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Career Girls: Who's Your Favorite Architect?

Career Girls: Who's Your Favorite Architect?

As part of our series on women with interesting careers Jenn Kennedy sat down with architect Elisa Garcia, to find out more about the who, what and how of her professional journey. Elisa owns her own company, Garcia Architects, which is based in Santa Barbara.

As part of our series on women with interesting careers, I recently sat down with my girlfriend, architect Elisa Garcia, to find out more about the who, what and how of her professional journey.

When asked for a simple definition of architecture, she labeled it as “the mother of all arts.” citing its incorporation of graphics, sculpture, industrial art, rhythm, symmetry and space. She says, “Most people don’t realize architecture isn’t about the building; it’s about the empty space. It’s the empty space that creates a window and the nothingness that creates a building. Without space it would be only a block of concrete.”

Elisa goes on to compare architecture to music in its structure, saying both are considerably technical creations. The parallel continues in that both are broken down into rhythms or proportions, pieces and parts – notes or silence together. And the way they are assembled makes them beautiful.

 Two Bedroom Condo Unit in Santa Barbara

Who is your Favorite Architect?

Hands down Frank Lloyd Wright because he revolutionized architecture in America. There were a lot during his time that were being avant guard (Mees Vandero,Le Corbusier in Europe). Until then US copied other styles, however he created first truly American style by using the existing site to dictate design. Examples include midwestern properties (located in the prairie flat land), which he also designed low to the ground and with flat lines. Conversely, in hillside areas such as Los Angeles, he designed Mayan temple style pyramid structures to echo the mountainous landscape.

Do you gravitate toward a certain style of building?

I gravitate toward buildings that use a lot of natural materials from the site.

Give me an Example

Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935) uses rocks present at the site of the southwestern Pennsylvania home. He quarried the rock for the project on site and used it on location. The result is that that the structure “grows” out of the site. I really like projects that are a combination of manmade materials (steel) and natural (stone & wood).

What project are you most proud of and why?

My last project is typically what I’m most proud of. It’s fresh in my mind and hopefully I’ve learned things to apply it to the next project. My most recent project is the main branch of SB Bank &Trust. Located in downtown Santa Barbara this branch is the largest (out of 90) and presented several unique challenges. We did a great job with a modest budget.

Santa Barbara Bank & Trust's main branch

What type of person makes a good architect?

Don’t do it! That’s the first thought. It seems like everyone wants to be an architect at some point in their life. Many people have a romantic idea about what an architect does and believe that will translate into a career. Truthfully, it takes a combination of creative and analytical skills to succeed.

Much like art school, architects complete intense schooling, with harsh critics telling you your designs are no good for several years. They are weeding out the people who aren’t serious and many reroute to other careers.

Getting into the profession is a whole different set of challenges and architects are often not the most business savvy people. They yell and they have egos. For many, it’s hard to work in that environment and get ahead. As an architect, you can’t take things personally and must handle a lot of rejection. You must be doing it for yourself and the love of it. The financial rewards don’t come for a while and they don’t get a lot of positive feedback.

San Diego Apartment Building Project

Dream Project or Client?

My dream client would to design and build my own home. With budget and code as my only restrictions, I could really explore Invariably, clients place a number of creative restraints on an architect, so the integrity of the initial design suffers. Of course this is the nature of working for hire, however I love the idea of creating art just for myself. I would do something contemporary, experimenting with new materials that I’ve never used before.

Has being gay affected your business?

My gut response is that it’s helped. On a subtle level, I can fit into a man’s world. I am perceived as an equal because of my energy and confidence. I can’t say this is only because I’m gay, but I do think there is a correlation to my self-image. I’ve always been out at work and it hasn’t been an issue with clients or co-workers.

Elisa at a Construction Site Meeting

When did you read Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead?

I was a teenager. It stirred that romantic idea of being an architect. FLW said it’s Truth Against the World = Him Against the World. Sometimes it certainly feels like that.

When did you know you wanted to be an architect?

I knew from a very young age. My dad is also an architect, so I grew up on job sites. To this day, the smell of a wood-framed job site brings such warm feelings of childhood. The job site was a treasure chest of interesting things to scavenger for and pocket: blocks of wood, nails and metal fasteners, rubber washers, pieces of conduit….

I spent a lot of time drawing and coloring. It wasn’t until college that I realized architecture wasn’t all creativity and also involved extensive math and science! But it was too late to turn back….I was hooked. Elisa owns her own company,, which is based in Santa Barbara. She primarily works on commercial projects, specializing in banks.  

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