Spotlight Interview: Jame Anderson

Jame Anderson: Architect

Washington, DC

WFU Class of 1993

Double Major: Art History & Studio Art

Jame Anderson has quite possibly the coolest job in our nation’s capital. As an architect for SmithGroupJJR in their Cultural Studio practice, Jame works to bring cultural institutions to life. From designing museums of all types and shapes, converting archaeological sites into museums, to planning collections and object based research facilities for universities, Jame tells us what it takes to succeed as an architect.

DeacLink: Tell us about what you’re doing right now.. Are there any particularly exciting projects going on for you?

Jamie Anderson: I’m currently based in DC working as an architect for SmithGroupJJR, in the Cultural studio practice. We deal with museums, historic preservation, performing arts centers, and collaborate often with higher education for things like art on campus. I’ve worked on cultural institutions for my entire career since Wake.

Our latest project at SmithGroupJJR is deciding what will become of a site in Richmond newly discovered to be a slave auction house, jail, and business from the 17 and 1800s. The project has been titled the ‘Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site’, but was known colloquially as ‘The Devil’s Half-Acre’ in its time. Everyone knew this area in Richmond had these sort of sites but there had been no prior documentation of it until now; an archaeological dig recently revealed the site’s buildings and artifacts.

The most interesting part of this project follows the story of human progress in our country. The owner Robert Lumpkin willed this property to the woman who bore his children, who was an enslaved African American owned by Robert Lumpkin. When he died she donated it to what has become the Virginia Union University, the first historically black university in the state of Virginia, which was then just starting up.

When deciding what will become of the site, it’s very important to listen to the surrounding community throughout the process. Before we can bring our design to the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site, it’s crucial to allow those who will be surrounded and touched by the project to speak and react first. From this point we can begin to make decisions, the biggest being what the site should be. Should it be a museum, a memorial.. Something else? In the next nine months we hope to produce a concept design of the entity that will exist there.

This is the only project I’m able to speak publicly about.. But there are some other extremely cool projects going on that have to remain private for now.

 

DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.

JA: I graduated from Wake in 1993 and decided to move to the city with the most museums, because I knew that’s where I wanted to work. I had done a bunch of internships prior to graduation from Wake.. my mindset was to get into any museum that would take me.

From ‘93 to ‘95 I did a series of odd jobs for the Smithsonian. I was in the Office of Exhibits Central (OEC), responsible for fabricating components of exhibitions. We did matting and framing, silkscreening, clay modelling.. There was even a taxidermist on the team. It was a very wonderful, crazy place to be. I fabricated and painted items for dioramas at first, but I found that I really wanted to design the dioramas themselves.

I looked into grad schools and at the time there weren’t many Exhibition Design masters degrees. I decided to go back to architecture school at Rhode Island School of Design. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time.. The program was truly above and beyond. During the completion of my thesis, my advisor Mikyoung Kim recommended I try working for a firm after graduation to see what I thought of it. I took her advice, and landed at a forty-person firm in the suburbs of Washington who had just been hired as a joint partner on the National Museum of the American Indian. I worked on that project for five years, after which I moved to the National Gallery as an architect and exhibition designer.

There we were in charge of everything that the art touched, and everything the visitor saw. This ranged from information desks and little cafes, to picking the wall colors and designing pedestals for the exhibitions, to gutting complete portions of the building to show collections. We worked closely with the curators throughout the installation process as well. You don’t get to touch a Picasso everyday.. With gloves of course!

All of my colleagues were the top in their field, it was a professional and beautiful place to work. We worked on more than a hundred special exhibitions and projects. Last year, almost a year to the day, I left the National gallery after thirteen years there. I returned to SmithGroupJJR ready for a different type of museum.



DL: Would you say your studies at Wake informed or drove your career path?

JA: Yeah, I think so. Double majoring in Art History and Studio Art allowed me to look and think critically and develop my writing skills, whilst developing a sense of aesthetics and my own brand or style in the studio. The combination was really good, although it did need to be layered over with a design education for the career I was pursuing. That’s of course where RISD came in, where they consider design to be an artform. I went into RISD agreeing with that, and left there disagreeing.

 

DL: Do you think Wake arts could have done to better prepare students for life after graduation?

JA: Probably… the thing is, Wake’s career services (at the time) worked really well for other majors, but not necessarily for those in arts concentrations. Career and internship information for students focused on Art History or Studio Art comes basically from the professors. And this of course isn’t a knock against Wake professors, but a lot of times when you’re in an academic institution, you don’t know about all of the opportunities out there because in the academic environment your focus isn’t on that. Grades and growth are the main focus.

The biggest lack of connection was preparing students for portfolio review, and for critiques that weren’t to other students and professors, but to people you’re trying to sell work, or yourself, to. To me it’s the professional practice aspect that was missing. The Buying Trip and Management in the Arts course were very helpful but those experiences aside, it’s challenging. The best way for students to understand what opportunities are out there, is connecting them with alumni. There’s a need for arts-focused career days, either on campus or at a host city. That would be great for Wake’s art department and its students.

In fact, I started something in DC because I noticed there were lots of women there in the art field who graduated from Wake. I decided to pull everyone together during a summer when we had three Wake interns working in the area for various museums. The goal was to have them meet as many of these professional women as possible. Since that initial gathering, we all get together two or three times a year and network with each other. Now there’s a DC rep for WFU, Jennifer Richwine, who we inform about our meetings so more alumnae can get involved. We need to get together again soon, sometimes it's hard... but we will and it's great to have that network.

 

DL: What advice have you got for students in the process of applying to jobs and internships?

JA: I’m a Generation X’er so in the summer of 1990 when I obtained my first internship, nothing was computerized yet in the museum and academic world. I sent typed letters to every museum in DC and heard back from just one. This initial experience taught me to cast a wide net and really put myself out there; you have to if you want to get anywhere. I take that into the present day too, even though emails and online applications are in place to expedite the process; if you don’t ask the question, send the email, you’ll never hear a yes. You have to raise your hand and go for it.

Specific to DC, students wanting to work here should go on usajobs.com and get their profile set up. Most museums are federally run, so you have to fill out a federal application. Secondly, they should speak to the people whose job they want. Whether it’s the job you want now or in ten, twenty years... Talk to them about how to get started. Chances are that something within conversation will remind them of someone they know, and they’ll put you in touch with them. And yes, I mean on the phone or even in person! Be ready to talk, to have very clear questions, and be professional.

 

DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

JA: Architecture takes a lot of follow-through. You have to go to school for a long time, take a lot of exams, and it’s one of those disciplines that’s notorious for its long hours and relatively low pay. You have to love what you’re doing and want to change and build environments. So, I would say the hardest thing is perseverance- you have to be a little stubborn.

 

DL: What kernel of advice would you like to leave with the readers?  

JA: Figure out what you love to do, then figure out how to do it.

 

Spotlight Interview: Kevin Fennell

Kevin Fennell: Architect

Director of Design & Construction at 21c Museum Hotels

WFU Class of 1999

Major: Biology

Minor: Studio Art

Architect Kevin Fennell is very passionate about his hometown of Louisville. As Director of Design & Construction at 21c Museum Hotels, he is taking part in catalyzing the arts and culture wave in the American Midwest. We spoke with Kevin about how his career has unfolded since graduating from Wake Forest.

 

DeacLink:  What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?

Kevin Fennell: I earned a BS in Biology at Wake, and I was actually on the premed track. However, I also had a minor in studio art. I had plans to go to med school, and when I graduated, I did medical research for two years with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. 

As part of the studio art minor, I took an architectural history class. I was very excited about what I was learning, and thought it was something I might want to look into as a career. Instead of transitioning quickly, I wanted to continue on my path in the medical field. While in Chicago, I found a nontraditional architecture program at night. Archeworks is a socially driven architecture design school. Many of the students come from multidisciplinary backgrounds, and you work together as teams on a project that normally has a social focus. I worked on a project with an architect, business person and a product designer to develop a proposal for alternative care for alzheimer's. Other teams were working on products or things related to ADA design. It was structured so that you had year long projects with small teams, and it was a night school program so could maintain a full time job. This program convinced me to apply to architecture school. 

I applied to programs that had two degree programs. I ended up at UPenn, where I received degrees in architecture and landscape architecture. The way it worked is that you apply for one program first (landscape architecture in my case), and spend a year in that program while applying for the other degree (architecture). You spend a year just in the second program, and then your courses are combined for the rest of the program. 

After finishing my graduate degree at UPenn, I then applied to landscape and architecture firms, and I chose to pursue architecture. I worked for a firm in New York, SHoP Architects, for seven years. That was a fantastic experience and group of people, but my wife and I decided to leave and move to Louisville, where I had grown up. I took a job at an architecture firm (GBBN Architects) there, and in October of 2015 I left to join 21c Museum Hotels, which is a boutique hotel company and art museum. They are currently six properties, and we are about to open our seventh. They are a multi-venue museum with curated shows and gallery spaces. 

 

DL: Would you mind telling me more about what you do at 21c? 
KF: I am the Director of Design and Construction. For all intents and purposes, I work with the design team (architects, designers and interior designers) and I work with construction teams as we are building a project. I also work with the development team doing feasibility analyses. Since I have been in the office, we have opened Oklahoma City, and Nashville is about to open. Kansas City is currently under construction. 

 

DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had? 
KF: In the world of architecture and design, every year there is another class of people that is graduating.  One of the great things about this industry is that on job training and apprenticeship is the norm. There are always opportunities as recent graduates to find a job. Firms have a process in place for hiring people without experience and training them. Part of working as an architect is training new people. 

Design and architecture offices are always relying on interns and summer work. Firms gear up and prepare to bring people in the summer for special projects, and firms often hold competitions in the summertime when they have more staff. That’s when you do model making and renderings where students can learn a bit about the design and process of representing their ideas. 

There are not high barriers to entry for this field other than having an advanced degree. Part of the profession is to bring people on and train them. Project teams have a hierarchy, and that is driven by the fact that people are supposed to come in learn the project, and then subsequently grow into running projects of their own. 

 

DL: Architecture is not something most students think about as an undergrad. How do you think they could gain more exposure to the field while in school? 
KF: I think that is a difficult question. I would have taken a very different path if it weren’t for a class I took the last semester of my college career. I wasn’t exposed to the things I need to be exposed to until it was too late. I think that it is good to try and offer people a snapshot into where people have landed. People’s expectations in college don’t always play out. Career choices get fine tuned. 

In North Carolina, the other others schools with an architecture program are UNCC and UNC Greensboro. There’s always opportunities for partnership and independent study. Professors I had in biology and at Wake were very supportive of independent study. They helped me find the overlap between studio art and biology. Students should consider investigating ideas related to architecture, and seeing how they could leverage potential partnerships with other universities to explore these ideas. 

The other thing to think about is internships. Students should try and get into a design office or something they’re interested in. It’s good to work 9-5, get foot in the door, and see if it’s something you want to pursue. 

DL: How do you like living in Louisville? What is the art scene like there?
KF: Louisville is my hometown, and I have a great affection for it. I didn’t expect to be hack here for my career. However, it’s a boomerang town, people come back. It’s a very welcoming place. It’s also a place where you have a great lifestyle with parks, restaurants and bars. There’s great history with the different neighborhoods. Since coming back, I have met people who didn’t have any connections to Louisville who have moved here and have been blown away by it. It is a large small town or a small large city. It has a strong sense of arts and culture, and there is a broader Midwestern culture. The people here also have very different background and perspectives on things. It is a cultured city, the arts community is very supportive and active in outreach to all communities. That defines the city in a lot of ways. 

21c is also reflection of the culture here. It is a window into the activity and things we are doing here. It is a brand that is growing from here to catalyze the art scene in other places. 

 

DL: What advice do you have for students considering moving to Louisville? 
KF: Louisville is a very welcoming city, but I would recommended having a job first before moving here. Also, there are a lot of different kinds of neighbors. Historic and new neighborhoods. You can find the lifestyle and living arrangement you like. 

Louisville is also a city that is large enough that you have resources at your disposal. There are a large number of companies and businesses that are thriving. You can find a network of people to help you do what you want to do . Also the city is not so large that you are in a constant battle and squeezed out by competition. It’s the sort of city that is supportive of professional ambitions. People that have started things in Louisville have been very pleased by what they can do here because of the size of the market and the culture of business. 

 

DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
KF: I was not aware of exposure to a lot of career opportunities. In biology, if you were pre-med, it was assumed that you were pursuing more academics and going to medical school. In the arts, it was very similar; you go on to get your MA or MFA. There was always a vision for more school. I didn't have a lot of exposure to career opportunities, and I don't recall relying on anyone at Wake to help guide me into making connections or jobs after graduation. 

 

Explore the 21c website 

WFU Students, plan your visit to the 21c Durham NC location today 
 

Spotlight Interview: Robert Cox

Robert Cox: Former Architect, Robert A.M. Stern Architects

New York City

WFU Class of 2009

Major: Art History

Minor: Studio Art

North Carolina native Robert Cox made a point of pursuing architecture from his first year at Wake Forest. Building a strong foundation in historical knowledge, Robert honed his creative style through Studio courses and summers abroad on architecture-focused Richter Scholarship travels. We spoke with Robert to learn more about his path into architecture.

*At the time of the interview (02/2017), Cox was with Robert A.M. Stern Architects in New York.

 

DeacLink: What are you currently doing at work?

Robert Cox: I have been working at a firm called Robert A.M. Stern Architects  for almost four years now. It’s a medium-size office with a broad scope of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings (including the new business school at Wake Forest). I worked for two years on a multi-family residential project in New York, and then transitioned about a year ago to another part of the office, focusing on single family homes.

 

DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since graduating from Wake.

RC: I graduted from Wake in 2009 with an Art History major and a Studio Art minor, then took a year off in my hometown of Asheboro, NC to work on my portfolio and apply to grad schools. I was accepted to Columbia's architecture program, and moved to New York in the fall of 2010. After three years of school and a summer of job hunting, I started by current job at RAMSA.

 

DL: Was Columbia your primary focus while selecting a graduate program?

RC: I actually cast a wide net. Because I didn’t have any previous architecture experience, I compiled a portfolio of drawing, photography, and even a little creative writing. I tried to make it speak to my interests and creative pursuits, and hoped that that would resonate with the right school.

 

DL: How much did your time at Wake inform or drive your career path?

RC: I had always thought I’d go into architecture, but Wake Forest was a place where I could get a liberal arts education first, before getting into this very specialized discipline. I think my time at Wake studying architectural history helped confirm for me what I wanted. Spending that time broadening my base knowledge was definitely worthwhile.

 

DL: oming out of your artistic training at Wake, did you feel prepared for life after graduation?

RC: I think, specifically for architecture, I probably could’ve gotten better at digital design tools before starting school. Learning more about 3D modeling, for example, would’ve been a great head start. My first year of architecture school, I was trying to design buildings and learn software at the same time, when I should’ve just been focusing on design. So my advice to anyone going into architecture school: download or find school resources for software, and practice! 

 

DL: rior to what you’re doing now, what other sorts of jobs have you had? How did you find and apply to them?

RC: or better or worse, I spent my summers exploring. I took advantage of being a young college student, rather than piling on office experience. The summer of 2008, between my junior and senior year, I studied (with Wake’s help!) in Jamaica and in Italy through two different programs. In Jamaica, I joined UVA’s architecture school in their historic preservation field school, which was very cool. After that, I traveled to Rome on the Richter grant, completing an individual study of contemporary religious architecture in Italy.

 

DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

RC: I was applying for jobs during the lingering aftermath of 2008, so hiring was just beginning to pick back up in the architecture world. There were more architects than there were positions, so it took me a while. Having a degree from a well-known program like Columbia helped for sure, but it was also an expensive degree -- which doesn’t always compare well with an architect’s salary. So, coming from a good school is great for getting hired, but you have to be willing to pay for it (or hustle hard for that scholarship).

 

DL: How do you like living and working in NYC? Do you have any advice for students wanting to move there?

RC: I’ve been here six years. I was never one of those people completely enthralled by the city, but I wasn’t hating every minute, either. You meet both types here. The best advice I have is to show up ready for things to be different from just about anywhere else in the US. Be ready to go with the frenetic flow, and try to love New York even when it’s not loving you back.

 

DL: hat has surprised you the most about the art scene in New York?

RC: I actually live very close to the West Chelsea gallery streets, so I often walk down there on Saturday mornings to get coffee and check things out. It’s been one of the most specifically New York things that I’ve gotten to experience here. There’s a constant rotation of new and exciting art, free and open to the public.

 

DL: What and where is next for you?

RC: I’ll stay at my current job for the time being. I still have lots to learn, and I’m enjoying my work. The biggest thing for me next is the completion of a book I’m writing/illustrating… that’s coming down the line, hopefully soon.

 

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

RC: I have the tendency to get pretty zoomed in on my work and stay there. And I think one thing I’ve learned that’s worthwhile: periodically take a step back and look at the big picture, and see how everything fits together.