Rice Design Alliance is holding its 2018 architecture tour April 7-8 and publishing this series of edited interviews on the theme "Balance: Celebrating Women in Design." L. Barry Davidson leads L. Barry Davidson Architects. She is a featured architect on the upcoming architecture tour for her design of 3720 Tangley.
Cite: How did you come to architecture and design?
L. Barry Davidson: I was always visually oriented and had always thought I would do something in the arts, or something that had to do with the environment but I didn’t know it would be architecture. My mother was an aesthete and my father was an engineer so it made it easier for me to blend those two things. I was at an art history class at Mt. Holyoke College where I went for undergraduate school. They were discussing the Parthenon. The professor made it so exciting. I remember thinking, that’s what I can do. That’s what I’d like to do. It was like Paul getting thrown off the horse. It was a revelation to realize that I had come up with a combination of what I thought my meager talents were. In any case, it worked out. I stayed in undergraduate school and finished a bachelor of arts, but went on to get a masters in architecture.
Cite: Tell us about your early career.
LBD: Well, I worked for firms, I worked for three international and I worked for Lloyd Jones Brewer. I kept realizing I wanted to start a family. I was young, I was in my late 20s. I felt that I would have a lot more freedom if I had my own business. And my father had always had his own engineering firm and seemed to thrive in it. I am kind of bossy and like to tell people what to do so I felt like it would be an appropriate use of my bossiness to run the show myself. I started to do projects on the side, with my firm’s knowledge, and did some projects for my brother, and did another project for my father, and then realized I had enough work to go out on my own — forty years ago to this year. I’m in an anniversary year.
Cite: Could you speak to being a woman in the architecture discipline?
LBD: The biggest obstacle was that when you go to the job site. Back then it was unusual for a woman to be the architect. It made me very self-conscious because you have so much to learn when you are young about actual construction. You learn a lot about design in graduate school but you don’t learn that much about construction until you observe a job site. So I found it awkward and I found it challenging to force myself to go out there and say what I thought, to have the confidence to say, this isn’t the way it was drawn, let’s look at the plans. So I think being a woman in that environment was difficult because all the general contractors and all the subcontractors were men, as well as most of the other architects for that matter.
Cite: The theme of the Rice Design Alliance tour is “Balance.” What does that word mean to you?
LBD: Personally it means you can balance your professional life with your personal life because I think women are typically the nurturers in society and certainly in the family, to a large degree. Practicing architecture is very hard work, and yet you still be have your composure everyday, your sense of what is really important at the end of the day, still have a philosophical bent on life, where you can appreciate beauty and where you can appreciate the people around you, and take joy in things other than architecture. I certainly have gotten inspiration from so many things other than architecture in order to do architecture. If you took no time to appreciate those things, you would be bereft. You would really have loss if you didn’t fill your life with other meaningful aspects. That’s what balance means to me.