Anne Holford-Smith, FAIA
PBDW Architects

Anne Holford-Smith is a partner at PBDW Architects with 35 years of professional experience. She also serves as a Commissioner on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Through a broad range of building types, the common theme of her work is the interplay between new and old, rooted in their unique context.

NY Holford Smith

Question: What led you to a career in the construction industry?

Both my father and one of my uncles practiced interior design. As a child, my dad brought me to visit his residential projects and to his office, which was full of materials and samples, and sparked my interest in design. As a teenager and during college, I was able to work at my uncle’s design firm during summers, introducing me to corporate interiors.

My family was also very interested in history, so I grew up visiting historic sites, which instilled in me a love of old buildings and a reverence for heritage. This combination led me to first study interior design at FIT, and then architecture at Pratt, where I received my Bachelor of Architecture. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked at a variety of architecture firms, and to have ended up at PBDW, where I have been able to meld my love of history and old buildings with a modern sensibility of architecture.

Question: How has the context of being a woman in the industry changed since you started your career?

When I graduated over 30 years ago, there were already a good number of women in school and working in the profession, but most of the leadership were men. The construction side, however, was dominated by men, as were ownership and owner’s rep teams.

Over the years I have seen a steady increase in the number of women in the industry. Where it was once typical for me to be the only woman in the room during project meetings, the inverse is now not unusual, with more women in the room than men, representing all sides of the project, including ownership and construction management.

Another positive change in the industry has been the rise of women in senior positions. It is very encouraging to see so many women in partner or upper management positions not only in architecture firms, but among construction management, clients, and other decision makers. There is, of course much more to be done to achieve parity between men and women in leadership positions, but the improvement is palpable.

How do you leverage your position to help recruit and retain more women in the industry?

As a female partner in an architectural firm, I hope that I serve as an inspiration to other women in the field, starting with the women in my office. I’m pleased that most of our senior staff are women, and that women represent more than half of our architectural staff.

I recently was elevated to the AIA College of Fellows. I feel this is an opportunity to advocate for more women to pursue and advance in the field of architecture. I participate in the AIA NY Torch Mentorship program, which pairs an AIA Fellow with an emerging professional for one-on-one mentoring.

What improvements can the industry make to help women succeed in the construction business?

One of the challenges for women in the architecture and construction industry is still the maintenance of a healthy work/life balance. This is especially true for mothers, who continue to play a dominant role in childcare. Allowing for flexible work hours and a hybrid work from home/office policy enables women to have more control over their careers. My firm has adopted these policies and we are seeing the benefit this has had, especially for mothers of young children.

There has also been a tremendous growth in the number of organizations dedicated to women in design and construction. These groups are a great resource for women seeking to find mentorship and to learn leadership skills, or just to have a place to talk with other women in the profession. Ideally, these resources would also be available to women at their workplace, especially for women who work in construction.

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