As owner of Bay St. Louis-based unabridged Architecture, Allison Hoadley Anderson, FAIA, LEED-AP, was already in an elite group as only about 5 percent of architectural firms nationwide are led by a female.
But Anderson now finds herself in even more select company after being recently inducted into the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows, the highest honor awarded by the AIA to its members. Of the more than 80,000 AIA members, only approximately 3,000 hold the fellows designation.
“It is the pinnacle. It says I have made a contribution to my profession on a national level,” said Anderson. “That’s why it is so special to me.”
It has been an interesting journey for Anderson, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii, who did not originally choose design as a career. Instead, she left home to study film at the University of Southern California, but found her studies unrewarding. Anderson said the one aspect of filmmaking that did appeal to her was the melding of technical and creative skills.
“That’s when I looked at architecture,” Anderson remembered. “I heard it was demanding — very hard — and that was all I needed to hear. But I didn’t have a clue when I started.”
Still, Anderson excelled. After earning her bachelor of architecture degree from USC, she went on to the University of Texas, where she was a President’s Fellow and obtained a master of architecture degree.
Anderson began her career in the classroom, teaching architecture at the University of Texas, LSU and Tulane University. By that time, Anderson and her husband, John Anderson, AIA, LEED-AP, who practices with her at unabridged Architecture, was living in Waveland. Anderson would earn her architecture license in 1991, and opened unabridged Architecture in 1995.
Anderson’s career and her firm took an unexpected turn in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Coast, leaving the Waveland-Bay St. Louis area in rubble. She and John had moved into a new, storm-resistant home they built themselves and completed just five weeks before the hurricane hit. Their house received more than seven feet of water, but was one of the few left standing in the storm’s aftermath.
Anderson said having a home allowed unabridged Architecture to get back to work while at the same time served as something of a billboard.
“People said, ‘Look, the architects’ home is still standing. I wonder why,’” Anderson said.
A pioneer in the field of sustainable design (she was the first architect in Mississippi to be named a LEED-accredited professional in 2002, and she chairs the U.S. Green Building Council/Mississippi Advocacy Committee), Anderson said she and her firm put a greater focus on resilience after Katrina.
“It was a really tough wake-up call,” she said. “We questioned whether we doing the right thing — if we should look more at resiliency.”
Anderson offered her firm’s services to the mayor of Waveland in an effort to rebuild the Coleman Avenue area of Waveland. The work would include restoration of the Old Waveland School as well as the Waveland Business Center.
Those disaster recovery efforts cast unabridged Architecture and Anderson onto the national stage. unabridged Architecture, which employs six workers and primarily focuses on civic and institutional projects, is a member of a team, selected from hundreds of applicants, for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition in response to Superstorm Sandy. It is also currently working in Houston, Texas, designing hurricane-resistant housing there.
unabridged Architecture has been recognized for excellence in the design of community shelters, commercial and mixed-use structures, historic preservation and civic buildings.
Those efforts catapulted Anderson. She is the only architect from Mississippi to be named a fellow this year — one of only 139 designers selected nationwide.
The last Mississippi architect to make the College of Fellows is also a woman (Belinda Stewart of Belinda Stewart Architects, P.A., inducted last year). Anderson said she feels that she feels obligated to be a role model to young, female designers.
“Women make up about 50 percent of architecture classes, but only about 20 percent of the licensed architects are women,” Anderson said. “Somewhere, there is a disconnect. There are more things women can do to be mentors.”
Anderson said her induction into the College of Fellows would not mean change at the firm. She said the goal is not to grow unabridged Architecture bigger, but rather to continue to offer meaningful services and sustainable, resilient designs.
Anderson will be honored at an investiture ceremony at the 2014 National AIA Convention and Design Exposition in Chicago.
For more on Anderson and unabridged Architecture, visit www.unarch.com