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Sunday, 16 March 2014 22:00

Q&A: Lorissa MacAllister, Enviah

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Lorissa MacAllister Lorissa MacAllister COURTESY PHOTO

The founder of Enviah PC, a Grand Rapids-based health care design research firm, is being honored by her alma mater. The University of Michigan Alumnae Council is presenting Lorissa MacAllister with its 2014 Athena Award in honor of her accomplishments in a field that’s often considered inaccessible to women. MacAllister will return to the U of M on March 29 to receive the award and present a lecture on the role of environments in promoting health. She spoke with MiBiz about the honor.

How did you chose architecture for a career?

I actually stumbled into the field myself. I have an undergraduate degree in social work and it was a very influential woman mentor that pushed me to pursue the field in earnest. I had always enjoyed architecture and drawing, as it was more of a hobby than something I saw was attainable as a job or profession.

People don’t necessarily associate women with architecture.

The field of architecture is full of notable men: Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry and Mies van der Rohe to name a few. There are few women in the field and even fewer that are as notable as the previous ones. … I was one of very few women in my master’s program. … We would have fun walking into the woodworking shops or purchasing products at the lumberyard. We would get looks like we may be lost. Once we spoke about our project and our needs, then we would have the respect that we knew what we were doing.

What was it like to break into a male-dominated field?

It was frustrating at times. I would typically be confused as the interior designer. There are two sides to the profession: the client side, which has its own stereotypes, but there is also the profession itself. When I entered the field, there were very few like-minded women in it and even fewer planners in health care that had a license.

How did you get involved in researching the healing impact of environments?

I started as a medical social worker and I really wanted to help people. … I wanted to do more and know more about why hospitals were designed the way they were. I was always a bit different in the architectural practice as I cared more about the interactions and the inner workings of the building and their occupants than the overall aesthetics of the skin. I do think the design is important but it really needs to be a reflection of its people and the culture.

How do you think your focus helped to distinguish your practice?

My focus has always been to help people through the use of space. We spend most of our lives indoors, so why don’t we make them an inviting and invigorating place to live, work and play? Developing the Green Guide for health care that is now the LEED for Healthcare standard (helped) link satisfaction outcomes to the physical space.

Who were your mentors and how did they influence your work?

My family is very entrepreneurial. I grew up surrounded by people that just did what they felt needed to be done and did not wait for others to take it up so that they could follow. Sister Aline Milliard was very influential in helping me see how I could help people through my passion for space. My other mentor is Dr. Craig Zimring. He is a visionary leader in the field of evidence-based design and environments and behaviors.

What is your message to other young women pursuing studies and careers in your field?

Follow your passion. You can accomplish anything you put your best effort to, and take time to breathe.

What does this award mean to you and how does it feel to be recognized among such a large pool of alumnae?

I am truly humbled to have been recognized. I accepted the award to hopefully be a light to others in the field that anyone can do what they have a passion for in life.

What’s next for you and your work?

Finishing my Ph.D. and also working to expand the tools of the interface of space and people. (I want to find) a way to inform any person (about) the best way to use the space they live and work in.

Interview conducted and condensed by Elijah Brumback. 

Read 3910 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 23:26

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