Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, Makes a Place


Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA. Photo Courtesy of Leers Weinzapfel Associates.

Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA, is a principal and co-founder of Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates, the first women-owned firm in history to win the American Institute of Architects Firm Award (2007). Ms. Weinzapfel has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona. Ms. Weinzapfel and Principal Andrea Leers, FAIA, are the featured speakers at the 2014 Women of Architecture program, BWAF’s annual lecture series in collaboration with the National Building Museum.

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?

I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, in a place of great desert beauty with cactus and arroyos at close scale and boundary mountains and sweeping valleys at the larger scale. It was a place that enjoyed a cultural resonance with nearby northern Mexico. My first experiences were living on a small ranch near the edge of the foothills and the normally dry Rillito River. I formed an interest in architecture early on, in part because my father was a contractor builder and land developer, and in part because my mother always had interesting ideas for the design of the new home my father would build each time our growing family increased in size. I started work as an architectural intern and sole employee of Max R. Garcia in San Francisco, and I very much enjoyed the energy of that great city. Max gave me immediate responsibility in many tasks in a sink or swim fashion and freely offered me his vital views on the philosophy of architecture and best practice. I studied at the University of Arizona, as one of the first women graduates of the then very young architecture program. Its diverse group of excellent faculty from around the country included some who had been taught by Louis Kahn, and a Rome Prize winner. Professors Don Johnson, Gordon Heck, Kirby Lockhard, James Gresham, and especially Duane Cote each offered unique support and challenge.

Massachusetts General Hospital, Museum of Medical History and Innovation, Location: Boston MA, Architect: Leers Weinzapfel. Photo Courtesy of Leers Weinzapfel Associates.

Massachusetts General Hospital, Museum of Medical History and Innovation, Location: Boston MA, Architect: Leers Weinzapfel. Photo Credit: Anton Grassl/Esto

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?

We are at an exciting time of a developing shared world culture, and architecture may have the opportunity to embody attributes that are meaningful to a wide, evolving global society.  Meanwhile local societies and institutions preserve a rich understanding of shared local values and symbols and how these are conveyed through architecture. CultureNow is a nonprofit organization mapping history, art, and architecture in the public realm creating a ‘museum without walls,’ in cities throughout the US. Boston by Foot and the Chicago Architecture Foundation are organizers of architecture tours in their communities. My hope is that excellence in architecture continues to inspire a growing body of creative souls, and that it provides expression of shared understanding. Expressions of sustainable principles may be especially potent in this critical era.

Oak Hall, University of Connecticut. Photo Courtesy of Leers Weinzapfel Associates.

Oak Hall, University of Connecticut. Photo Credit: Charles Mayer

Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?

Look and draw as a way of seeing architecture, space, structure, and light. Study the history of ideas, art history, and architectural history. Learn the terminology of building and materials, programmatic objectives, and sustainable principles. Observe what inspires you in nature and the built environment. Relate what you enjoy in music, dance, art and current culture to architecture. Explore the interconnections between landscape and architecture, architecture and interior design, and architecture and urban design. Research accredited architecture programs and find a good fit for yourself and your interests. Prepare for life balance and lifelong learning.

Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?

Favorite sites include almost anywhere that the sea meets the land. Favorite places include almost any walkable Italian town with sheltering urban spaces that support dynamic interaction. A favorite building is San Xavier del Bac—with its five domes, it is one of the most complex of the Spanish missions of the American Southwest and Mexico. It both maintains a rich cultural heritage and is burdened with a complex colonial history. It is a rich ensemble of well-proportioned spaces and building elements; it is a beautiful object in its desert setting; it contributes to a sense of past and present community; and it is worth preserving.


University of Pennsylvania Gateway Complex, Philadephia, PA. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron/Esto

Relevant Links:

– National Building Museum 2014: Woman of Architecture: Extended Territories: Leers Weinzapfel Associates
Q & A, Leers & Weinzapfel
Leers Weinzapfel Associates

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