Carol J.W. Kurth, FAIA, Allied Member ASID, LEED AP, is an award-winning architect and interior designer, and Principal of Carol Kurth Architecture, PC + Carol Kurth Interiors, LTD, in Bedford, New York. Ms. Kurth established her multi-disciplinary practice in 1995, where she designs distinctive architecture and interior spaces that layer modernism with traditional elements and gestures.
Beginnings – What attracted you to architecture and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience, or mentor, that helped steer you toward this field?
It was a passion for buildings and a love for design that brought me to a life in architecture.
I was always drawn to creating and I was fortunate to have had several family members, including my parents, who helped to nurture my curiosity and encouraged me to work hard, love what I do, and excel in school (especially math)! Being born and educated in New York City, I was exposed to the city’s plethora of culture and frequently visited art museums. I was also intrigued by the diversity of both buildings and neighborhoods – the city was truly my classroom!
As a child, my interest in spacemaking and design evolved from hours immersed in doll-making. The focus was not on playing with dolls, but creating homes, furniture, and fashion for them. At 13, my dolls were featured in the New York Times and exhibited at The Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art – this exposure made evident to me the impact design could have beyond just a personal hobby.
In high school, I had a chance conversation with a family friend (who had just finished his first year studio at CCNY School of Architecture) and discovered that the true intersection of art, drawing, and spacemaking was actually architecture! This revelation defined for me, all that I had been looking for and I soon applied to CCNY School of Architecture. I knew from my first design studio that I had found my passion and career path. My years at CCNY were truly life-changing!
Since then, my career in architecture has taken many directions and I have worn many hats, including being a mother, partner in two architectural design/build firms, developer, contractor, adjunct professor, entrepreneur, mentor, dedicated alumna, and principal of my own architecture and interior design firm.
What does “architecture culture” signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to, and/or changing, this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?
To me, “architecture culture” is a lifestyle derived from the rigors and intensity of the studio environment in architecture school. These habits – the lack of sleep, incessant deadlines, and the intense demand for producing — oftentimes transition into the professional lives of architects. In my opinion, this “culture” is unsustainable and leaves little time for a balanced family and creative life. This aspect alone has caused many talented and capable architects, in particular, women who want to have families, to leave the profession in search of a lifestyle less demanding. (Though in my opinion, parenthood is a much harder profession than architecture!)
My hope is to change this trend by providing my employees with a healthy work and family balance — this includes providing them flexible hours and extended maternity leave. I also believe that it is vital to give back to the community and to the profession — mentoring and volunteering are important aspects of my life and of my firm’s “architectural culture.” As architects, we must do everything we can to help people see the world “through the lens of design.”
Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?
Design your life and be willing to take risks – sometimes these risks turn out to be rewards beyond anything you could have imagined! Be willing to reinvent your life at different stages and take care to surround yourself with positive people.
Most importantly, follow your passion and trust your intuition. Only you know what is right for you — and do not let money, gender, or race deter you from your dreams.
Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?
The Cloisters, for its majestic siting in Fort Tryon Park. The museum rises out of the cliffs in northern Manhattan and has amazing views of the Palisades. The idea of “outdoor rooms” is a concept that I reference often in my work.
Fallingwater is my favorite building – it’s a daring, organic, and layered composition that truly embodies the “completeness” of design – from the doorknobs to the dishes, and the fabric to the furnishings. I love that Frank Lloyd Wright created an entire lifestyle for his clients – he was committed to his craft and Fallingwater exemplifies this vision.
Relevant Links: Carol Kurth, FAIA, DNA profile here