I Look Up Architect Feature Series: Karen Williams

The Look Up Film Challenge has brought to life stories of architecture and impact from a wide array of perspectives. We would like to shed light on even more of these inspiring individuals making a positive impact on our cities, lives and communities. To highlight these architects and their unique visions, we have interviewed our six talented Look Up Film Challenge Judges with an expertise in architecture.

Karen E. Williams, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C is consistently working to educate people about the inner benefits of the architecture community. She is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Oregon where she teaches Revit and Professional Practice. As a means to be professional example, Karen is on the AIA-SWO board and supports STAnDD a local student group. She joined PIVOT Architecture in 2014 as a Project Architect after practicing on the East coast for 9 years.

Read about Karen’s thoughts on the Film Challenge, architecture, and her work promoting the architecture community.



Karen E. Williams, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Q: What inspires you about the Look Up Film Challenge?

I am inspired to not spend too much time looking back into the past or focusing on the future. To me, the​ ​ilookup challenge is synonymous with stopping to smell the roses. It means being aware of current trends and connecting with the present moment. There is so much to be gained from living in the now. Architects are making believable contributions to the world. We are not the flat people that were previously projected in the media. We all need to make a conscious effort to be real, whole people. I am inspired to participate in my community. I am inspired to show up and represent what I support and believe in as a member of the community.


​Q: How do you see ​I Look ​U​p influencing perceptions of architects and architecture?

​ilookup has the potential to educate the community on the value of architecture in their daily lives beyond residential spaces. I see the potential in illustrating through video the lives of architects. The responses to the challenge were not what I expected as visual representatives to the challenge. Still, the winner was one of my top choices, as it connected to inspiration as an underlying value for architects. I believe that inspiration and making a difference are at the forefront of what we do as architects. When we share our vision and inspiration with people outside of the profession, we provide them with the means to understand our intentions as architects and the intention of architecture in the world.

I hope that future submissions to the challenge illustrate architects who look up from their desks and their career agendas and actively participate in their communities. There are many architects who personify the connected architect of today; individuals who build communities by creating conscious and considerate architecture. I hope that these architects who participate in their communities by serving on civic boards, supporting education of the profession and participating in community based organizations, will submit their stories as a way to personify the whole architect. I hope that these architects and practitioners will share not just their experience, but their lives as connected members of the profession. This will help to further the intention of this challenge.


​Q: What was the most impactful project that you have worked on recently, and how did the experience alter the way you think about architecture?

​I feel the most reward from working on projects that have a significant amount of community involvement; projects where the community is a partner in developing the architecture. Two of my recent projects have had a significant impact. These were the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando, FL and the Howard Elementary School, Eugene, OR. On the surface, these two project differ in every way, though the similarities include scale, context and building typology.

These details are only surface attributes, as the heart of these projects is the people that will benefit from the construction of these facilities in their communities. Both facilities will serve to educate the community. Both are intended to serve as a home for young people. For me, architecture gains value when the community commits to the development of the project and exhibits pride in the vision. The intrinsic value of the building grows over time as memories are created in the spaces. Architecture tells a story about living people through living spaces. If we live in the buildings they come alive with our experiences.

In my experience, architecture has become focused on the story and the experience of the living building. When I was in school, I don’t think that we spent enough time talking or thinking about the experience of the designed space. Since I have been practicing, and particularly on these projects, I have been invested in the lifetime of the building and not just focused on the life of the architecture during the phases of design.


Q: What was your vision for addressing diversity in design as a key member in founding AIA Orlando’s Women in Architecture Committee?

Diversity in design is a broad concept with many meanings. To me, diversity in design is representing the perspective all levels of stakeholders and building occupants no matter their race, gender, means, or creed. All groups are treated equally. The vision of the Women in Architecture – Orlando (WIA-O), relative to diversity in design, was to assemble a forum of practicing women in the community. “The members meet regularly for mentorship, support, and advocacy for women in the architectural profession.” – WIA-O mission statement excerpt.

When I got licensed, I was seeking a wider group of professional examples. The development of the WIA-O was intended to provide examples of the body of architecture for women practicing in the community, connect the women in construction, and provide a safe place for dialogue.

As a part of our core values, we encouraged participation in local and national organizations. My key vision was participation with a focus on inclusion. Inclusion is possible when you do more that just appear. Inclusion is activated when you use your voice and take an active role/position on points that push for change. Inclusion is achieved not just sitting at the table, but by taking an active role in participating in the discussion. I strongly believe that in order to make a change, you have to be present and participate. ​

This pushes the agenda of diversity in design, which has the potential to effectively represent a diverse pool of perspectives. In order to get the topics that matter to you to be noticed, we all need to be willing to advocate for our beliefs which will continue to propel our continued achievements towards diversity in design.


Q: As a mentor and a teacher, how do you see students and emerging professionals as being important in the future of architecture?

Students and emerging professionals openly challenge and question the decisions that architects of the past have made.Great architects have always been born from adversity and opposition, as well as the pursuit of answering a greater question: “What’s next?”.

I see it as important to return their curiosity with the question,  “How would you do it differently?” with the intention of provoking their perspective and encouraging them to look deeper and to start down the road of laying out an intention towards change. We need to uncover the gut reaction that they are sharing and derive intention of the challenge to see how we can break the trends of the norm towards a stronger future. Pushing against the norm is a key factor in all of us becoming stronger architects. It’s in our DNA to want more; not just to build larger but better for everyone. The insurgence of technology and the push towards equity will make the age of the future architect even more revolutionary. The curiosity of students and emerging professionals is paving our way towards an engaged and conscious architectural revolution.