Interview with Chapter President Gerrod Winton, NOMA, AIA
by Chapter Secretary Safiya Hodari, NOMA, AIA
SH: Thanks for doing this! How’s it going today?
GW: Awesome! It’s rainy and cold and not quite spring yet, sooooo, yeah. I’m looking forward to the real spring when winter stops trying to fool us into thinking it’s a nice day. But work was good.
SH: Speaking of work, do you have any interesting projects on your desk?
GW: Plenty! A project I’m working on for CCAC is going well. It’s on a good path. We’re working toward a net zero design. It’s a large project with a lot of good aspects. The program is focused on workforce development. The college has made it a point to integrate lots of sustainable aspects. They want to make it a showcase for both the university and the community. They’re really making a point to engage the immediate neighborhood. The consulting team is really good, too. Andropogon (https://www.andropogon.com/) is a landscape design firm. They’re out of Philly. I think they worked on the Phipps Environmental Center, they did the new student building on Fifth Avenue at CMU with Buro Happold (https://www.burohappold.com/), the PNC Center, and the Bullit Center in Seattle. They’ve done a lot of great work, so yeah, it’s a really good team.
SH: Is it a LEED Project?
GW: They may pursue LEED later on. They’re more focused on trying to achieve Net Zero. The LEED aspect may come in later. Net Zero is the big push.
SH: So Higher Ed, is this the kind of work you like best?
GW: I’ve done quite a bit of it. But what appealed to me more was the sustainability aspects of it. I think that’s why I got pulled into it. Our studio focuses mostly on commercial projects, including higher ed, offices, retail, et cetera but it also has the sustainability piece to it. It made sense to pull me in on it because, I wouldn’t say I’m the resident sustainability guy, but I guess I kind of am.
SH: Oh nice. Is that what you’re known for?
GW: I’m LEED accredited and Passive House certified.
SH: I’m really passionate about sustainability, too. But I’ve heard that LEED is not really an effective strategy in terms of achieving a truly sustainable design. What’s your opinion on that? Does LEED even matter anymore these days?
GW: It’s the popular rating system these days. It focuses more on recycled materials and reuse. It’s not great for energy efficiency, though. That’s the big difference. Passive House is more about energy. With LEED you can work the points in lots of different ways. With Passive House, it’s pass/fail so you have to prove that you’re meeting your energy goals. It’s definitely a higher bar. LEED is pretty limited to the ASHRAE 90.1 minimums.
SH: That makes sense. I’ve heard similar sentiments from others. Ok, back to pre-planned interview questions, ha! What do you find most rewarding about your work?
GW: It depends on the client. But for the most part, with the ideal client, it’s the satisfaction of creating the space or building that’s catered directly for them. And then in the end when you get a call back and they’re saying how great it is and how much they love it and how it works for them. I like that aspect of it.
SH: What’s the hardest part of being an architect?
GW: Dealing with people. It’s the like the best part and the worst. Managing people’s expectations and guiding them down this path to be able to give them what they want can be hard. Some clients are kind of savvy with the design and construction process but some are not. So you’re managing the project and the people at the same time. Managing difficulty personalities is a challenge. But, it’s okay. It comes with the territory. Sometimes you have the most difficult clients but then when it’s all said and done, it still turns out great.
SH: Why NOMA or more specifically NOMA PGH?
GW: A few reasons; years ago when I first moved to Pittsburgh… Do you remember Art Sheffield?
SH: Yep. Good ol’ Art Sheffield.
GW: He was intent on getting minority architects to organize and come together. But then he moved away. In the interim, there were all these people starting to discuss all these issues we were having and they all happened to be minorities. I also felt like there was a lack of a community. So I kind of dug in more to try to make it happen and bring all these people together including students and other design professionals. When I was in school in Maryland, I was one of only two or three black architects and that carried on into my career. I wanted to change that for others and NOMA seemed like a place to start to try to improve that and start to discuss and solve some of our problems.
SH: What would you tell someone considering membership in NOMA and/or NOMA PGH?
GW: I would say don’t consider it, just sign up. I would invite them to one of our meeting or social event. I think once people can see what we’re about, what our intentions are, what our goals are, they tend to stay and want to contribute. That’s evident in our growing membership numbers. It’s a give and take. You’re getting something but you’re also giving by participating in crafting who we are and who we become.
SH: What would you tell a young person considering a career in architecture?
GW: If you love creating and having an impact in communities it’s a good avenue to take professionally. Of course it comes with many challenges, both technical and otherwise. But at the end of the day, depending on what your pursuit is, it can be a good choice. Now, do we want to talk a about salary? Ha! I always try to promote the profession. When I do talks or career day at elementary schools, there’s always that one kid with architecture gleam in their eye. And then I think, I’ve hooked them! It’s not for everyone, but if you have a passion for it, it’s really rewarding.
SH: You have two little girls, ages 7 and 10, right? Would you encourage them to consider architecture? Have they shown any interest yet?
GW: No, I’m not really pushing them in any real direction. The approach with them is to see what they naturally gravitate towards and let them make their own decision.
SH: Did someone encourage you as child?
GW: I didn’t even consider it until I was in high school
SH: Oh same here!
GW: I took some tangentially related classes like drafting and fine arts. Since I’m so detail orientated, a teacher came up to me and said I might want to consider a career in architecture. And from there, that kind of spawned an interest. Coming out of school I didn’t have a mentor. But my mom’s friend, a professor at Howard, became a mentor. He was the first and only black architect I knew for a long time. His name was Bill Maiden.
SH: So I guess you haven’t connected in a while? You should look him up, see what his he’s up to these days. Let him see what an awesome architect you’ve become. I’m sure he’d be proud of you. Or, that teacher that who told you to consider architecture. You should find her.
GW: Ms. Gessin? Yeah, maybe I should!
SH: Ok, almost done. Do you have a favorite architect or style?
GW: I definitely lean toward modernism over traditional architecture. There’s no definite reason. That’s just my preference. I can appreciate [traditional architecture]. But I think it’s because I’m very much a minimalist in my everyday life in general that I tend to lean toward that style in architecture as well. There’s definitely something to be said about simplicity and straightforwardness.
SH: Yeah, I agree. I like spaces that can kind of speak for themselves. And when you’re not architecting, what do you do for fun?
GW: Aw man! Before I injured myself, I was deep into martial arts.
SH: Was it a martial arts injury?
GW: I’ve been training for like maybe 15 years, well, since 2005. I taught for a number of years, too, and trained all that time. When you do something for that long, it’s bound to have an impact on your body. I love it, though. It’s my place of retreat when I want to relax. I’m going to get back to it soon. The girls are into it, too. They started that when they were three. So we mix that in with soccer. It’s a family thing. Ivette doesn’t do the self-defense aspect so much but more kick boxing. We’re all into it.
SH: Nice. Well thanks again for taking the time. This has been great. I’m going to go have some sushi now at Social House 7. Ha!
GW: Aw man that sounds good. Let me know how it is. I love some good sushi, too.
SH: Will do!