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Gerri Kielhofner on Exploring Design, Evolution, and Inspiration

This Q&A is part of a series of interviews with BRP architects, designers, and others in the firm about their career journey, and the impact that architecture and design can have on our communities and the collective human experiences. Today, we sat down with Gerri Kielhofner to explore her journey in the architecture industry. Gerri's reflections on the evolution of architectural tools and the importance of clear communication underscore the dynamic nature of the profession. We hope her story inspires others to pursue a career in architecture with passion and dedication.

1. Can you briefly describe your background and how you got started in the field of architecture?

I grew up in Hays, KS next to my grandparents’ farm, and I watched my father and grandfather always building things, like an addition to our house and a metal shed behind our house, which my sisters and I got to help with.   In grade school, I started drawing house plans for fun, and around middle school, some family members saw what I was doing and suggested I might want to become an architect.  I remember smiling and saying “Yes!”  After that, I made a conscientious effort to take classes in high school that might help me become an architect. and I applied to several universities, finally settling on Kansas State University since they had a very good program only a few hours from home.  After graduation, I worked for a year and a half in Kansas City, MO, and then I took a job at BRP Architects in Springfield, over 37 years ago, where my husband (fiancé at the time) Brad was living and working.  

2. How has the architecture industry evolved since you began your career?

What significant changes or trends have you observed?  I think the production of construction documents using computers has been the biggest evolution since I went to college, where there were no computers for producing drawings.   Luckily, computers were available at BRP Architects while I was still very young, and it was easy to make the transition.  What I find however is that no computer can substitute for being able to sketch up ideas, lay all of these sketches out on your desk, turn them upside down as Tim Rosenbury always suggested, revise and revise until you finally see what works in sketch form rather than on a computer screen.  AI is becoming very popular, but no computer can substitute for the creative human mind - at least not for architecture!

3. What skills and qualities do you believe are essential for success in the architecture field?

The most essential tool/skill/quality for success in architecture is being able to communicate clearly and concisely, not just through our drawings but through written language.  If we can’t explain clearly to a client or a contractor what we’ve designed and wish to be built, the chances of success are diminished greatly.  I probably spend way too much time writing and rewriting emails and specs, and reviewing and redlining drawings, trying to make sure that what we communicate is correct and concise.  It sounds easy, but it’s not, because there are multiple ways to interpret our language and even our graphics.   What every architect figures out though is if you don’t take the time to do it right the first time, you’ll spend multiple more hours fixing the problem later.  So, communicate correctly the first time and save yourself time and trouble later. 

4. What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job as an architect?

What keeps you motivated and passionate about your work?   It is so rewarding to see a project completely built after the team has spent weeks, months, and many times even years working on the project.  I’ve been fortunate to have never repeated the same project twice, so each new project has a unique site requirement, code restrictions, design challenges, construction issues, etc. There are no dull moments in this career!   

5. What do you believe sets your architecture firm apart from others in the industry, and what advice would you give to potential employees who are considering joining your team?

I’ve always believed this firm was unique because of our dedication to providing individuals with the ability to grow their careers through a broad experience range.  We work on multiple project types in our firm, with a variety of construction types, building materials, climate, and environmental conditions, on sites located not only in this region but throughout the US, requiring experience with several different codes and restrictions.  This variety has allowed tremendous growth professionally for every individual because no one is ever targeted to only work on one type of project or construction type.   It’s quite a challenge keeping up with all of the unique conditions we experience throughout the US, and everyone, including recent college graduates, is assigned to a broad variety of projects over the course of their career makes it challenging and exciting to work here, as opposed to a firm that focuses mainly on schools, or hospitals, or industrial development. I would also add that even though I've worked on probably 60 plus hotels during my career, those hotels had restaurants, cafes, coffee bars,  rooftop bars, retail space, meeting and convention facilities, classrooms, fitness centers, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, pickleball and basketball courts, spas, lounges, libraries, laundries, security, administration offices, and of course an abundance of differing hotel room types, so there is so much to learn from just this one occupancy type alone. 


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