Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA RAS, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on Twitter, is the owner of Abadi Accessibility, an accessibility consulting firm that is dedicated to educating the building industry about the laws of accessibility. She received her Bachelor of Architecture in 1991 from the University of Texas in Austin and became a Registered architect in 1999 in Texas and a registered accessibility specialist in 2001. Marcela is sought after by owners and architects across the country who look to her for guidance to understand the accessibility standards throughout the design and construction process. She assists the building industry, in part, by performing plan reviews and inspection for TAS, producing a monthly newsletter to educate on the best way to apply the standards to their architectural projects, and wrote The ADA Companion Guide published John Wiley and Sons which explains the 2004 ADAAG.
When and why did you decide to become an Architect?
Ever since I was a little girl, about seven years old, I wanted to be an architect. My uncle was a Civil engineer, my cousin is an architect and my grandmother studied interior design. I was very influenced by them and what I would see. When I was a teenager, my other uncle went to the University of Texas to study engineering also, and told me that when I became an architect we could work together. What a great incentive. So the seed was planted.
What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?
At the time I attended architecture school, male professors did not respect women. So I had to work extra hard to be respected. Another challenge was that I had NO idea how much art and drawing I was going to need. I thought it would be more mathematical. So although I loved to draw, I focused on physics and calculus in high school in preparation when I probably should have been taking more art and drawing. So my colleagues that came from that background did much better than me at first. But I slowly but surely caught up to them.
Later in life I was also challenged by the fact that I was a woman. Being a woman living in the South, looking young and being short did not elicit much confidence and respect. But I worked hard and proved myself. I am also not a great test taker (I get very nervous) so when I was ready to sit for my boards (ARE) I forgot everything I knew. It took me a couple of years to pass all my nine exams! But I did it! yay!
Any memorable clients or project highlights?
My very first solo project was the Dallas headquarters for Univision. I started out as the intern, but then the project manager quit in the middle and they put me in charge! Wow! I loved it. I became very close to the client (and we are still friends today) and saw the project go from design all the way to CA. It was amazing!
Another awesome highlight is when I was asked to write a book about the ADA (which is my passion!). John Wiley and Sons approached me after seeing my group on LinkedIn (Abadi Accessibility News Group) and asking me to write a book explaining the ADA. We called it “The ADA companion Guide: Understanding the ADA”. It was the most exciting thing ever! And then they liked working with me so they asked me for a second book that just came out in March called “Applying the ADA”. I collaborated with three other architects friends of mine to develop a case study book on the ADA. I think it came out really nicely.
How do you balance design with your family life?
That is one of my biggest challenges. I decided to start my own firm when I became pregnant with my first child for that very reason. I have my work at home, so my kids always see me here (unless I am in meetings). I try to schedule all my meetings and travels during the day while they are at school, so I can be home with them in the evening. Lucky for me I am an observant Jewish woman who keeps the Sabbath. That makes me take one day off every week (no matter what). That day I spend with my family. But during the week, I may not sleep as much when I have deadlines. I work after the kids go to bed, or after my husband goes to bed. I really try to give them my priority. That is really difficult and I am so busy.
How does your family support what you do?
They are great! They really never complain. I do hear them when they say they want me to do something with them. I make time for them so they allow me time for my work. They are really awesome! I remember when I was writing my two books and all the number of hours that I would spend on it, and my family was very supportive and understanding. It also helps to have my husband also be an architect….but that is a different question
How do Architects measure success?
I think happy clients which then either return or give me referrals are my gauge. If I have a project, even if it was not perfect, but after I work with my clients they are happy at the end, I think that is success!
What matters most to you in design?
For me if a design is thoughtful to its users that is the most important thing. We can all design what we want, but if it does not work with what the end user needs it to do, then it is an exercise in ego boosting. It is very important to me to have a project that is designed so that everyone can use it and is universally thoughtful.
What are the challenges you face realizing your vision?
Time. There is never enough time in a day to do all I want to do. So I have to learn how to prioritize and not do everything.
How do you translate the client’s vision to meet your own design expectations?
I try to put my ego aside, but also be a guide for my clients. I hear what they are ultimately interested in seeing, and then I try to find them solutions that would be good design and also meet their expectations. Most of the time they are looking for my input anyway, so that is not so hard. When they have an idea in mind that doesn’t meet mine, I try and listen and adapt my ideas to theirs, but still guide them in a path that I will be happy to see.
What do you hope to achieve over the next 20-30 years?
I would love to have more people working for me so I can devote my time to marketing and relationship building. I would love to be the person who meets the clients, come up with a great design for them and then comes back to the office and delegates the work to my other architects. I am hoping that will happen by then. I don’t ever think I will retire, though. Being an architect is in my DNA. It is who I am, not what I do. So in 30 years when I am in retiring age, I still hope to be designing.
Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?
Our profession is ever evolving. The involvement that design professionals have on projects is always a big issue. I would hope that through education and advocacy we can have architects be the leaders we once were. That is what I’m hoping to contribute.
How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?
I hope to instill the passion for architecture to the young architects by attending AIA events, volunteering to lecture and educate about universal design, ADA and how we can design environments that are usable and inclusive for all. I have a strong passion about that, and I hope to bring that passion to the younger generation and try to teach them about how a great architect influences our profession and our society.
Marcela’s Contact Information
You can also purchase her books by clicking here.
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