• Kris Bowser

Celestia Carson and her Passion to Reach Gender Parity in the Field of Architecture.

Celestia Carson, AIA, LEEDap. is a Principal with VCBO Architecture where she has been for 17 years. She specializes in K-12 Educational Facilities, Higher Education, Recreation and Health Care projects. Celestia is a passionate designer, strong project manager and maintains excellent client relationships. She is particularly skilled at facilitating the crucial interface among different user groups within a complex facility to ensure their distinct identities are maintained throughout the development of a project. Her educational design inspires students to develop a thirst for knowledge and a commitment to life-long learning.

Celestia is committed to strengthening our architectural community. She is an alumna of the University of Utah and is also the Founder and President of Women in Architecture SLC. WIA SLC is a local grassroots organization with the primary goal of gender parity in the field of architecture.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in architecture?

Before I knew I wanted to pursue architecture, I had a passion for art (color/texture), math (geometry/space) and science (physics/kinetics). So I guess you could in some way architecture chose me. Generally speaking, architects are great problem solvers, and communicators; skills that would lead an individual to excel at any number of professions. Yet somehow, once architecture finds you, you just can’t imagine doing anything else. That is how it worked for me anyway.

What is one of the unexpected obstacles you have faced in your business?

Politics. Not governmental politics per se, but the politics of working with people, with varying and often conflicting demands. I often find myself having to very delicately navigate a thorny issue, be it in regard to a design decision, or a construction change, or coordination between trades. I’m finding that success not only relies on technical expertise, but on expertly communicating with others.

What do you love the most about what you do?

The process. Architecture, in spite of all its many challenges, is a very rewarding profession. To be able to provide a vision that meets a client’s needs, and then develop that into a design that is constructed by an army of skilled craftspeople, into a structure that will be occupied by thousands of people over generations, well, that is just very cool.

Do you have any tricks for juggling all that your demanding career requires and a family?

No. If you all have any let me know. In all seriousness, parenthood shouldn’t be something you do by yourself. Raising a child takes a village. I’m blessed to have a supportive and engaged husband. Without him, I would be a wreck. My advice to other working parents would be to work as a team, embrace your village, don’t be afraid to ask for help and find something you enjoy that allows you some space to decompress and clear your head. For me it’s running.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would stop worrying about my faults and focus on my strengths.

What characteristic do you most value in your friends?

Unwavering support. My husband and my best friends are my greatest cheerleaders. Sometimes you just need someone who will support you and root for you, be it on your best or your worst days.

Who is a female role model of yours, or a woman you admire, and why?

Kathrine Switzer. If you don’t know who she is please look her up. She is the first woman to run the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant, before women were allowed to run. She registered with her initials, rather than her name, and was nearly physically pulled from the race by the race official. She started a social revolution by empowering women through running.

What is a common challenge women in your field are facing today?

In architecture, like any professional career, women face implicit bias. Navigating a career is already a difficult task, for anyone. But then add to that the challenge of navigating a career through separate, ever changing hurdles created through bias. As a woman, you are frequently and unintentionally being treated through a filter of bias, by your peers, your leadership, your clients and even yourself. It is an overwhelming and discouraging reality.

What is one piece of advice you would share with younger women considering architecture?

Believe in yourself and please don’t give up. If we are to change the demographics of our profession, we need every single one of you!

What is next on the horizon for you? For Women in Architecture?

We are at a time when there is a lot of focus and conversation on gender and racial inequality. Historically, social movements tend to move in waves. There are periods of momentum and then people become fatigued with the issue, or feel like progress has been made and become complacent, moving on to other things. I think we are in a period of movement right now, with a ground swell of momentum toward change. The challenge will be to continue that momentum once everyone gets tired of talking about it.

Additionally, we need to make greater strides in ethnic/racial diversity in architecture. We are overwhelmingly a white profession and that is problematic. As a white woman, I acknowledge I carry a certain level of privilege. As the voices of women like mine grow, we need to ensure we hand that megaphone to other under-privileged groups: ethnic/racial minorities, LGBTQ individuals, the disabled, etc. to further our efforts toward a more just and equitable world.

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