek opportunity in project constraints and collaboration to arrive at the optimal outcomes.
2. How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your “core values”?
NADAAA takes seriously the art of design. All of us are united by the belief that with every project comes the opportunity for design investigation. We look to get contractors involved early so that we challenge the means and methods of construction. I've run dozens of projects, starting out early in project management and working for several firms in the first 15 years of my practice. Every firm I've ever worked for has had strengths, but NADAAA's designers bring energy to every endeavor that continues to inspire me. We balance our efforts; competitions, installations, and research are included in our operational budget alongside of our working backlog (income-producing projects). Our teams maintain a nimbleness in process that allows us to bring a spirit of invention to our clients, regardless of the scale or budget of their projects.
3. How do you support gender equality in the workplace?
There is a natural tipping point in this profession that occurs when an architect starts a family, and it is difficult to work from afar. Design, planning, and construction are by nature collaborative endeavors, and young parents are challenged when they try to work from home. To generalize – and we have several exceptions in the office – the challenges of parenting fall more heavily on women. It is therefore a goal to make it easier for people to work remotely when they need to, providing laptops, web-based platforms, and flexibility in schedule.
Other issues of gender equality – for example, equal pay and opportunity – can be subtler in their occurrences. My partners and I discuss this often as we calibrate payroll and staffing. Women at all levels of experience need the chance to lead, present their work, and interface with clients. We have a number of exceptional women in the firm, but our seniors are still majority male. Ultimately, our goal is to advance more women into leadership positions. The women of NADAAA are so strong and determined that I can't imagine the firm functioning without them.
4. What motivates you as a leader?
We are a young office – not me or my partner Nader – but nearly everyone else. This means that there's a constant influx of energy. As we plug into the younger demographics, I am often intrigued by the evolving processes that come from the various schools of architecture. It motivates me to see how the younger designers push the boundaries of conventional practice and question the norms of delivery.
Another motivator for me are paradigm shifts in the industry. The use of different project delivery methods and technological advancements breathe life into an industry that has fundamentally gone unchanged for decades. We are completing our first CLT building and seeing more of our projects leverage prefabrication. Disruptions provide me with a glimmer of hope that architecture is indeed a transformational discipline, evolving with technology and innovation.
5. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
There is a delicate balance for a female in a leadership role – how to manage perceptions of aggression. On the one hand, a woman must have confidence in herself and the ability to be firm. But there's a stronger likelihood that you will be judged more harshly than your male counterpart if you express anger or frustration. In a man, anger may be considered a necessary component of his leadership. In a woman, anger is a weakness and will likely be dismissed as a 'bad mood.' Advancing into the later stages of my career, I'm more aware of this double-standard, and with that awareness I try to calibrate emotion. There is an adage somewhere that women need to work twice as hard, and in the arena of comportment, I believe this is true.
6. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader / mentor?
My husband is in the educational field, so we moved around a lot; which afforded me the chance to work with many admirable mentors as well as have a well-rounded experience at different firms. Early in my career I worked for Cutler Anderson. James Cutler is one of the finest architects I've ever met. I appreciated his absolute fidelity to the truth of his work. As I look at what he's up to these many years later, I still recognize his commitment to sustainable materials and elegant details. That authenticity stayed with me. More recently I worked with Shepley Bulfinch's Carole Wedge. She is a wonderful leader – articulate and generous. Her command of respect seems effortless. When I first met her, I wanted to emulate her, and I continue to admire her.
Apart from individuals who have inspired me, I have great admiration for people who have started their own business. Whether this is my classmate, Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang, JK Rowling, or Coco Chanel. Any woman who has put herself out there, taking financial and creative risk – well, thinking of them gets me up in the morning.
7. What advice would you give to women trying to break into the Facilities Management / Construction Management / Engineering / Architecture fields?
I’m part of a mentorship program with the Boston Society of Architects, and one thing my mentee and I are discussing is how to make pitches and presentations. That opportunity is not necessarily afforded to young architects, so my advice is always to find a platform for practice. This could be Toastmasters or a PechaKucha. If you need to break out of your shell so-to-speak and confidently articulate your pitch – often to people completely outside your industry – it doesn't hurt to practice.
Finally, my advice to many young women is your career is defined by you. Constantly reflect on your values and ask yourself, “Is this what I really want to do?” There are many paths through the architectural profession. Whether it's your role on a project, the culture of your employer, or the way you spend your working life – things change consistently. Question yourself, stand firm in your decisions, and execute.