Interview with an
Mary Archer holds a painting by Carol Henry,
a gift from the artist when Mary received her
architect's license, in a photo taken at the site
of the remodel of the artist's home.
Q. As I see it, architecture combines engineering and art. Which
aspect is most important to you?
A. I regard each aspect equally. I have always said that, for me,
architecture as a profession is the serendipitous marriage of two
subjects I love--art and science. In problem-solving, there may be
times when one aspect needs more attention than the other, but I
always have to step back and review the whole picture to maintain a
The Roman architect, Vitruvius, expressed it as firmitas, utilitas, and
venustas (i.e., structural stability, appropriate spatial accommodation,
and attractive appearance).
Ian Davis, in his article on â€œChristian Ethics and Architecture,â€�
quotes Sir Henry Wooton as suggesting a moral imperative in
architecture: "'The end is to build well...well building hath three
conditions: commodity, firmness and delight.' These conditions still
relate to the challenge facing any designer to satisfy and integrate social,
technological and aesthetic requirements, in order to produce a holistic
approach to architecture and physical planning.â€�
Q. What architectural movement or period resonates most with
A. Art Nouveau. Although short-lived and narrow in its influence, I
love it for its decorative qualities that range from whimsical to elegant
artistry. One of my favorite architects worked in this period--Antoni
Gaudi. I spent a year in France during college. It was a unique
opportunity to explore the origins of this movement and see the work in-
person. I visited many of the works of Gaudi in Spain and other Art
Nouveau examples in France.
Q. What do you think is the best-designed structure in Los
Angeles and why?
A. There are so many good ones--large and small, public and private.
A well-designed structure has to be evaluated for not only its visual
qualities, but also how it functions and serves its intended purpose. To
be fair, I can admire a lot of structures from the outside, but never
know how they really function.
One example is the Getty Center, by Michael Graves, et al. Itâ€™s a
complex of structures and experiences, including indoor and outdoor
spaces. Of course, the thing about museum design is that the indoor
space becomes secondary or is often hidden by the exhibit display
itself. The outdoor spaces play a large role in the whole experience of
the place. The technical aspects of the design and quality of
construction are very high. Iâ€™m sure the whole design team enjoyed
the luxury of a healthy budget--something that always affects the final
Another of my favorites is the Japanese Pavilion at LACMA, by Bruce
Goff and Bart Prince. It is such a finely tuned, full-concept, organic
structure, down to its smallest detail.
Q. If architecture is a means of enclosing a space to allow it to
fulfill a function, what sorts of functions would you most like to
apply your skills toward?
A. I donâ€™t think there is any particular favorite function I prefer to
apply my skills toward. I gain fulfillment in making any space work best
for the user, whether itâ€™s commercial or residential--the types of
architecture I am most familiar with.
Q. What work that youâ€™ve done is most satisfying to you
A. I have always had a passion for re-using something old. Maybe
not so much to preserve its â€œoldnessâ€� for the sake of strict
historical preservation (although there is value in that), but to re-make it
into something new, while preserving its historical qualities. For me, the
synergy between old and new working together can be exhilarating and
comforting at the same time. Buildings allow this kind of relationship
more than other man-made things.
Q. As a Christian, have you been able to express your faith
through your work? How?
A. I have a daily opportunity to express my faith through my work by
dedicating each day to glorifying God in my work and actions. I rely on
His help to solve problems and serve my clients, my employer and my
co-workers with a positive, joyful attitude. I believe this has been the
key to growth and success in my profession.
Mary Archer, AIA, grew up in the Kansas City area and lived in both Missouri and
She received a B.S. in Architecture at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in
1981, spending her last year in a collaborative program with the UnitÃ© PÃ©dagogique
d'Architecture at Versailles. The school was housed in the former stables of King Louis
XIVâ€™s lavish monument to himself and the extravagance of the era. While there, she
spent many days in Paris and took weekend trips to surrounding towns in Northern and
Central France. The program curriculum included independent travel/study which gave
her the opportunity to travel extensively all over 'free' Europe (the 'Iron Curtain' was still
up in 1980-81), spending some third of the academic year visiting nine countries.
After college, she worked for a Kansas City firm, then moved to the L.A. area where she
attended Pepperdine University. In L.A., she worked for general contractors and a
developer, gaining much-needed experience and knowledge in construction. In 1987, she
began working for a 20-person architectural firm, Rick Leslie AIA & Associates,
obtaining her California Architectâ€™s license in 1991, and completing a double
certificate in construction management through UCLA Extension in 1992.
With Rick Leslie, she worked on a wide variety of commercial and residential projects,
including retail shopping centers, auto dealerships, restaurants, office and industrial
buildings. Her residential experience includes custom luxury single-family homes and
remodels, and multi-family condominiums.
Recently, she accepted a new position in a 250-person architecture and construction
management firm, gkkworks, in Glendale.
An active member of the Culver Palms Church of Christ, she has been generous with her
time and talents. She designed and coordinated the construction of the interiors (mostly
wood paneling and finish work) in the early '90s, working on lobby, auditorium and
fellowship hall and kitchen, as well as improvements in the education wing. She also
designed and constructed sets for Vacation Bible School and the photo cabinets in the
foyer. Most recently, she designed and helped build the â€œstadiumâ€� seating in the
A kind and thoughtful friend, Mary worked with Art Sims, Jr. to replace a termite-eaten
beam in the front porch when Frank and I bought our house near the church building. I
asked her several questions about her field.