An Interview with Architect Renee del Gaudio
“You must remember to begin your career in the same manner as you want it to finish.”
-RENEE ON THE BEST CAREER ADVICE SHE WAS EVER GIVEN
There is not a single day Renee del Gaudio can pinpoint for the exact ‘grand opening’ of her firm. Why? Perhaps because architecture is something that happens slowly over time. It is a goal you work toward with an end in mind, but that ending takes a million different twists and turns and never finishes exactly the way you originally planned.
Renee is a dedicated, passionate, place-based architect. While she may have a design in mind, her journey often finds her camping on the grounds of her next big creation, allowing the site to tell her what it needs and wants. Her field adventures let her feel the sun on her face as it rises and sets, and listen to the way the wind blows in the trees, just as her clients would.
It has not always been a calm, campground vista for Renee. After years of tireless study, she balanced the birth of 2 children while working at a local firm in Denver, CO. Ironically, during this time, this place-based architect struggled with finding her own place in the world of architecture.
Amongst the chaos of work-life balance, she discovered her true position when passion took over, leading her to open her own firm and go it alone.
Renee shared with TARRA why she now looks out on a panoramic landscape filled with adventure and hope, taking her old rearview lessons and using them to look to the future with a renewed, exciting spirit.
Q: Describe the moment you decided to become an architect?
A: There was never one true moment, but in retrospect I think my family’s passion for the fine arts greatly influenced me. My grandmother and mother were both weavers. I loved how their basic materials harmonized together and became this thing of aesthetic beauty. I think architecture is very much like these art forms, weaving basic materials together, unifying them into something unique, functional and aesthetically beautiful.
Q: Walk me through your creative process.
A: As a placebased architect it is imperative for me to begin with a thorough site visit. This often results in me camping at the project site for at least one or two full days and nights.
Q: Wow! I have never heard of an architect being so devoted as to camp out at the site. Why do you do this?
A: There is no better way to learn how the sun rises and sets on a property or how the wind blows and circulates. I let the site reveal its nature over time, learning, listening and discovering what the site offers and what it wants.
Q: What inspires your designs?
A: There are many things that inspire me, but I am mostly drawn to the place, the culture, history and climate. I can’t create an authentic building without first discovering the meaning of the place. I am also inspired by the challenge of producing as little waste as possible. I aspire to design rigorous floor plans where not one ounce of space is wasted, nor the materials used.
Q: How has being a woman in your industry been challenging? Is there still a glass ceiling that women need to break through in the field of architecture?
A: The process of becoming a licensed architect is extremely long and drawn out. After graduation there are still approximately 1000 intern hours and exams to hurdle. This process can take some up to 8 years to finish. As women, this is all taking place in the middle of our child-bearing years. So, the problem is not getting into architecture, it’s staying the distance. The statistics prove that university classes are 50% women. It’s what happens after graduation that makes the playing field uneven. That’s when stats drop to 25% of practicing female architects and then even further to 16% licensed female architects.
Q: How did you overcome these obstacles?
A: I had my 2 children while working at a firm. With my first child, I had zero paid leave after she was born, and for my second (after begging) I managed to get one week paid leave. I was spending large amounts of my salary on childcare, so one day I just decided it was time to work for myself. And now here I am successfully running my own business.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to young women just getting started in architecture?
A: Find your passion and acquire a tough skin. There is no crying in construction. Architecture is such a big field and universities are now creating interdisciplinary programs that offer experience in environmental design and sustainable design, and so much more. I say, sample it all in order to discover what you truly love.
Q: If you were handed your dream project, what would it be?
A: I love this question! My dream… it would have to be a client who shares my passion and worldview of how important simplicity is. This project would preferably take place on a mountain or rural site with interesting features to respond to. And the materials used within the project would be utilitarian or basic in nature, such as weathered, natural wood and steel. I love low maintenance materials, nothing fussy or overdone.
Q: What is the most challenging project you have ever worked on and why?
A: I would say it is my upcoming project on the North shore of Hawaii. Since I am a place-based architect, my challenge will be to create a true, authentic design for this site as I have never lived there and do not know the culture. I have my work cut out for me, but the client is wonderful and holds the same design values as I do.
Q: You have already mentioned how your mother and grandmother’s weaving influenced your career, is there any other aspect of your childhood that affected your decision to go into design?
A: Yes. My grandparents owned and operated a Scandinavian housewares business. I grew up in a mid-century modern home before it was cool. Being surrounded by all that logic and pragmatic order of modern architecture greatly influenced my design taste.
Q: What technology in your industry do you totally geek out on?
A: Books! I am not a technology person; I prefer to read real newspapers and books.
Q: What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?
A: The big picture. The thought that I could make the world a better place through my art. The idea that I can impact someone’s happiness through design by creating a calm, peaceful and balanced space is very exciting to me.
Q: What are you most excited about for the future of your industry?
A: Oh, there is so much to be excited about right now! We are going back in time by 40-50 years when less is more and life seemed simpler. I am seeing a new, very exciting appreciation for local craftsmanship and locally sourced materials. This all combines into a distinct, regional architecture of place that very much appeals to my sensibilities.