Noël was raised an only child, but became a big sister when her 12 year old brother was born. She is originally from Lanham, Maryland, but she moved a few times growing up. She spent her middle school years in Kentucky and attended High School and College in Hampton, Va. Noël’s original interest was in Arts & Crafts, not yet realizing how far her designs could take her. “Planning ahead is such a critical factor to success.” she said. Also mentioning how pivotal her work as a college student was in her obtaining a job post grad. Perhaps the blueprint for architectural success has been in her metal portfolio all along.
Noël and I met up at a spot in Old Town Alexandria called La Madeleine. On the way to the restaurant I couldn’t help but notice the vintage architecture throughout the streets. It definitely set the tone for the day’s conversation. Noël has a Master’s Degree in Architecture but has been putting her skills to use since the day she stepped on the yard. Noël has traveled the world to study and work in multiple nations. In line with that, she worked on a solar powered house project for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. She also had a significant hand in designing Hampton’s multi-million dollar cafeteria that was just completed last year. As Noël’s firm works predominantly for the government, she doesn’t always get the time to present her work to the digital world. It’s my pleasure to recognize a young female architect designing her own future, one blueprint at a time in this week’s #ShineHard Conversation.
What is your passion and when did you know?
Noël: I’ve always been into arts and crafts and working with my hands. I took a drafting class my freshmen year of high school and just kinda stuck with it. I try to figure that out, what I’m truly passionate about everyday. I get frustrated with what I’m doing right now. I ask myself “What would be fulfilling me the way that I want to?” Right now I’m just getting the experience I need to where I can make my own decision wherever I go, and that’s getting a architecture licence. The firm I’m with now is really good to me. Fostering my knowledge of everything so I can get to where I want to go.
Who did you look up to as a kid? Mentors?
Noël: Well, my mom. She’s like the epitome of a professional woman to me, so that’s what I’ve had to go by. She worked in corporate america for a while and she’s a teacher now. I also had a Sunday school teacher who was an architect. He got me my first job in college interning with RRMM Architects and Livas Group Architects. Any new building on Hampton’s Campus comes through that office. So I got to work on the new Cafe. That was really cool. It was like eight years in the making!
What you do here at your current firm?
Noël: We write the blueprints for government office building renovations all over the world. We write the instruction book that is read by constructors, and we make sure that it is being followed the way that it’s supposed to be.
What I like about what I do is that, even though it’s not glamorous right now, working on government office buildings, but you can form the way somebody experiences a space that they’re in. The room, a certain size or a certain color, whether it’s close to a window or not. Being able to move someone from the interaction with the space.
Tell me about some of your travels as an architect and what you’ve learned..?
Noël: I started traveling first in college on our spring breaks. Each year we would go somewhere overseas. Some were for photography or drawing class with the architecture department. Then after we got the hang of how to do it, we would just go on our own as just a group of students. Part of the Architecture curriculum is to study abroad over the summer. We went to France for a month. I remember sitting in the airport on a layover in London and I would see every nationality walking pass. Those European airports are hubs for the world. People coming from everywhere and you can touch every part of the world within your sight. It’s just awesome.
So where all have you traveled?
Noël: Greece, Spain, France, Czech Republic, and Haiti. My favorite place would be in the Czech Republic. It was the first overseas trip I went on and I compared everything to that. It’s just the way that city has been preserved over hundreds of years. It’s just magical.
What inspires you to succeed?
Noël: Thinking about your question before like, “What is your passion?” I think it’s to have a family and be an example for the younger ones in my family. So being good at what I do is a part of that. What I do is architecture. It’s what I’ve chosen as my path, so I’m going to do what I have to do to get to that top. Knowing that your family is looking up to you, you just want to do really great things. My family inspires me.
Whats been the biggest challenge in your career this far?
Noël: I’m in a field where a lot of people don’t look like me, so being a black woman may be different to a lot of people that are established here. It’s challenging to relate sometimes. You know, say I’m out on a survey, and anyone that doesn’t look like me can’t relate to the things that I relate to, doesn’t have the same struggles that I’m faced with. So, that’s whats hardest for me right now. I’m still learning how to navigate in a field that I don’t relate to most people in it. I’m really sensitive to how I’m treated. Not that I’ve been treated bad, I just recognize that I’m really different. I work in a really small firm so it’s easy to get feedback. I’m just glad I’ve been equipped the way I have been through my work experience in school to be able to meet the expectation. I do get good feedback that I’m a valuable member of that team.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Noël: I would say getting to where I am now. The role I have. I certainly didn’t do it by myself. I’m proud of the steps that I’ve taken to get to where I am. The right steps in the right order. Starting in grade school, finishing college, working through internships, meeting the right people, and getting a job right out of college.
What frustrates you most about today’s culture?
Noël: I guess its frustrating that we’re so reliant on our devices, and I’m a part of it too. We lose touch with the living things right in front of us. Even with work, the technology moves so fast, there’s always something to learn. There’s always a new product being brought out. The products that you can use are endless, so you really gotta stay on top of the materials. There’s always something to read or learn.
What would you say is the #1 factor behind your success?
Noël: The support that I’ve gotten throughout this journey. From my family, and my friends too. My mom and my grandfather were instrumental in the school part, and making sure I finish the school part. *laughs*
What advice would you give to young aspiring Architects out there?
Noël: There’s so many cool things we get to do with architecture while in school, but you have got to be open minded to what a job can offer you after that. Because it may not be exactly what you thought the profession was. Like coming out of school, you may think you can design the next great office building or skyline, but that comes with some time first. Remember to pay your dues.
Johnny: I feel you. Progress is a Process. Noel, design your way to the top! #ShineHard.