Open for Business: Central Illinois architects making waves for women in industry

Open For Business

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Architecture is getting a new look in Central Illinois.

Jenny Fuqua from St. Joseph, Sarah Joos from Morton, Anita Lanning from Normal and Jean Underwood from Heyworth are spearheading the launch of Design Mavens Architecture. 

“I think all of us in our personalities balance each other out, which makes Design Mavens so special is that we all come together and we have the same mentality and passion for what we do and what we want to accomplish in our communities,” said Joos.

Among the four architects, there’s more than 60 years of experience: Joos has 15 years, Fuqua has 11 years, Lanning has 17 years and Underwood has 20 years. The group has worked together in the corporate design world since 2011. Then in February, they decided to break ground on their own entrepreneurial endeavors becoming principals in architecture. The co-founders call the move a silver lining in the pandemic. Their focus is to bring more diverse faces to the architectural table. 

“As a young woman or somebody of color that’s coming into the profession, when you start to look up at who’s leading practices and who’s leading construction firms, it’s mostly men. And so it’s hard to see yourself as a successful owner of a firm or as a successful partner of a firm because you just don’t see that example very much.”

jean underwood

Fuqua said, “We started having those conversations about ‘If we do this, what might it look like? How can we be examples to others in our profession, examples to young girls and really kind of strive for the equity and inclusiveness that we want to see in the industry?’”

With this new, women-owned architectural firm, the four are now strategically propelling the change in representation that they want to see.

“I think a lot of women and people of color kind of fall off and go to other career choices because they don’t see themselves in that position,” said Underwood. “And so one of the things we’re trying to do is show people what it looks like to be a female owner of a firm or a female business woman…”

Joos, Fuqua, Lanning and Underwood also discussed the challenges that family life can pose in navigating the architecture industry. Joos cited concerns about the disconnect between career momentum and motherhood.

“…A lot of times when you’re working on a project and you go on maternity leave, that project goes to somebody else,” said Joos. “So your projects are kind of distributed to other people. So they’re no longer yours. And when you come back, you kind of have to start over again.” 

Now the co-founders say they have more autonomy over their career paths.

Underwood said, “I wanted to work for an architecture firm that was led by women, women represented heavily at the top. I wanted to have a really good work-life balance, to be able to pick the types of projects I’m working on.”

Right now, Design Mavens Architecture is in its early stages. The group is focusing on business development and marketing. But their hope for the future is long-term. 

Lanning said, “We really wanted to embrace the small project team feel where we just do really high quality work together as a team. We feel like we’d be able to make our clients really happy.”

For more information, visit the website for Design Mavens Architecture.

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