YP Corner: Interview with Maria Gomez, AIA
Ever wonder what the AIA Dallas Board of Directors do and how they got there? Ever wanted a chance to look into the future?! I got the unique chance to sit down with President-Elect Maria Gomez AIA, to get to know her, her journey, and what she envisions for the AIA Dallas in 2020.
Of course, we have to start with the standard question of why architecture? What ignited your passion to become an architect?
Growing up I always believed that I would follow my father’s footsteps to become a physician. However, as a young teen, my father sat down with me and gave me a true insight into what it meant to be a physician and I realized that it was not for me. We traveled quite often when I was younger, and I remembered understanding at a young age how impactful architecture and art were in different cultures. I specifically remember a 45-day trip to Asia in my teenage years. The beauty and permanence of the architecture intrigued me and caused me to want to pursue it as a career.
You got your start in your home country of Columbia and started your own firm. What motivated you to relocate to Texas?
My husband and I both grew up in Colombia during the 1980s, when the violence was most prominent. After working for a mid-size firm (15 architects) and then running my own firm for 5 years, we decided it made sense for us to move to a different country at least for a while. My husband found a job opportunity which offered us the option to relocate to Dallas or Chicago. We ended up choosing Dallas because we knew the winter would be hard for us in Chicago. Originally, we were only planning to stay for a few years, but we grew to love the city and the amazing opportunities it offers. 20 years later it is our home. Looking back, it amazes me how in the last decade, millennials have become the true driving force behind changing the developers’ mentality by demanding and promoting a more urban lifestyle in Dallas. It has been truly an amazing experience.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you first got involved in the AIA Dallas and what drove you to begin the path to become the AIA Dallas President?
I first got involved with the AIA Dallas when a colleague from GFF suggested that it would be something I might be interested in. My first committee involvement was with COTE. Through that committee and later Design Awards, I met amazing people from other firms with similar interests and learned a lot by volunteering to take on responsibilities. I figured out that fully engaging in something you’re passionate about is key. After a few years I was asked to join the board and then a few years later I was approached about becoming President. I was not deliberate about taking a particular path to become President, and really appreciate the confidence Richard and his advisors placed on me to take the torch next year.
It is so important for architects to engage with the organization and network with peers. Engagement in the AIA has been incredibly rewarding for me. You get out of it what you put in. Volunteering in committees is a great way to develop and hone your leadership skills and it also provides exposure to situations and opportunities that you wouldn’t normally run into. The experience has helped me grow personally and professionally and I have loved every minute of it.
You have a very diverse range of project experience! What has been your favorite project to work on?
I have really enjoyed the work that I do in the office space. I work with some amazing clients and really appreciate those who listen and trust our ideas. Working with a someone who understands meaningful architecture and is willing to take some risks is thrilling. We are currently working with a client on a 670,000 square foot, 26 story office building on a site that I can see from my window. I can’t wait to see it materialize.
Some of the institutional projects that I have been a part of have also been an incredible experience. While working on the Perot Museum and the Dallas Arboretum, I appreciated how focused and passionate the leadership of these kinds of organizations are about their mission. They are truly invested in the process.
Congratulations on GFF winning the Architecture Firm Award! What do you feel set GFF apart from other firms this year? How have you seen GFF grow and change as time does over the last 20 years?
We are so excited and appreciative of winning this award! One of the founding partners was telling us that we had previously won the AIA Dallas Firm award once every decade for the first three decades since the firm started, and now on our fourth decade we are thrilled to receive this recognition at a state level. It has been an amazing journey!
We were up against some of the best firms in Texas and I am sure it was a very tough decision for them to make. It is very difficult to pin down what could have set us above our opponents. I believe our firm’s engagement in the community and the profession plays an important role. A large percentage of our employees are heavily involved in boards and committees in all sorts of organizations. That type of engagement is ingrained in our culture and front and center in our values.
GFF has grown significantly in the last 20 years. When I started, we had 50 employees and since then we have grown to over 120. This kind of growth offers very interesting possibilities and challenges. We recently had a strategic planning retreat to evaluate where we want to be as a firm in the next five. It is so exciting to be planning for the short and long term future for our practice.
You must be pumped to get 2020 started! What is your primary goal coming into the AIA Dallas Presidency in 2020?
While I am still 4 months out and fine tuning my goals, I have one primary goal that has been there from the beginning: develop and strengthen the Architecture and Design Foundation to help bring it to the next level. The function of this foundation is to communicate the importance of architecture and design to those outside of our field which is an incredibly important mission. The chapter has many members and volunteers, while the foundation currently only has the Board. I’d like to find a way to bring both organizations closer and share resources so that we can continue to elevate the foundation and support its mission in a broader way. Wouldn’t it be great if the Dallas community would know the ADEX because they can come to see interesting exhibits about design. Or attend relevant panel discussions and lectures about topics affecting the city today. Or bring their children to learn what it means to be an architect.
An important component in 2020 is going to be the new Executive Director. We have been working hard with the search committee and the firm we hired to conduct the nationwide search to find someone who can help us move both organizations forward and fulfill their missions.
What are you looking forward to most as AIA Dallas President?
I have so many things to look forward to! I am really excited about the strategic planning retreat for the Board in January. Hopefully our new ED will be on board by then and I can’t wait to bring together such an amazing and motivated group that will be serving on the board on 2020. In the retreat we will be setting the goals for the year, developing strategies, and defining actions for implementation. Because Presidents serve for one year, the ED’s role is key as they are the ones that hold the organizations (AIA and Foundation) together and make sure there’s continuity from year to year as we continue to grow and make a bigger impact in our community.
With a schedule as busy as yours, I am sure it can be difficult to find downtime for hobbies and relaxation. But when you do get some downtime, what is your favorite thing to do?
There are a couple of things I really enjoy doing regularly, one is running and the other one is cooking. Running really helps me decompress and relax mentally. I also enjoy cooking, even though I am not an expert. Deciding what I’m going to make and buying fresh ingredients, and then executing a meal is really fulfilling for me. I find that making bread for example is a therapeutic experience.
However, traveling is what my husband and I enjoy the very most! Experiencing other cultures is fascinating. A big part of the experience is living in the cities, learning about their history, and then there’s the food. As soon as we decide where we’re going, I am already checking on what restaurants we need to reserve. And once we get back from a trip the exciting thing is to start planning the next one.
It is so hard for me to pin down which has been my favorite trip because I love different things about many of them. We recently took a trip to Australia and it was truly incredible.
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