At NELSON, we believe architecture has the power to create a transformative sense of place, supporting communities and strengthening the fabric of cities across the nation and around the world. Recently named the #2 fastest growing architecture firm, we’re celebrating our growth, people, and projects that are boldly transforming architecture. To do so, we’ve created our latest series, “Architecture Spotlight” to introduce you to a few thought leaders within the NELSON Architecture Team.  You’ll not only get an exclusive look at our people, but hear what’s in store for the future.

This week we interview Cheryl Smith, AIA, LEED AP Principal and Studio Director, NELSON Philadelphia.  Keep reading to hear more about her career, knowledge, and expertise in architecture:

Q: What is your role at NELSON and how long have you been an architect?

A: I have over 30 years of experience in Hospitality, Mixed-Use, Office & Retail design. Working out of the NELSON office in Philadelphia, I am one of several Directors for our Architectural Studio. I assist clients with their projects, organize staffing resources and teams, write proposals, answer technical questions, review project documents, and work closely with contractors to see our projects through construction. In addition to my work in the local Philadelphia office, I am a member of NELSON’s Technical Leadership Council helping to develop the best practices for architecture teams across the company. Additionally, I’m collaborating on several initiatives including research on the AIA 2030 Commitment as a member of NELSON’s Sustainability Platform Committee.

Q: Tell us about some of your latest and greatest projects.

A: Over the next few months, we will be wrapping up the design and construction of the W and Element Hotels, a dual-brand, 755 room skyscraper hotel opening in downtown Philly in March 2020. Other new work includes two new high-rise buildings in the Philly. It’s an exciting time in the life of these projects as we see them rising out of the ground, seeing the team’s hard work finally come to life.

On-going work includes the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City where we have been fortunate to work with them since we were first awarded the project 20 years ago!

Q: What is your favorite architecture trend of today?

A: A favorite growing trend of mine is designing higher performance buildings. These are buildings that are more sustainable to our environment; reducing energy and water usage, and helping to reduce our embodied carbon footprint. This encompasses designing buildings with improved thermal performance and proper window to wall ratio, transforming existing structures for new use, using green roofing systems, and implementing modular systems to reduce material waste.

Q: What advice would you give a young architect?

A: I often advise young architects to follow their passion, have fun, and get involved in their community.As a young architect, I had volunteered to be a mentor for students participating in an afterschool high school program called the ACE Mentor Program where we introduced students to careers in architecture, engineering and construction management. It was both humbling and rewarding and I made connections that will last a lifetime. If there is a program like this available in your area, I highly suggest participating.

Q: What do you think the future holds for architecture? 

A: The future holds opportunities for architects to improve the environment for future generations. I really believe that the way we practice architecture and the way buildings are constructed today will and must dramatically change during the next 5 to 10 years. Disruptive technologies should offer leadership opportunities for architects in the future as the integration of complex building systems will still be necessary. In the future, perhaps our virtual models are not only used for design presentations, performance modeling, and overall design integration, but also for logistics, real-time pricing, procurement, and fabrication? How we do this depends not only on the future direction of the technology disruptor but also, how we embrace the technology changes.

Q: What is the biggest challenge the architecture industry faces today?

A: One of today’s biggest challenges is managing risks, as today our building designs are more complex with little construction advances.  When not managed properly, this can cause lots of problems, but incorporating best practice tools through an integrated design process will help in managing or overcoming those risks.

Q: What sets NELSON apart from other architecture firms?

A: It is the quality of the people at NELSON that differentiate us from other firms as we focus on transforming diverse practice areas into unique experiences for people. Since becoming part of NELSON, I have been amazed at the level of giving and thoughtfulness of everyone, as well as how respectful and considerate everyone is among each other. These great people qualities instill engaging team collaboration in an integrated design approach which leads to holistic solutions for our clients.