Michelle Montgomery landed in the Pacific Northwest just over a year ago, meaning she spent about six months in our Seattle office before the coronavirus pandemic and has been working remotely ever since. We caught up with Michelle to learn more about her three-year stint in Italy before joining ZGF, how she continues to build her professional network from home, and why filling her table with family and friends is so important right now.
When did you realize you wanted to work in architecture?
My dad is a retired builder. He could always see the finished product in his head. He taught me to hang drywall and to “measure twice, cut once.” He is a true craftsman. Growing up, he always told me to find something I love doing. I studied art, interior design and product design before discovering that architecture was the right fit for me due to the scale, complexity and impact our work can have on the world.
Tell us about your time living in Italy. How has it shaped your approach to design?
Living in Italy for three years was inspiring. It changed my perspective in ways I did not expect. I appreciated experiencing the rich history of architecture throughout Europe and how it has evolved to serve our 21st century society, but there was so much more. There is a dynamic nature to life in Italy. It is both slow and fast, simple and complicated. You can travel to new places, see all the sights, and then find a café to slow down and sit quietly in the moment watching what seems like the whole city walk by. We lived in the countryside and used every spare weekend to travel, getting enough stamps to fill all three of our kiddos’ passports along the way.
The people I encountered were bold, unfiltered and unapologetic. They have a deep love for family and community. I witnessed the passion and commitment it takes to dedicate one’s life to their craft. Having the time to personally connect with these craftsmen, who inherit their deep-rooted pride and sense of purpose from a long line of artists, wine makers, leather workers, furniture makers, ceramicists—and learning of their new vision for age old practices—fueled my desire to create meaningful spaces. My approach to design is now much more user-focused, putting greater emphasis on materiality, functionality and simplicity.
Why is professional development and mentoring young professionals so important to you?
Being a military spouse and having lived in 10 very different places in my lifetime, one consistent thread throughout my career has been volunteering both with AEC industry organizations and with military organizations. The fresh thinking and energy of young professionals around the world motivates me.
As a co-chair of the Emerging Professionals Committee of the AIA International Region, I get to collaborate with others and hear compelling stories of how they make it all work. I am an introvert at heart, but I have found myself excited to reach out to architects around the world to further our professional development and mentorship efforts, even during the pandemic. I recently wrote an article about this for the fall issue of Connection, a publication of the Young Architects Forum (check out page 28!).
I also helped plan the AIA International Region 2020 Virtual Conference: Catalyzing Change, which took place November 17-21. It was fun putting together two sessions for this conference: “Young Architects Roundtable” and “NCARB & You: International Licensure & Certification Alternatives.”
How do you balance project work, family life and all your volunteer efforts—especially now that we’re working remotely for the foreseeable future?
In today’s world, the lines between these efforts are blurred. It has been interesting finding ways to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances. For my family of five, we strive to stay positive, choose our commitments wisely, and give each other the grace to get through 20 virtual meetings that some days hold for us. We are also early risers and try to make the most of the morning hours.
Working with NCARB, AIA International Region and AIA Continental Europe is a fun way to stay connected and do something meaningful while challenging me to learn more about the profession and grow my network. The west coast time zone allows for early morning calls to be on the fringe of the workday for my international counterparts.
Do you have any hobbies outside of the office?
I really love cooking big meals and filling my table with friends and family. I also enjoy being silly with my kids, traveling, and a good cup of coffee.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My grandfather, who worked on several key defense and space missions for the U.S. Navy, lived his life to “get the good out of every day.” He woke up at 6 a.m. even in retirement, he was a faithful Christian, and he valued being a role model to the people in his life. We recently lost him, but his advice for a good life and his legacy will live on in our family forever.