How ‘Madame Architect’ Inspires the Next Generation of Talent

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A/E/C Stories is an ongoing series of posts featuring individuals who excel in the architecture, engineering and construction industry. Nominate someone.

Julia Gamolina didn’t start her blog, Madame Architect, with any particular goals in mind. She just knew she wanted guidance for her career and to start writing again.

“I wanted to meet other women in the field and an opportunity to keep writing,” says Gamolina, who works in business development at FXCollaborative in New York. “I also wanted to share the great career advice I was gaining from my mentors.”

Having started her career as an architectural designer at STUDIO V and A+I, Gamolina’s professional focus and long hours prevented her from writing as often as she wanted. Yet it was always one of her greatest passions, even back in middle school when she took her first stab at writing a novel.

“Growing up, when I wasn’t with family or friends, I was writing or drawing,” she says. “I did both equally all the time.”

Born in Russia, Gamolina emigrated twice—first to Toronto when she was 8, and then to Colorado Springs, Colorado, when she was 14. “I did a language exchange in high school in the South of France,” says Gamolina. “I lived there with two different families for a summer. In college I interned abroad as well, first in Brazil and then in Austria.”

All of these experiences opened her eyes to the many different people and cultures throughout the world, but it was her parents who had the greatest impact. They raised her to recognize that she could accomplish anything.

“My parents put all their energy and investment into me,” says Gamolina, who now has a younger brother but was an only child for most of her early life. “I wasn’t raised with the feeling that girls are somehow different. There was this idea that women were powerful and could have significant careers. I was always encouraged to do whatever I wanted.”

Gamolina presented at the AIA Cleveland Women in Architecture Celebration in March.

Gamolina presented at the AIA Cleveland Women in Architecture Celebration in March.

Now she hopes that her blog, which launched in May 2018, can become an equally inspiring place for those who dream of a career in architecture.

“There are so many options for how to build a fulfilling career in the industry; I’ve seen many women do interesting things around me,” says Gamolina. “I want to make sure that any young woman or man considering a career in the field is able to find someone to look up to through these interviews, no matter what their interests are.”

Madame Architect is already making an impact. Gamolina says she often receives feedback from those who were touched or inspired by a particular interview. It’s an experience she can personally relate to; she has held on to numerous magazine articles that did the same for her.

“That’s why I keep publishing interviews,” she adds. “Because every time I do, someone will write me and say, ‘Wow, this really resonated with me,’ or, ‘I’d really love to do the same thing.’”

The blog is also opening up opportunities for connecting individuals in real life.

After publishing her story with Megan Chusid, operations director and senior project manager at Urban Projects Collaborative, several women reached out to express their interest in talking to the interviewee.

“Megan is also a good friend, so I’m going to try and organize a dinner with her and the friends that wanted to chat with her,” says Gamolina. “Women inspiring and helping other women is so powerful and I’m really proud every time an interview does that.”

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Shaped by Global Experiences

Gamolina’s passion for architecture comes from her global experiences, which provided a unique look at the world at a very young age. It allowed her to further explore her natural skills and talents.

“I spent most of my childhood in the third largest city in Russia: Novosibirsk,” says Gamolina. “It was a very cosmopolitan culture, and my parents and I would walk everywhere. Then I moved to Toronto and obviously that was a culture shock in terms of language, etiquette and customs. But it was still an urban environment. I felt very comfortable because my day-to-day lifestyle didn’t change that much—I was still walking everywhere.”

In fact, her strolls through the city proved to be some of the most memorable and influential.

“When we emigrated to Canada, we had to start all over,” Gamolina recalls. “My mom has a Ph.D. in math. She was a calculus professor, but when we moved, her degree wasn’t recognized. We couldn’t afford to do much, so a lot of our fun family time was walking around the city and getting to know our new environment that way.”

Those experiences led her to a career as a traditional architect, but deep down she knew there were other ways she could contribute to the profession.

“I loved architecture,” says Gamolina. “I loved studying it, I loved theory and analysis. But the actual making of things I knew wasn’t going to be the way I would contribute to the profession.”

Gamolina attended the Mayor's Office Annual Mentoring & Civic Leadership Reception with mentor Sandra McKee, of Yoshihara McKee.

Gamolina attended the Mayor's Office Annual Mentoring & Civic Leadership Reception with mentor Sandra McKee, of Yoshihara McKee.

Gamolina wasn’t sure how her career might evolve until she saw the day-to-day activities of Jay Valgora, founder and principal at STUDIO V.

“I was working on projects, meeting with engineers and designers,” she says. “But Jay was meeting with journalists, photographers, potential clients and this whole other group of people who are crucial to the industry but in a different way. They’re not working on projects, but are advancing architecture. I remember thinking that I would really love to meet these people and know what they do.”

Her interest in communications continued to grow when she joined A+I.

“Our director of communications at the time, Aurelia Rauch, was so fascinating,” says Gamolina. “She was an art historian who did communications for galleries and then started working in architecture. I wanted to spend time with her and learn from her. When one of my projects was on a bit of a lull, I volunteered to help her and started doing communications, PR, press releases and social media with her.”

“I enjoyed it so much that I eventually started doing it full time,” she says, adding that her interest in business development came about as a way to reach even more people who influence the profession.

Though Gamolina occasionally misses the very early stages of design, she loves her job at FXCollaborative and is thrilled to be engaged in professional practice.

“If I was only writing, I feel I would be a little removed from the core of the profession and being in the thick of it,” she concludes. “I very much have a creative outlet with Madame Architect. I love being able to elevate women and their diverse perspectives, and highlight a great variety in terms of age, race, background and focus. I think the combination of the two—my job and this platform—is a really amazing way to engage with the field.”