Simone Saidel

Contributor: Margaret Hancock

You are currently designing corporate interiors. What excites you about this niche and working with corporate clients?

Last year, I shifted to my current firm OPX from a small local firm in Alexandria. This is an exciting transition for me because in addition to a more distinct focus on corporate spaces, my portfolio is now at a national level with clients throughout America. It is invigorating as an architect and a self-identified “people person” to travel and meet with different individuals, and it is rewarding to help a company and its constituents transition into a new phase. 

One client that epitomizes this is Strayer University. I have surveyed campuses in Texas, Florida and North Carolina and worked with their team to guide the adaptation of spaces to match the adaptation of learning models and offerings.

Tell me about your personal path to the industry.

I knew from an early age – middle school – that I wanted to work in architecture and design. So I began taking art and architecture summer courses. I then pursued my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design from Cazenovia College and my Master of Architecture from Florida A&M.

Such certainty at a young age. Where did that come from?

I was always curious about my friends’ houses and found myself wandering to see each of their rooms and the layout and spaces. I shared this curiosity with my mom and, in response, she ordered a subscription to Architectural Digest. Reading the pages of the magazine … that was it for me. I realized that this was a profession and that people can get paid to do this, and I knew it was what I wanted to do.

What words of wisdom do you have for today’s youth also interested in architecture and design?

My recommendation is to identify as many ways as possible to be exposed to the field. Find people to talk with, to meet and to shadow. Ask questions from an early point. Seek out art, architecture or design programs where you live. If you know an architect, request to intern or even assist in the print shop just to see what is going on and be in the workspace. Exposure is key.

What about fellow women entering the field – do you have advice for them?

After I earned my M.Arch, I moved to Alexandria for my first job. Having joined AIA in graduate school, I maintained my membership to build a networking group and it was through AIA that I found female peers, fellow emerging professionals and mentors. This was especially significant for me as I did not know anyone in town and, being in a small firm of only six employees, had no fellow female colleagues.

So my advice is to find – or create – a network of female architects and designers through AIA and additional outlets who can share ideas, offer best practices, conduct reality checks [is this happening in your firm?] and provide strong mentorship.