Meet April Clark: Architect, Entrepreneur, TeacherAugust 18, 2010
If buildings were cars, a building designed by 2003 AAUW Selected Professions Fellow April Clark would be a Prius.
Seven years ago, Clark began working for architect Ed Mazria in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mazria had been part of a group of architects who, in the 1970s, decided to research what would happen if houses were designed to work with the environment. What he found was astonishing.
By designing a building to work with the construction site’s natural features such as its orientation and wind direction, one could reduce the need to use mechanical heating and cooling systems as well as reduce the amount of interior lighting needed. The overall effect would be an 80 percent reduction in that building’s energy consumption. What made this finding even more important was the fact that, unknown to most people, buildings account for 48 percent of all energy consumption in the United States, making them the leading cause of energy consumption and greenhouse emissions in the nation.
Clark had always harbored an interest in sustainable design, but when she learned about the negative impact poorly designed buildings were having on the environment, her interest blossomed into a value she had to live by. So, in 2009, Clark formed Clark Richardson Architects with one goal in mind — to create contemporary experiences for her clients through form, sustainability, and detail.
As an architect, Clark believes that sustainable design encompasses much more than including solar panels or wind turbines; she believes that every detail of a building, from window placement to massing, can be designed to make a building more energy efficient. She takes cues from current building technologies and materials and creates unique contemporary pieces.
Opening a firm in the middle of an economic crisis was not an easy task for Clark. Nevertheless, the pressing need for change in the architecture industry and her own belief that “ you will never know what you are capable of until you put yourself out there” guided her throughout the process. Moreover, having her work recognized by a group of strong professionals and being accorded several awards, including an AAUW fellowship, boosted the confidence she had in her own work.
Clark received her first award as an architect when she was in high school. The instructor of her high school drafting class held a competition in which students were instructed to design a sustainable home for a family in town. Clark won the competition and, as her prize, the house she designed was built! Later that year, when Clark’s mother decided to build a home, Clark took charge of designing the house and drew up the plans for her mother. By the age of 18, Clark already had two commissions under her belt. She was hooked.
In addition to taking on various design projects, Clark has taught several university-level courses in architecture. Teaching, she says, forces her to learn how to explain her own design thought process — a skill that is essential when communicating with clients who have no experience working with designers. It keeps her mind fresh and reminds her that design is constantly evolving. Through teaching, Clark is also able to show her students that female architects can be successful both in the field and as instructors.
This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Manka Banda. Manka is a junior at the University of Maryland, majoring in general biology and global health studies with a minor in international development and conflict management.