Elizabeth Timme is one of four co-founders of a brand spanking new design and planning office based in Los Angeles: Office of: Office. Elizabeth, a third generation architect, born in Texas and raised in LA, is best known for her work as founding co-director of LA-Más, a small but notable non-profit, “designing and building initiatives that promote neighborhood resilience and elevate the agency of working class communities of color.”
In its early days, LA-Más worked with the Northeast LA Community Plan Riverfront Collaborative. Their work ranged from affordable housing to storefronts for small business owners, shining a much needed spotlight on homelessness, housing shortages, and how to stabilize communities ahead of gentrification. Projects included ADUs (Backyard Homes Project), the Watts Community Studio project, the Reseda Boulevard Great Streets Initiative, and Backyard Basics, a proposal for affordable housing in Elysian Valley.
Elizabeth loves the field of architecture, but she is cognizant of the industry’s warts, including lack of diversity and accessibility in both the industry and its clients. She has said “I fundamentally challenge the layers of bureaucracy that strangle our ability to service environments that don’t have the resources to challenge, or to lobby, or to invest in something better than the status quo.” At Office of: Office the mantra is always community first.
LA-Más was named as an 2018 Emerging Voice by the Architecture League, and Elizabeth has been on the Women of the Year list by Los Angeles Magazine, a Curbed’s Young Gun of the Year, and recipient of the Vanguard Big Idea Challenge in 2019. She has written for Manifest Journal, Log 48, and Tablula Plena. Before LA-Más she served as project manager and development officer at MASS Design.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:05] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate for good. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors, those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo in order to build better for everyone.
Eve: [00:00:40] Elizabeth Timme is no snowflake. Strong and outspoken with degrees in architecture under her belt, she’s building an alternative career on the strong beliefs she holds. That great design should be a right, not a privilege. A third generation architect born in Texas with childhood years spent in Italy and West Indies, Elizabeth has made roots in L.A.. First, she co-founded La Mas in northeast L.A. and now Office of Office, a nonprofit focused on designing joyful and careful places in collaboration with communities. You’ll want to hear more.
Eve: [00:01:23] If you’d like to join me in my quest to rethink real estate, there are two simple things you can do share this podcast and go to rethinkrealestateforgood.co, where you can subscribe to be the first to hear about my podcasts, blog posts and other goodies.
Eve: [00:01:48] Hello, Elizabeth. It’s really nice to have you here today.
Elizabeth Timme: [00:01:51] It’s wonderful to be here.
Eve: [00:01:53] So, you’re an architect by training, but you launched LA-Más now office of: Office, which are really not typical architecture firms. And you’ve been heard to say great design should be a right, not a privilege. So, how does that all come together?
Elizabeth: [00:02:11] Well, I think it really starts from having the perspective of being a third generation architect. And also, my father really came from a blue collar family, household, and so did my mother. In Texas doing industry trades, working for Howard Hughes oil and, on both sides of the family. And for me, I saw how far and how hard my father worked to be able to kind of become middle class. And so, it’s always really been important to me that architecture was broadened and widened to include individuals perspective and voice who didn’t have the privilege that I had to come into an upper middle class family where a college education was assumed. And I think there’s so much really profound substance to the dialogue of architecture in city making and place keeping that is not a part of the table when people who have challenges, who don’t have safety nets and have a lot of pain associated with living in modern cities or anywhere, their perspective isn’t represented and their perspective doesn’t fundamentally shape how we go about building cities and keeping cities. Right. So, I think that my perspective around these two different practices and even going back from the naissance of my professional career, is that architecture should and can be of service and really wanting for there to be more diversity in the field and the conversation.
Eve: [00:04:05] So then you launched LA Más and now Office of: Office. And how, how do they, take me on that journey.
Elizabeth: [00:04:12] Well, I think it really began in 2008 when I went into my graduate career and, as a graduate student. And that was the beginning of the Great Recession. And that was very different than my undergraduate education, where in 2005 I was being offered 401Ks and really cushy things and architecture seemed.
Eve: [00:04:43] Yeah, ofcourse.
Elizabeth: [00:04:44] And my friends were negotiating for that. They were like, Where are you picking? Like, Who has the best 401K and what is your health insurance? And it was so wild and so different and architecture seemed like a very stable place to have a professional, lifelong career. And then when I went back into graduate school, it was because I was really frustrated with the lack of innovation and curiosity that was present in the architecture firms that I was working in. And I graduated in 2010, and there was no career opportunities. The architecture profession and, neck and neck with law, was the most unemployed professional discipline in the United States.
Eve: [00:05:32] But it makes sense, right? Like all of those developers went out of business and boom, everyone else attached to them went out of business.
Elizabeth: [00:05:41] Absolutely. And I think that also the schools, and I’ve been witness to this, they churn out tons of kids who really have a lot of strong ideals about shaping the world and supporting a better future. And there’s not a real clear professional conduit for getting a job.
Eve: [00:06:02] I think that’s right. Yeah. I think architecture has been treated as a really precious career. And yet architects are so well trained to do so many things, right?
Elizabeth: [00:06:14] Absolutely. And also the numbers and the NCARB AIA and the licensing process has gotten better. But if you look at how many architects graduate school every year versus how many, and we’re I’m a little off topic, but how many licensed architects are active in our profession? I want to say it’s in the thousands of licensed architects, whereas it’s like hundreds of thousands of architects graduate.
Eve: [00:06:43] Interesting.
Elizabeth: [00:06:43] And so, we have a really impoverished process that supports really curious young perspectives, being able to call themselves architects. And so, I graduated in 2010, and the career that I knew and the career that I had watched my father had, for instance, was not an option for me. And it wasn’t just not an option for me. It wasn’t an option for any of my peers. It wasn’t an option for people who I had gone to undergrad with and they had lost their jobs. And so, it was really a. Paul Nakazawa, who was one of my mentors in grad school. He was a business, he got his major in business and architecture. He always said the recession was the most valuable time for him to retool and recalibrate about why he was doing anything.
Elizabeth: [00:07:39] And so, to graduate in that climate, it made me really question what the value of the architectural practice was and why I would be a part of it. And so, this was radical for me, where the values in which I grew up in, in the household I grew up in, instead of going to playgrounds, I was going to Roman ruins, right? So, it was very hard to unlink that from some core identity that I had. And so, there, you know, I worked at another kind of nonprofit architecture firm, really saw the kind of inner workings of that. And I founded LA Más, three months pregnant with kind of coming back from grad school in 2012 and seeing a conversation happening with urban planners and landscape architects around the future of the city, and about the kind of early underpinnings of gentrification and displacement and really, really being curious about what that meant, but also wanting to add value and support that conversation and not see it being had in the discipline of development and architecture.
Eve: [00:08:52] So what sort of projects did you work on in LA Más when you launched?
Elizabeth: [00:08:55] So when I launched, we started working on the Northeast L.A. Community Plan River Riverfront Collaborative, and this was kind of early. So the CRA also, the Community Redevelopment Agency, had been dissolved by Jerry Brown to balance the budget in maybe 2010, or between 2010 and 2012. And there were the early seedlings of all of that lack of investment in the state of California and in specifically Los Angeles. So what that meant is new library sites were not being identified and developed, storefronts and small businesses weren’t being supported. The public realm and the public right of way didn’t have a clear conduit for investment. There were all of these ways in which there wasn’t an agency that was proactively developing and supporting existing communities and neighborhoods. And so, we were starting parallel with the mayor at the time, Eric Garcetti, who was doing a lot of urban planning initiatives like Great Streets and Parklet work.We were starting a critical conversation in parallel to that about how are we going to be stabilizing communities ahead of gentrification.
Elizabeth: [00:10:13] And so, the neighborhood plan for northeast L.A. was about identifying sites where there was community power and community stakeholders and the built environment didn’t match the kind of thriving residents and thriving cultural activity that was happening there. And so, from there, we went into doing some of the great streets work where there were 15 boulevards identified by 15 councilmen in the 15 council districts that were kind of these quasi vanity projects around, let’s do something cool to really make L.A. Streets great. And we started off by saying, listen, the the metrics that you all have for success don’t match the ways in which you should make it accessible to invest in communities. Why are you talking about $100,000 of steel furniture when we could do something out of marine grade plywood with a certain type of finish and it would cost us 10,000. Why aren’t you doing it in coalition with community members and non-profits? Why are you doing it in a silo and a political process? Why are you not considering the small business adjacent to the public realm and their right to expand their operating and stabilize their income through being able to access the sidewalk?
Elizabeth: [00:11:37] And so, we did a lot of work that was design plus in that period where we were doing community engagement, but we were really partnering with the small business owners to redefine what it meant to invest in the public right of way. That the storefront and the small business owners right didn’t end at the store, at the beginning of the sidewalk, that it extended to the middle of the street. And that the pedestrian needed to really have a visible imprint in the city and that a pedestrian oriented public space was more important than a car oriented one. And so, it’s all these “duh” things that were very easy for us to establish in those first half of our existence, to be able to have a conversation in parallel with the political one where we’re actually implementing projects with very different short term time frames, in partnership with community members and with drastically more accessible budgets.
Eve: [00:12:39] Sounds like really hard work.
Elizabeth: [00:12:41] It was. Yes, it was. And in tandem with that, I was building my family. I have three kids and I was pregnant every two years, and in not a strategic way at all, while we were doing the majority of that.
Eve: [00:12:58] Just makes you work harder. Being a mother makes you very focused, doesn’t it?
Elizabeth: [00:13:03] Yeah. And for me, it was a huge amount of creative energy that came from that process, kind of birthing some very early seedlings of ideas as well as birthing children. It was pretty powerful and I don’t hear women talking about that very much. And I’m guessing it’s probably because there’s not clear avenues by women led conversations, but it felt very organic to be creative personally and professionally at the same time.
Eve: [00:13:35] You know, for me as a mother, I think what fell away was everything else I was wasting my time on. I had to be ultra focused on the family and the work, and the rest of it was like, poof, you know, no time for that, you know?
Elizabeth: [00:13:49] And it is interesting because I have had periods where I’m not the best mentor because I’m at home doing that work.
Eve: [00:14:00] Yes.
Elizabeth: [00:14:00] And I think that there’s a real backlash professionally if women aren’t willing to do the work of mentorship.
Eve: [00:14:07] Oh, really?
Elizabeth: [00:14:08] Yeah. I think that, you know, and I kind of battled that in my office. And I think I’ve been able to walk a middle line. But the idea that you wouldn’t come to the table to nurture other people in a in a professional environment, I think in some ways you don’t realize it’s expected of you until you graduate into a profession that is so reliant on mentorship. And yet you see people who are excelling, not giving any of it, not offering any of it. And that was one of the biggest challenges with me having working in a traditional, quote unquote architecture practice is there was no conduit for me to be mentored by anyone in a position of power. I had to find it myself.
Eve: [00:14:50] Yeah, I think that’s true, yes.
Elizabeth: [00:14:53] Across the board, you know. I think the kind of boomer mentality is that everyone’s a special snowflake. And I don’t think that that really extends to, how do we mentor a younger group in some of these kind of hard skills.
Eve: [00:15:07] Right.
Elizabeth: [00:15:08] So anyhow, I think the expectation was that you have to do that, offer that mentorship in a kind of nurturing environment. And I think that that was a real limitation that I had early in this career that I’m talking about, because I didn’t have that creative ability.
Elizabeth: [00:15:28] Interesting. So let me ask you about the very playful and bold architectural language you use and how you arrived at that. How does that fit into the story?
Elizabeth: [00:15:39] Well, it really did begin, I lost both of my parents when I was 23, the year that I was graduating from college, four months apart from completely preventable. And my my father had lung cancer that could have been prevented if caught earlier and my mom had a stroke that could have been treated if it hadn’t been misdiagnosed. And so, I’m an only child and my parents were very work focused, so I didn’t have a strong relationship at the time with our extended family, and I felt very alone. And very placeless. And I really immersed myself in the different communities of Los Angeles. In Little Tokyo, and my favorite restaurant or in Little Ethiopia. Having a conversation with some store owners about how they kind of weathered the civil unrest or the earthquake and the kind of network of community members that they relied on over coffee. Ethiopian coffee we were having together, or even going up to Northridge and working in a clothing store. And so for me, through small business owners, mainly, I developed this kind of extended network of understanding and being connected to people’s oral history. And every instance everyone was a person of color or a black individual, right? Kind of bringing me into something that felt larger.
Elizabeth: [00:17:20] And I went from feeling so alone and empty to so full and full of joy. And I think I got to move through that grieving process because I was able to connect and share a kind of much richer collective community experience that doesn’t exist within the white framework. And I felt so much, and I continue to feel so much gratitude and joy about what it means to live in Los Angeles, and joy when I connect to others and I am kind of brought into community that I want to celebrate that and I want to kind of have the world reflect all of that incredible exuberance that exists. And it makes me upset when people move from New York and they come to Los Angeles and they talk so much shit about the city. And it makes me really mad because I know moving from Houston when I was 13 and then losing my parents ten years later how much play, how much fun, how much vibrancy exists in this city. And it’s because of a bunch of dead male planners that existed nearly 100 years ago that the city looks the way it does. It has nothing to do with the people who live here.
Eve: [00:18:45] Yeah, it’s going to take a lot to change it.
Elizabeth: [00:18:48] If we could all remember that it was made by a handful of people, if not less, over a very short period of time. And we’re just kind of playing that out rather than challenging it.
Eve: [00:19:00] So then it was really top down, and what you’re doing is this bubbling bottom up stuff that we hope is going to seep through to everything.
Elizabeth: [00:19:09] I think that if you present a parallel world that is the one that people could choose and you show them how, then you build in where they have the agency to choose it and the ability for their identity and their lived experience to shape it. I think that that’s far more sustainable and powerful than whatever these kind of starchitect solutions are that are pretty boring and age terribly and look dated so quickly. I mean, you know, our culture moves so rapidly now and thanks to the Internet and technology that people finish construction on these projects and they’re already getting made fun of, and it’s because they’re just not very resilient systems in which we could put forward civic investment and institutional investment in the city.
Eve: [00:20:03] So tell me, like Office of: Office, how is that different as a practice and is it for profit or nonprofit? was LA Más non-profit?
Elizabeth: [00:20:13] Yeah, we were a non-profit. And so, what happened is during the beginnings of the pandemic, we were already looking at restructuring so that we could be place based. And this is a strange bucket to think about, because outside of Los Angeles, we are place based in Los Angeles. Inside Los Angeles, you understand the city to be a region. The county of Los Angeles includes 88 cities. And the city of Los Angeles is a kind of gerrymandered, strange object that touches all of these different 15 council districts that in and of themselves are different cities. And we really wanted to look at what it meant to be doing community led community development. And so we began that process. And when you say that what we’re doing is grassroots, I wouldn’t say, or bottom up. I would say that the process of making LA Más something that was truly bottom up was a really deep education in what that line is between where you are from outside a community, regardless of your identity, and what your place should be in supporting community members in their agency to shape the world they live in. And so, we switched to mutual aid efforts. We switch, we paused, all of our storefront work, all of our small business support, our public realm work, our Section eight ADUs, all of that thinking, to have and support community members leading the thinking. And after two years, it became clear that that was just going to be the best place for LA Más to be. And it also became clear that those of us who had been leading the programs around small business and public realm and affordable housing alternatives wanted to continue to do that work at a larger scale and really understand that mechanism between supporting and being in partnership and coalition with community based organizations, right? So it was going through that process of becoming a community based organization that really got us a very deep amount of insight into what that sweet spot is for a group of policy weirdos and architecture dorks and graphic design geeks to really be able to stand in our power and be of greatest assistance, right?
Eve: [00:22:59] One of my questions was going to be, what does meaningful community engagement look like? And I think you’ve answered it. That’s a really big struggle, right?
Elizabeth: [00:23:07] I think that the thing is, is if you are doing it, you are of it, right? You don’t, it’s not a pop in, pop out, check off the box thing. It’s something where, you are a community based organization, you were led, and you are a community member and it’s not the community, it’s your community. And so, the best possible situation would be, you know, you’re from a different community in L.A. or you’re from a different city or you’re a city agency or a council office and you want to support that community based organization, those community members, and you let them continue to do that work and you further that work, and you let them lead that conversation, right? And you’re all in the same space together. There’s no bullshit table where there’s flawed negotiations. And so, the community engagement process is kind of a fiction because it’s an organic, living, ongoing, continuous thing that others can be invited into or not. And we shouldn’t pretend certain projects are for communities when they’re really not. And I think being able to be transparent about those distinctions is half of it, because so many communities have been told something is for them when it’s clearly not. And so, it’s kind of a little bit of a complicated thing to answer, but I hope I’ve.
Eve: [00:24:34] It is. What is it the new practice focuses on then?
Elizabeth: [00:24:37] So the new practice is really, although we’re based in LA, it’s really centering the kind of community knowledge and leadership in being foundational to the built environment and that we are and we have always been great collaborators and we have all of these tools that we are very clear about being tools that we are using to be at the service of a community conversation. Right. And that we’re really not centering those tools in the conversation, but using them to be in service of the conversation. And so, I think that’s an important distinction. And we’re a nonprofit and we have these programs that we had at LA Más. But I think the big difference is the way that we are talking with and in coalition with community based organizations. From the outset, all of that is something that we are in deep partnership with our community based partners rather than in a perfunctory or kind of transactional one.
Eve: [00:25:43] So, can you tell us about a project you’re working on and how it works?
Elizabeth: [00:25:48] We are working with the city of Southgate and we are helping to inform how they roll out all of their ADU policy and programming, but also how they are building affordable housing units and meeting their housing goals. So, that is an example where we are very purposefully reflecting back to the city of Southgate, what it looks like to have a contextual ADU approach that really matches a lot of the unpermitted and informally created affordable housing and thinking about a network strategy so that as we upgrade that housing, we’re not displacing any existing residents that are benefiting. And we’re not putting any residents in a precarious economic situation by getting into the big unknown of permitting something that’s unpermitted. So, that’s one example. I think there’s some others, kind of continuing this affordable ADU work as a program. And a lot of that is kind of really understanding the expanded voucher system that exists now and didn’t exist when we started the program. And being able to understand the nuances between these different housing providers and where they link up and match with the residents. And I think we’re now in a place where at this current phase of our work, we’re expanding the tent and partnering with groups like the Casino Coalition so that we’re capacity building these different nonprofits, rather than just ourselves, to have an affordable housing program. So for us, that kind of 2.0 is expanding the tent and bringing in others to do this work and having a kind of nurturing network where everyone’s benefiting from each other’s kind of hard knocks rather than everyone doing it in silo and us kind of supporting that conversation based on our ten years of experience.
Eve: [00:27:54] So going back to architects, should architects be trained differently? What’s missing?
Elizabeth: [00:28:00] I think that the training of architecture. How do you think about prioritizing and organizing discretely different buckets of technical information and having those result in something ephemeral and perceptual like rooms or space? It was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had as a human, is to be a part of that educational process. It was also one of the most traumatizing. And the room for me as an individual didn’t exist. The way in which I came into that program with some cognitive differences, there wasn’t room for that, and there wasn’t room for the people that I felt had the ability to shape the profession the most, which is my friends who were black and my friends who were Latino or Pacific Islander, you know, kind of backgrounds, Filipina. Like that wasn’t really on the table. And so, I think also watching my friends and with those different identities and backgrounds, struggle was really traumatizing and scary. And it sent a clear message to me that as a woman, I didn’t have a place. And my place was best guaranteed in the profession if I could support men or if I could be masculine myself. And so, I think that the education of architecture has a lot of really powerful things and a lot of potential, but the culture of architecture is profoundly toxic.
Eve: [00:29:46] Well, that would be true of the whole real estate industry, I think, on the whole. So, that’s definitely where the power is held. And I think it’s shifting, but maybe not fast enough, right?
Elizabeth: [00:29:58] Absolutely. However, it was very clearly told to me when I entered school as a young architect that it was going to be as hard as becoming a doctor. And if I wanted to opt out of that, I should as soon as possible so I didn’t waste anyone else’s time. And being in that process, you get really brainwashed over those five years or let’s say four, and then you go on to do a three year post professional degree. I don’t know, I think that the challenge is, is that you kind of get enculturated and you get, and if you don’t fit into that model, you’re not even in the peripheral edges of the conversation around what things like beauty and identity and context or culture and community, you don’t even get to bring that to the table. And so, you see all these terrible white projects, these terrible quasi pseudo organic things, because there is no reference point anymore to the conversation. It is an art without subject.
Eve: [00:31:13] Yes. I mean, I love architecture. It’s pretty hard to damn it all. But, you know, I hear what you’re saying that certainly, you know, I go back a few years earlier than you do. And certainly women had a very precarious place in architecture then. And it’s just profoundly depressing that it hasn’t changed a lot. I suppose that’s my takeaway. I can only imagine what it’s like for someone who’s of a different culture. It’s just got to be much worse. But that’s true of real estate, like across the board construction, real estate development. It is just heavily dominated by white men. It’s going to change. It has to change, right?
Elizabeth: [00:31:59] Yeah. It’s very hard without banks lending in different ways, without lenders kind of. And I think it will change because there is more diversity inside banks. But the kind of racist underpinnings of the redlining and the kind of, then that period of time still exist.
Eve: [00:32:22] Yes.
Elizabeth: [00:32:24] There’s all these other things that exist that are barriers to people being able to get into the profession or become developers because they’re able to seem like a sure bet when in reality, 90% of Angelinos are living $400 away from being completely bankrupt? Yeah, homeless. And so, how do you have there be development models that reflect the kind of incredible resilience and vibrancy to which people are surviving in that context in a way that’s far more sustainable than these Rick Caruso terrible, displacing, unsustainable foam and marshmallow projects that are.
Eve: [00:33:14] Foam and marshmallow. I’m writing that down.
Elizabeth: [00:33:17] They’re just like terror, like Italianate, Mediterranean esque, you know, terrible things that are going to be so impossible to make work in 10 to 15 years when we have a different climate and a different kind of world, they’re going to become wastelands. And I think the idea that we’re not lending and we’re not allowing, there’s not more room for communities of color to be developers or to have resident led development is just such an oversight. The banks took huge risks in building suburbs and malls, and they can take those same risks in allowing for resident led development in communities of color.
Eve: [00:34:05] Do you think they can or they won’t?
Elizabeth: [00:34:07] Well, they won’t.
Eve: [00:34:08] Well, they should.
Elizabeth: [00:34:10] They should. They can. They’re not.
Eve: [00:34:13] Yes. Yeah.
Elizabeth: [00:34:15] And so, I can say anecdotally, we were talking about architecture and diversity and women. And I think the hardest conversation to have is that white women do not structurally change the profession of architecture. And if they did, we would be seeing a different kind of context and climate and conversation.
Eve: [00:34:35] What do you mean by that?
Elizabeth: [00:34:36] I think that our proximity to power makes it really hard for us to challenge it. I think that you know what I have seen.
Eve: [00:34:46] But then there’s you and there’s me. So some of us challenge it.
Elizabeth: [00:34:51] I’m challenging. I’m not changing. And I.
Eve: [00:34:54] That’s true.
Elizabeth: [00:34:55] I can speak to the ways that these constructs are racist, but I can’t talk to the lived experience of someone who’s black and terrorized. And so, if we’re not having black women, if we’re not having people of color being able to inform that conversation and also be at the helm of structurally changing it, you know, as a white woman, I’m not capable of structurally changing something that’s racist without perpetuating it. And so, all I can do is just kind of unveil and expose, but I don’t have the ability to offer sustainable models for the future. And so, I think that that is the kind of crux of it, is for there to be a return to white women being in that supportive environment so that we’re really clear that we’re accomplices, but we’re not foundational underpinnings of diversity and change.
Eve: [00:35:50] I’m feeling really depressed now.
Elizabeth: [00:35:53] I know it’s rough, but then it’s like you sit on that for a while and then you realize how powerful it is to support there being radical change and that you know, that we don’t have a legacy of talking about white women and how they’re doing that rather than co-opting that work. You know, and they exist, I know so many white women that are great accomplices. And so, it’s just being really clear about what our role is. And so, I felt like it was a misstep to not kind of say that because I don’t want it to be confused that somehow I’m structurally changing anything. I think that it’s more so just trying to offer a kind of parallel conversation so that there’s more room for there to be a bit more depth in how we do development and architecture.
Eve: [00:36:41] What I like is that you’ve taken this really extraordinary education in architecture, which is, you know, a problem solving education that makes you really think about how to take nothing and turn it into something. And you’ve shifted away from, you know, those glamour buildings into an area where you can really use exactly the same skills to make something out of nothing. Right. And I really think that architecture is a very unique education in that way. It’s pretty powerful. It’s pretty rare to find someone who has those creative problem solving skills from any other profession. I think so. I think it behooves the architecture. It’s just not my, I shouldn’t be saying this, it’s not my interview. But I think it behooves the architecture profession and architecture schools to think really hard about what else those students can do with these skills because they could really change the world. Right.
Elizabeth: [00:37:43] Absolutely. And I think it does really begin with your education and those who are leading that process, but also the ways in which people have access to it and their exclusive, notoriously known expensive schools like USC, University of Southern California in Los Angeles. They do a really good job of offering scholarships and being diverse and inclusive. But the, and the planning school and there are other schools that do a really great job of including the identity and the kind of pathway for there to be a USC alumni network at the disposal of these young graduates. And it does not exist in the school of architecture. And I think that’s not happenstance. I think that there’s no economic or professional, how do you call that limitation or what is it when you do something bad.
Elizabeth: [00:38:39] Consequence.
Elizabeth: [00:38:40] Consequence, thank you! There’s no consequence at this point for the architectural education to not structurally be rethought because it is a machine, an economic machine.
Eve: [00:38:53] Well, that’s true of universities and schools across the board, right?
Elizabeth: [00:38:57] Well, potentially. But I think that with planners, planners that don’t represent the communities they’re in, it’s very hard to get those projects done. Architects that are doing projects for developers, you know, we have, I think, the consequences the architects and the architectural profession is getting smaller and smaller. And the amount of things that architects do is getting kind of whittled down into something quite impoverished.
Eve: [00:39:22] Yes. So the planners also don’t think about the built environment. Right. So, I mean, have a masters in urban design because because at the time I really wanted to think bigger than buildings, how the buildings shape cities. But, surely there’s got to be something that’s, you know, a masters in something else that thinks about the physicality of architecture and how it can improve places. A master of community design, community place building. I don’t know, maybe urban design just has to change.
Elizabeth: [00:39:57] Yeah, it is. The other thing about it is that the amount of things you have to be an expert in is so wide. When you touch architecture, it’s green building design, environment, anthropology, context, politics, permitting, building construction, space, aesthetics, color that is very hard to pretend that you’re going to be good at all of it.
Elizabeth: [00:40:25] No, I think that’s true. That’s really true. I’m working on a project in Australia and actually this is really interesting because I’ve been wondering about the way architects perform there and they use a lot more consultants than I’ve ever seen in the States. They have consultants for every corner of accessibility and sustainability. Exactly, I think because I think they’re remaining focused on design and place. Maybe it’s harder there. I don’t know. But I was sort of, I’ve been fascinated by that. Very different.
Elizabeth: [00:40:57] It is very different. I mean, I think that that’s a far more collaborative model than the one that tends to happen here in the US, where all of that stuff can get done in a very half assed way, if not completely ignored around the kind of, just supporting the aims of a developer and being able to check off the boxes of the things that the city requires you to do.
Eve: [00:41:24] Yeah.
Elizabeth: [00:41:24] And also just regurgitating the plans that you did before because it’s a terrible business model to be an architect because you have to do too much stuff. Right.
Eve: [00:41:33] Right, right.
Elizabeth: [00:41:34] Is a really hard business model. And so, I think we would be in a better place if we had power over capital and or we were comfortable being intermediaries and negotiators and facilitators instead of centering our really cute, the really precious creative idea. Which is a kind of absurd pretext right now when we have such a diverse, kind of multifaceted conversation that’s happening across so many different technology and communication platforms. So, I think architects would do better to de-center themselves from the conversation. But I think that’s very hard with the kind of Frank Lloyd Wright, Rem Koolhaas precedent for what it should look like to be an architect.
Eve: [00:42:24] A starchitect, right.
Elizabeth: [00:42:26] Yeah a jerk.
Eve: [00:42:29] So, what excites you most about the work you’re doing and what potential do you think Office of: Office has? Where do you want to be in five years? Horrible question, but I’m going to ask it. What’s your hope?
Elizabeth: [00:42:42] Someone asked me that. What was it? It was like, I don’t know. I’ve never been able to plan, and this isn’t a good thing, beyond a day. I do get a little depressed, and I guess we all do, if I don’t have anything I’m looking forward to. But, it’s never been work for me that I look forward to. It’s always been spending time with my friends or we have a trip planned for me and a couple friends to go to Guadalajara and some other places. I’m looking forward to that. I am looking forward to being surprised by the growth of the people I work with and I’m partnering with for Office of: Office. I’m looking forward to, when you have children, I don’t know what they’re going to be like. It’s so wild. And the same thing with LA Más, when I created LA Más, or now that I’m a part of creating Office of: Office with my partners. I think I just love that potential of, you don’t know what’s going to happen and you don’t, you’re kind of surprised by that. And so, every day it’s better than what you could imagine. I love, what I love is working with our partners like Tom DeSimone, who you had on. They’re just so cool. Like, they’re just so, I’m not proud of the projects I’m proud of the people that are crazy enough to want to work with us and that are okay with this level of transparency in our conversation. Because the conversation you and I are having is the conversation we have with our partners.
Eve: [00:44:22] I love it. So this is almost like a child that’s going to grow up and you’re going to be surprised along the way, right?
Elizabeth: [00:44:30] Yeah. Like if I had an idea, like, oh, I’m going to have three kids, I’m going to get married, I’m going to, you know, I, ugh. I don’t know. I was probably voted least likely to get married or least likely to have kids in high school. I don’t have any landmarks really.
Eve: [00:44:48] Well, I have one more question. You probably are not going to have an answer for this, but what keeps you up at night, if anything?
Elizabeth: [00:44:56] Oh my God. So many things.
Eve: [00:44:57] Oh, really? I’m surprised.
Elizabeth: [00:44:58] Like Anne wakes me up in the middle. So many things. Like I think about this crazy. I’m going to think about this conversation and all the stupid shit I said and all that. I’m absolutely going to think, oh, I should have said that.
Eve: [00:45:14] And I’ll probably get a ton of emails from people saying, I love that conversation you had with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: [00:45:19] Well, I’m going to think about little things. I’m going to think about like I canceled a dentist appointment. I’m going to think about like the people that were inconvenienced by that. I obsess about the ways in which I was not thoughtful enough when I spoke or interacted with people usually. I also think about the commitments I make professionally that I can’t follow through on because I overcommit myself, because I’m excited about everything.
Eve: [00:45:47] That’s scary. I do that a lot.
Elizabeth: [00:45:49] So much. I don’t think as much about not doing the things that I should, or not being the person that I thought I would be. And that used to happen more. I would say, at the beginning of my career. I used to stay up at night thinking, how am I going to become, how am I going to be in a position where I can become the person I’d like to grow into?
Eve: [00:46:16] That’s interesting. Well, as you get older, you just tend to not care anymore.
Elizabeth: [00:46:20] Yeah. And just like, okay, well, if I can’t go, you know, I don’t know. Like, if I can’t go do that, then I’m going to go do something else.
Eve: [00:46:31] Well, Elizabeth, on that note, I’m going to end this. I’m going to be really interested to see who you become, because I’m sure it’s going to be someone you’re already someone pretty fabulous. But I’m building on that. So, can’t wait to see what else you do. Thank you very much for joining me.
Elizabeth: [00:46:47] Thank you so much. I’m so honored to be a part of your prestigious list of interviewees.
Eve: [00:46:51] Oh, for heaven’s sake, not prestigious, but thank you.
Elizabeth: [00:46:55] Very much so. I was very proud to have you extend the invitation. Thank you so much.
Eve: [00:47:00] Okay. Well, thank you.
Eve: [00:47:12] I hope you enjoyed today’s guest and our deep dive together. You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at RethinkRealEstateforGood.co. There’s lots to listen to there. You can support this podcast by sharing it with others, posting about it on social media, or leaving a rating and review to catch all the latest from me follow me on LinkedIn. Even better, if you’re ready to dabble in some impact investing, head on over to smallchange.co where I spend most of my time. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music. And a big thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon, but for now this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy Elizabeth Timme