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Architecture Firm Spotlight #03: Valerie of Valerie Schweitzer Architects
June 2, 2021 at 11:00 PM
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Interview by Vaishnavi More, Founder and CEO at Archslate

Edited by Sidhanth Thomas

Studying philosophy and architecture at Princeton University and receiving many laurels during her time there, Valerie Schweitzer received her Masters of Architecture from UCLA’s Architecture and Design Department. Looking to specialize in structures that deepen a sense of place and bring joy, she has completed many design projects from New York to LA. Principle at the female-run firm Valerie Schweitzer Architects, Valerie and her team explore the overlap of Art and Architecture.

Archslate: Valerie, not many architects have reached the point where you are today. That moment where they dare to start their own practice. You have kind of broken out of that notion. Tell us how it all started.

Valerie Schweitzer: It all started back when I was an undergrad at Princeton. I was studying philosophy without much direction but I loved art and the world of ideas. I took a couple of architecture classes but what ended up planting the seed, was studying Art History at CUNY in New York City. I decided I did not want to spend my life researching in a library. I wanted to try to make something of myself. That was a pivotal moment for me because it gave me direction.

After I plotted along the normal, somewhat conventional course of large and tiny firms, I was at SOM. It sounded prestigious, although it was not. I did not learn a lot because as a woman in the early 90’s I was relegated to a basement room, building plastic models. The moment when I felt I had the courage even financially to hang my own shingle, I moved out. The project of mine people loved the most was one of my earliest. It was a backyard studio, where I was living while raising two girls in Connecticut. I was being a mother and freelancing when I began thinking that I could do this. So I left the firm and started a family. Something that most women know is extremely hard to do.

“It sounded prestigious, although it was not. I did not learn a lot because as a woman in the early 90’s I was relegated to a basement room, building plastic models. The moment when I felt I had the courage even financially to hang my own shingle, I moved out.”

Archslate: In today's time, we can have honest discussions about topics that we might have been uncomfortable talking about a couple of years ago. Being one of the strong women who took that path, what are some of the things you think you could have done differently?

Valerie Schweitzer: Sometimes I wonder if I had stayed at a place like Gruzen Samton or SOM, I might have been given opportunities to work on large-scale public projects. It is still a dream of mine to get to build structures where I am affecting the public more. However, it is very hard to come by those conditions when you run a small practice. I still grapple with thoughts of where I would be by now if I had played by the rules and stayed at one of those big firms.

The Tides Brentwood apartment by VSA

Archslate: I read that you have projects that are published in over 18 countries worldwide. How do you manage to accomplish that while being a team of just 3 members? What are some of the obstacles? Or what are some of the real-life struggles that you see?

Valerie Schweitzer: Thankfully, I have a team of three amazing