Exclusive Interview: Gennifer Muñoz, AIA
Our Spotlight Interview Series is pleased to introduce Gennifer Muñoz, the Founding Principal of GEN M ARCHITECTURE located in California. The firm focuses primarily on custom residential projects along with some commercial work. Gennifer’s appreciation of a collaborative approach is reflected in her statement that “great design is a team effort from beginning to end.” She shares candid and valuable insight regarding perseverance, embracing change, and the importance of maintaining a positive outlook while navigating both the challenges and rewards of building a career in architecture.
Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a licensed architect.
I began my licensing requirements right after getting my masters degree in May of 2013. It took me 10 months to complete all 7 ARE 4.0 exams, and I took the California Supplemental Exam less than a year later. I was licensed in the state of California in 2016, and I recently applied for licensure through reciprocity in Oregon. I started my business in January of 2018.
What piece of advice would you give to women on that journey now?
Study with a friend or use the exams as a way to make friends! I began a friendship based on study dates and we are good friends to this day. As licensed architects, we have even collaborated on projects and hope to do more in the future. Also sign up for the next exam as soon as you get back to your desk after completing the last. Keep the momentum. Just keep going!
It is said that having a good mentor can help you learn and progress. Did you have a mentor as a young architect, before going out on your own? If so, how did that help you?
I have been very grateful for the kind people and generous mentors I’ve had along the way. There are several architects and academics that have served a huge role in my confidence and progress first as a designer and now as an architect. I am thankful for their on-going mentorship and support as I am at the beginning of what I hope is a life-long practice. My influential teachers inspired me to teach, and I hope that I can continue to serve as a mentor for my former students as well.
Have you ever encountered any obstacles working as a female in a traditionally male-dominated field over the years? If so, can you tell us about it and how you dealt with it?
Yes. I have often felt like I am not heard, or that I do not have a voice in a work situation which stems from being young and being female. Honestly, there have been times where I have handled it poorly, been down on myself for being too timid, or I have been angry. None of that was helpful. I have learned to find a way to speak my mind and move on if needed. It is useless to fight for a voice in a situation that is not willing to provide equal room for all to be heard.
What made you take the leap to start your own firm?
I was offered an opportunity to relocate for a partner track in an all male company. After it became clear that scenario was not a good fit and leadership was not an option, I took the leap.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I have a studio in my backyard that serves as my office. Typically I will spend a large part of my day answering correspondence or in meetings on site or with potential clients. I have one full time employee who is fantastic and we work together closely. Some weeks I work easy 8 hour days, sometimes I work 16 hour days and weekends trying to balance business and design. When it's slow, I try to allow myself to relax a bit.
What is the most rewarding part of being the Principal of your own firm?
The ability to steer the ship and focus on my goals for professional development, project type, and design direction. I also appreciate the flexibility in my schedule and an ability to work remotely while I travel.
What is the hardest part/biggest challenge to being Principal?
Running a business well is very hard, and I have made it a point to start things off the right way, which has been a huge time and financial investment. There are so many things that are required of me on a daily basis outside of just creating good architecture. I spend a lot less time than I’d like to on design, but that is something I hope to change in the New Year.
What type of work does your firm focus primarily on?
We focus primarily on custom residential with some commercial and small multifamily in the mix. I would like to work on some bigger projects and projects in the public realm.
What is your philosophy on design?
The act of building requires optimism. Architecture has the capacity to reflect and shape who we are, and it should enhance our experience through design that is mindful of context, climate, and people. Every project is unique in it’s reason for existing. The process should serve to study, learn and interpret the design problem.
What motivates you in your daily practice?
Growth. My practice is very young... I opened the doors a year ago! Although it can be difficult to stay motivated through tough moments or creative ruts, I remember the fact that this is just the beginning. I am not ashamed to say I occasionally have to pat myself on the back as a reminder that I had the courage to take the leap. I hope there are many years of professional growth and portfolio development ahead.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I had a very strong intro to abstract architectural theory and design in school. The most valuable thing I learned was how to draw inspiration through critical thinking about site and context. From a practice standpoint, I read printed and web-based publications, follow inspiring accounts on Instagram, and try to keep uplifting conversations open with my colleagues.
How would you describe your design style in 3 words?
Thoughtful. Clean. Collaborative.
Out of all the projects you've worked on, what is your favorite project completed to date?
They're ALL great for different reasons... Ask me again in 10 years. :)
What is one parting thought you would like to share with our community of Galchitects?
We would like to thank Gen for taking the time to participate in this Exclusive Galchitects Interview! Feel free to visit her firm's website to see more of their work - prepare to be inspired!
We hope our readers enjoy getting to know and learn about fellow women in the field, their stories, and the projects they are working on. Stay tuned for more exclusive interviews. If you or someone you know would like to participate in an interview, or submit a recent project to be featured, head over to our Contact Us page, and send us a message telling us a little bit about yourself!