Earlier in June, I posted the following entry — PIVOT AND EXPAND YOUR CAREER IN ARCHITECTURE — to state that I would highlight individuals / professional colleagues who have pursued careers BEYOND the traditional path.

First, is Amanda Harrell-Seyburn who was highlighted in Becoming an Architect: A Guide to Careers in Design – 3rd Edition. Read and learn more about her career in architecture but beyond.

Citizen Architect

Amanda Harrell-Seyburn, M.Arch, Associate AIA, Adjunct Professor – School of Architecture, University of Detroit, Detroit, MI

Why did you become an architect?

I love buildings, great and small. I am interested in the structure and design of buildings, from a garden shed to the family house to the state capitol. I want to design them all.  Plus, architecture is the ultimate confluence of art and science.

Centsible House, Lansing, Michigan. DESIGN / WATERCOLOR: BY AMANDA HARRELL-SEYBURN.

Why did you decide to choose the school that you did to attend for your architecture degree(s)? What degrees do you possess?

The philosophy of the School of Architecture at Andrews University is to practice architecture of real and lasting value while being both socially and environmentally responsible primarily attracted me. The school promotes the craft in architecture throughout the curriculum training me to design buildings that are dignified, durable, purposeful, and a delight to the senses. My architecture education provided an excellent mix of theory and practice that contribute to my success in architecture.

I have a Master of Architecture from Andrews University and an undergraduate degree in art history from Kalamazoo College.

With a previous degree in Art History, what prompted you to pursue architecture?

Architecture was the natural progression following my studies in art history. Art history is not simply the appreciation of paintings but is the study of society examined through the visual arts in terms of historical, social, geographical, cultural, psychological, and architectural contexts. Architecture is prominent in the history of art.

In fact while studying art history and curating at the University of London, my interest in architecture grew. As a result I wrote a thesis examining art and the nature of the buildings in which it is displayed. Eventually I found myself more interested in the aesthetic and structure of the buildings than the art hanging on the wall. My art history education taught me to think critically, observe carefully, and understand subtle nuances of technique and the impact of light that are abilities that I use every day in my architecture career.

What are your primary responsibilities and duties as a faculty member at University of Detroit?

I am an instructor and a researcher at the School of Architecture. My research is primarily focused on high performance buildings in the Great Lakes Region.  My other work includes green building development research with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as part of the Sustainable Park Planning Project. I am also collaborating with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to reimagine the State for the 21st century. I teach courses including Integrated Sustainable Built Environment, an interdisciplinary studio course, and 3D Computer Modeling and Structural Systems.

In addition, my portfolio is diverse with experience ranging from single-family home design to award winning master planning. Much of this experience was gained prior to my current position.  I have worked for several small architecture firms doing schematic design and computer modeling. I have also worked for urban planning firms as an urban designer during charrettes and post-production masterplan hand-drawn watercolor renderings.

Aside from being a faculty member, you also served as architecture critic for the Lansing City Pulse Newspaper.  How did you obtain this opportunity and how has it helped your architecture career?

A literary critic at the newspaper thought I would be a good addition to the paper and recommended me to the editor. My role began with limited contributions and grew into a weekly column on architecture and urbanism. My writings highlighted successes and examine opportunities. The critical examination of architecture in the mid-Michigan region has dramatically expanded my knowledge of architecture in terms of regional aesthetics, materials, and construction practices that in turn, makes me a better designer and scholar.

What does it mean to be a citizen-architect and why are you passionate about it.

A citizen architect uses his/her talents and training to contribute meaningfully to the improvement of the community. I believe that architecture is about doing something, not being someone. I translate this philosophy into action currently by providing education to the public through my weekly column, serving on the East Lansing Historic District Commission, and teaching.

What is the most / least satisfying part of a career as an architect?

Educating people on the value of architecture, as a designer and a columnist, is the most satisfying part of what I get to do. I also revel in seeing a design go from concept to physical existence.

What is the most surprising part of your career in architecture?

The amount of writing I do is unexpected. In architecture school, I was once told that writing is as important as drawing to an architect. I dismissed the notion but have come to find that I write daily about architecture.

What are your 5-year and 10-year career goals relative to architecture?

I plan to obtain my architectural license within five years. In ten years, I see myself as a leader in the Michigan architecture community, working to raise the profile of the profession and promote the value of design in the Great Lakes region.

Who or what experience has been a major influence on your career?

Architects who are not only practitioners but also teach are my greatest inspiration. There is no greater way to give back to the profession than by educating. I consider the mentor who provides advice and counsel to a young architect, the architect who hires an intern and provides them the opportunity to earn experience, and the professor who teaches the basics to a student to all be engaged in ensuring the future of architecture.  I am shaping my career to encompass practice and scholarship.

If you are pursuing a career BEYOND architecture and wish to share your experiences, please contact me — archcareersguide@gmail.com

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