Exclusive ILMA Interview with Tara Imani, AIA @Parthenon1 (Part 1)Posted: January 1, 2013
What better way to ring in the new year than to highlight one of our new designer colleagues discovered on social media?
Tara Imani, AIA, CSI, is a registered architect and owner of Tara Imani Designs, LLC, a solo practice in Texas, focusing on residential renovations, commercial space planning, and architecture. She has been blogging for over a year now, beginning with her debut blog post on AIA KnowledgeNet in October, 2010 where she explored what is now a commonplace question in the field of architecture: “Is the Architecture Profession in Need of a Makeover Despite the Upturn in the Economy?” (<—You can click on the highlighted title to link to the blog and join the conversation).
1) When and why did you decide to become an Architect?
I discovered my love for architecture, interiors, and fine furnishings at a young age. I enjoyed going furniture shopping with my mom and would find myself critiquing the various layouts in the showroom, wondering why the designers did it that way and wanting to try different layouts or do something similar in my own way. Maybe you’ve done this yourself, too, when you were growing up: rearrange the furniture in your parents’ home when they were out of the house for a while. I did that to my mom on a few occasions and it met with much resistance. That started at an early age, too- as soon as I was strong enough to move stuff around or coax my brother into helping. My passion for architecture started with house plans. After cleaning out the lower level hall closet and finding my parents’ stack of builder house plan books, I was hooked. I began drawing my own floor plans and elevations, pinning them up on the wall in my bedroom. My 5th grade bff (as the kids say nowadays) saw them and remarked at how much patience such detailed drawings would take; but to me it was sheer joy. I never noticed the time. It was my dad who first told me I was going to be an architect. And since he was an electrical engineer, he kept me well-supplied with proper drawing tools—sketch pads, quadrille paper, charcoals, pens, and pastels for rendering elevations. So I knew since 5th grade that I was going to be an architect. In 8th grade, I did write in my journal that I wanted to be an interior designer. So, I today, I am both—with a focus on Interior Architecture and space planning.
2) What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?
The biggest challenge has been overcoming fear. The first fear was the looming board exam that I had heard mentioned whenever I told an inquiring adult what I wanted to be when I grew up. So, along with my dream, I had a fear attached to it—of this monster test where I mistakenly believed I would need to bring the equivalent of my dad’s metal trunk full of books and reference materials to pass the exam. The other challenge was time management and the constant tension of wanting to spend time with loved ones (my boyfriend who became my husband) versus cranking out the project. So, self-discipline and deferred gratification are two critical traits any architecture student will need to master early on if they want to be successful.
Left: Tara’s website; Right: Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall as captured by Photographer Mathijsvanden Bosch.
3) Any memorable clients or project highlights?
Every client and project has been a memorable experience and learning opportunity. My most favorite firm to work for was Chris Abel Architects, AIA in Laguna Beach, California where we did high-end custom residential design for both new builds and renovations. It was a beautiful place and location and everything about it was miraculous. I worked for months helping Chris hand-draft a 5,000 sf beach home and additional guest house for a beachfront site in Kauai (using a now-ancient drafting arm- this was circa 1992). The other memorable project I did with Chris was a two-story master bedroom suite and first floor pottery studio addition adjoining to an existing living room via an indoor atrium; it was a very eclectic home overlooking both the Pacific Ocean and the Aliso Viejo Canyon- the style can best be described as modern adobe exterior with an oriental interior motif (Chris designed a huge circle-shaped opening leading into the atrium which contrasted with the sloped adobe fireplace and otherwise rustic décor). The most difficult part was getting the infamously strict Laguna Beach Design Review Board to approve the project and meet the height restrictions while ensuring the uphill next door neighbor’s view would not be blocked. That was my first project to manage. The client was very unique; she liked to wear (what we secretly referred to as) “leopard skinned bowling shoes” and during our morning jobsite meetings she preferred to drink her orange juice only after it’d been warmed in the microwave. She was very astute and noted: “This is your first project, isn’t it?” I didn’t quite know how to respond, so I simply acknowledged and clarified that no, it wasn’t my first one to work on, but yes, it was my first one to manage. I knew I had a lot to learn about everything—especially about how to deal with clients and how to manage the bidding and construction process. The latter point is a story for another day!
4) How does your family support what you do?
Architecture can be an all-consuming business and few people can succeed while being loyal to their family (time-wise, etc.). My father encouraged me to apply to architecture school and my mom enabled me to attend The Ohio State University by securing the necessary loans. Otherwise, I was working as a bank teller for Buckeye Federal bank immediately following high school graduation. The manager was upset when I left to go to school as they had put us new hires through three weeks of intense professional training at their special facility. So, two types of support are necessary—financial and emotional. One without the other will not be sufficient. Over the years, family support has been touch and go. But my dedication to architecture—whether consistent or not—remains my responsibility and no one else’s. In 1992, only five years after graduating from school, my husband and I made a decision to start a home health care and infusion therapy company with his sister, an RN. It required us to move from southern California to Houston, TX. My co-workers at Chris Abel’s firm thought I was crazy to move to the “armpit” of the south. But work had been very slow and I was lucky to be employed at a time when many of my contemporaries were working outside the field. It was a huge time of change, too, with firms transitioning to AutoCAD. I stayed in the healthcare business until 1998 and returned to architecture 6 months later. I was able to find work because of the social connections I had made while studying for the licensing exams—so I always kept one foot in architecture while I was helping run the health care company. And my family supported me by allowing me to take a paid 3-month sabbatical to study and pass the remaining exams. I passed all except one- the design exam which became two computerized exams that I took and passed a few years later after our daughter was born.
5) How do Architects measure success?
I can only speak for myself. When I think of a successful architect, I think of someone who has achieved a solid portfolio of built work spanning many years and whose buildings, designs, and/or residences resonate with their end-users.
6) What matters most to you in design?
Design is a vast subject and covers so much. I value beauty, good proportions, quality materials, and durability.
7) What do you hope to achieve over the next 20-30 years?
That’s a long time. Your question has prompted me to realize I really only think in terms of today and the next year—of course, I envision a great future for my family for many years. Professionally, I would like to continue in the area of tenant build-outs, space planning, and interior design. I have been begging my husband for years to team up with me to renovate houses and I think he’s about ready to do so.
8) Who is your favorite Architect? Why?
I can say that I am not an avid follower/groupie of any particular architect except that I love the designs of Andrea Palladio, the 14th c. Italian architect famous for his beautiful houses, symmetrical designs, and arched windows. While a student, the theories of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto resonated with me— his inclusive programs (as opposed to Mies van der Rohe’s exclusive, stark plans). I also love many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes and especially his Guggenheim Museum and I love Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles—I guess in part because I have been there and experienced it. These days, I’m revisiting various architects’ manifestoes to get fresh ideas and perspectives. There is one architect I admire for her sheer perseverance as much as her work: Julia Morgan who was the first female architect in California who started out as a Civil Engineer and who endured many trials and challenges on her path to becoming a successful Architect. Ironically, her work was absent from the curriculum at OSU.
9) What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?
My favorite historic project is The Parthenon in Athens, Greece (built between 447 – 438 B.C); I admire it because it is such an iconic image exemplifying all that is beautiful and graceful in architecture. It is the inspiration behind my twitter handle: @Parthenon1. My favorite modern (contemporary) project is the Denver Airport design by Fentress Architects; I love tent structures and am so intrigued at how well-integrated the forms are with the rest of the structure and successfully done despite the harsh climate of wind, snow, and ice. It, too, is a beautiful iconic image with the white peaks of the tents rhythmically rising, echoing the mountains beyond.
10) Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?
This is a particularly challenging question and one that I see many of us in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry grappling to answer every day on social media sites- what I call the new agora or Roman forum- such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+. To read many tweets, posts and forum discussion threads is to realize that we’ve all embarked on a mysterious expedition to define the Next architectural manifesto that will solve the world’s problems through innovative, sustainable design. It feels very much like we’re on the precipice of a major breakthrough but we haven’t yet been able to put it into concise words or build with new forms and materials. There are many thought leaders I look to such as Rachel Armstrong from Britain with her Architecture 2.0; and Ed Mazria who conceived and developed Architecture+2030 (a program to train architects to systemically address CO2 emissions from buildings). Definitely sustainable design, adaptive reuse and retrofitting existing buildings to be more “green” (yikes, I can’t believe I’m using that word!) and high technologies are going to govern how architects practice for years to come. I recommend reading “Building (In) The Future- Recasting Labor in Architecture” compiled and edited by Phil Bernstein and Peggy Deamer—according to at least some of the essays, the future of architecture is going to be much more fabricated off-site and mechanized like the car industry. IKEA is one example of this with their new pre-manufactured housing. I personally don’t like this trend but am keeping an open mind toward it. I don’t want to see the loss of art and craft and design in the move toward BIM (Building Information Modeling) – another buzzword among many others such as IPD (Integrated Project Delivery- how a project is funded for risk/reward-sharing in profits).
Click here to read Part 2 of this interview.
Tara’s Contact Info:
Tara Imani Designs 10333 Richmond Avenue, Suite 150 Houston, Texas 77042 Ph: (832) 723-1798 Fax: (832) 300-3230 Email: Tara@TaraImaniDesigns.com
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2013 is going to be great ~ Sending you lots of love, hope, peace, health, happiness and prosperity!
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