Exclusive Interview: Karen Frome, AIA
Our Spotlight Interview Series is pleased to introduce Karen Frome, AIA, the Founding Partner of Rise Projects in New York City. Karen’s approach has been one of innovative leadership coupled with a collaborative spirit. Her architecture firm strives to balance “the elegant with the bold” while always delivering a “seamlessly executed” project. She took the time to discuss with us how she juggles the demands of both work and home, where she finds design inspiration, and the importance of trusting your instincts.
Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a licensed architect.
I wasn't interested in architecture until college but I always loved making things. Over time, with different kinds of input, my interest honed in on architecture. I did always know that whatever field I ended up in I would want to work for myself and as soon as I could go out on my own as an architect, I did.
What piece of advice would you give to women on that journey now?
Build and nurture your relationships. Surround yourself with the right people, not just your immediate team members but all of the people you work with in the field. And trust your instincts.
Your firm, Rise Projects, is a NYC certified woman-owned business, which seems to be a rarity in the field of architecture. What are your thoughts on the significance of this?
I’m proud of my business and love to see that opportunities are opening up to people regardless of race or gender. We are moving in the right direction but the profession has a long way to go towards real equality.
What is the biggest challenge and the greatest reward of being the Principal of your own firm? How did you take the leap to start your own firm?
Running your own business is a 24/7 endeavor. Over the years I’ve gotten better at creating a work/life balance, but it is difficult to take my mind completely off the job. I just returned from an incredible trip to Sri Lanka with my family, but there was not a day on that trip that I did not spend some time connecting back to our projects at work.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
My workday is a mix of office time, site visits, client meetings and events. I prioritize spending time at the office with my team, I’m hands on with every project that Rise is working on.
It has been said that having a good mentor can help you learn and progress. Did you have a mentor as a young architect, and what are your thoughts on the importance of that role?
Building a business is a collaborative enterprise about creating relationships, seeking advice, and listening to feedback. I’m not sure I have any particular mentors but I have so many incredible role models and supporters and they're all essential to the success of Rise Projects.
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?
When I first started out I’d often be the only women on a project or site. I find increasingly there are other women in the room, not only in architecture and design, but also in construction and engineering. Its great to see the entire field progressing - although there is still room for improvement!
You have participated in an array of design charrettes across the globe, such as the one held in Denmark, hosted by the Van Alen International Council, which addressed density in urban spaces. How does your participation in these events affect who you are as an architect and how you approach design in your own practice?
It is so important to find opportunities to break out of your routine and stretch your mind. I find that having a variety of cultural and intellectual experiences keeps my thinking fresh and allows me to shift perspective. I love these kinds of opportunities to see foreign places and interact with colleagues from different backgrounds.
You recently (and very successfully!) co-chaired the Architectural League of New York’s 2018 Beaux Arts Ball in NYC. This year’s theme was “Vector” which recognized and celebrated the “bow of ideas, goods, and people through global networks of communication and exchange.” Can you tell us more about this event?
The Architectural League Ball is such an amazing event - I’m proud to have been involved with it. Its always uplifting to see friends and colleagues come out and support this organization that has done so much for this essential architectural organization.
Of the many projects you are working on or have completed, is there one that stands out as particularly exciting or special?
One of my favorite things about being an architect is that each project is a new adventure and opportunity to learn so its hard to single out any project. That said, I’m still enjoying the afterglow of completing George Jackson Academy, a middle school for boys in underserved communities. At the opening event, where the boys acted as tour guides, they spoke of how they could not believe they went to a school that looked like this. Their words brought several people to tears and were the best compliment I can imagine!
Where do you draw inspiration from?
For me, inspiration is about a mind set. I find it most often when I break out of the everyday - which is why I make time to see art, go to performances, and whenever possible, travel to new places. At other times that state of mind comes from looking inward - walking on the beach, working out, or watching the sunset over the Manhattan skyline.
How would you describe your design style in 3 words?
How about three images?
An orchid, a bespoke suit, the Mediterranean sea.
What is one parting thought you would like to share with our community of Galchitects?
We would like to thank Karen 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 - you will not be disappointed!
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!