In January, Richmond-based Glavé & Holmes Architecture, named Lori Garrett, FAIA, President of the firm, succeeding Randy Holmes, FAIA, who had occupied the post for 21 years. With this change, the firm became Virginia’s largest woman-led architecture firm. Garrett, who holds an M.Arch. from the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, marks her 17th year at Glavé and will continue to lead projects she is managing for the firm’s higher education studio. In this wide-ranging interview, she talks about the firm’s growth strategy and its response to this post-covid labor market.
Why is this transition important for the firm?
When a firm transitions leadership, it’s a sign that it has a lot of things going for it. A lot of firms don’t make it through a leadership transition, so I feel very fortunate that I’ve worked for a firm with a successful track record and succession from Jim Glavé to Randy Holmes. It continues to break new ground. We’re well positioned to build on our success, and we just launched a historic preservation studio that we want to grow into other markets. We’re working on a project in New York now, in fact, and on a broader, regional level, we have an expertise we want to explore. We’re having a lot of fun doing residential work now, too — when Randy worked with Jaque Robertson, he’d done a lot of residential work, and he’s enjoying getting back into that.
What does your leadership signal for the firm?
There’s an acknowledgement that our profession has made progress in opening up opportunities for women, and when I started there were only a handful in the entire country led by women and not many of our size. I didn’t get this job because I’m a woman, but because I have the right skillset and the right passion and, as Sheryl Sandburg says, the will to lead.
When I started the Richmond Women In Design group [in 2010], I did it because I felt a lack of support — not in architecture, per se, but in the larger sense of being a career woman raising a family doing demanding work. I didn’t have a lot of people to turn to to figure it out and I wanted to create a way for women to share stories and support each other. It’s been great — and that was about 12 or 13 years ago — to see progress made.
There still are inequities and it’s important to take stock of them. Is it important that I’m a woman who is now the president of a firm? Sure, but by focusing on me being a woman, I hope that people don’t conclude that I’m only here because I’m a woman. Still, women need to be visible in the boardroom and firm leadership, so I think celebrating this helps to elevate the cause.
It’s important that we make progress, from pay inequity to chartering more women-owned firms. We don’t want to fool ourselves that inequities don’t exist any more because everyone is aware of them now. We still must address them.
Design–wise, where is the firm headed?
We strive for a contextual design approach that acknowledges the physical context of a project and the mission of a client, the culture of a client, and the history of a site. Our design must respond to all of these factors and elevate the human spirit. We focus on creating places where people can realize their full potential and recognize that this will look different to each client. A lot of our clients in the past have thought of us working in a classical design context, and I think there’s an opportunity for us to go beyond that. To allow for designs with a more abstract and interpretive response to the architectural character of the places in which we work.
How do you consider the firm’s capabilities and in balancing the firm’s identity as a Virginia firm with its ambition to grow?
We’ve started doing a number of projects in North Carolina, Florida, and now New York, so we are making a deliberate attempt to reach out and find opportunities. Some of this depends on bringing on additional staff. Our approach will be the same everywhere, but our learning curve will change as we seek to understand specific places and contexts.
How do you map some of the larger efforts toward decarbonization and resilience onto the firm’s portfolio and its path forward?
Sustainability has always been important to us, going back to Jim Glavé’s roots — saving many of Virginia’s structures, and he was a big adaptive reuse pioneer. We just finished the design our first net-zero ready building — something that’s becoming important to our clients—and every building we do, whether it’s targeting a rating system or net-zero, we approach it with sustainability in mind. Energy systems, materials, and also creating structures that are so well designed and respond so well to that client that they won’t be torn down in the near future. Beauty is a undervalued tool in creating resiliency. Beauty enriches communities and contributes to resiliency through making buildings that people cherish and want to preserve or adaptively reuse over time.
What sorts of internal changes are you considering under your leadership?
One of the things we’re considering is how the office should look, post-pandemic. Because we offer the flexibility for people to work remote a couple of days a week, the actual, physical office is less dense now — so do we need to rethink how our firm is organized? To recapture the synergy of in-person collaboration, should we organize our seating locations by project teams instead of strictly by studio? I know a lot of architects and emerging professionals have missed that face-to-face aspect of collaboration that helps them grow, so we’re looking for a new methodology that can capture those opportunities whether it’s in-person or not. We’re also looking for new ways to connect internally, so we’re recommending books for folks to read and exchange ideas about — even if it’s over Zoom. I’m looking to strengthen the culture here and the energy in this new paradigm.
Looking at the labor market now and in light of your growth plans, how do you see talent acquisition and talent retention playing out in your firm?
Many of our staff have come to Glavé & Holmes because they want a place where they can develop and work on meaningful projects. In terms of nurturing talent, our studio system is set up to do that really well. We can offer the benefits of being part of a large firm — for example, resources or teams for different interests — but we also place everyone in studios that are between six and 12 people. That’s their home-base, so to speak, and they’re mentored by their studio leaders and colleagues who help them with everything from passing their exams to gaining new expertise to getting their work done. Going forward, and with the way technology has shaped our post-pandemic world, there will be a lot of hybrid work modes, and I am confident we can accommodate this without sacrificing the culture and goals of our firm.
About the Author
William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant, and from 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine. His latest book, Bamboo Contemporary: Green Houses Around the Globe, is published by Princeton Architectural Press.