Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Kimberly N. Dowdell: I am a Detroit girl at heart who happens to live and work in New York, building an ambitious career in architecture and real estate development. My ultimate goal is to help create places that improve the quality of life for all people. I am currently working as a project manager at Levien & Company while I remain active as a co-founder of SEED: Social Economic Environmental Design. I am also the founder of NOMA’s Annual Community Service Project and I serve on the Dean’s Advisory Council for Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning, of which I am a 2006 graduate.
Novedge: You describe yourself as an "Architect. Connector. Change Agent." Can you talk about the interplay of each definition in your professional life?
Kimberly N. Dowdell: As a licensed architect, my professional duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. In a less formal way, I consider myself a connector because I am really good at connecting people with information and with one another for their mutual benefit. For as long as I can remember, I have been an instigator of change. Whenever I observe that something can potentially operate more efficiently, I am eager to suggest improvements. When necessary, I will roll up my sleeves and serve as the “agent” who facilitates the change that I believe needs to happen. These three roles that I have taken on provide me with an opportunity to be both creative and resourceful, while they ultimately allow me to fulfill a great passion of mine, which is helping people. As my career develops, I hope that my capacity to serve others will grow exponentially.
Novedge: What is the vision behind SEED?
Kimberly N. Dowdell: The vision behind SEED emerged during one of my change agent moments when I was a college student interning with the General Services Administration. I had become fully versed in the benefits of LEED due in part to the federal government’s strong support of the program, which I observed throughout my internship. One day it hit me that LEED was missing a very important component, social considerations. It immediately became clear that something I then decided to name SEED should fill the gap. Ultimately the vision behind SEED is to bring awareness to the public about the impact that design and development can have on neighborhoods and the people who live, work and play in them. SEED is intended to acknowledge and celebrate built projects that improve their communities through meaningful stakeholder engagement in the design process and by fostering social, economic and environmental sustainability. The mission of SEED is to advance the right of every person to live in a socially, economically and environmentally healthy community.
Novedge: What does sustainable design mean to you?
Kimberly N. Dowdell: Sustainable design means creating resilience and longevity within human habitats from a social, economic and environmental standpoint.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Kimberly N. Dowdell: I am currently working on two assignments as a project manager with a New York-based real estate project management firm called Levien & Company. The first is a façade and accessibility improvement project for Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of Manhattan. The second is an urban landscape revitalization project for Military Park in Newark, New Jersey.
Middle Collegiate Church is a culturally diverse and inclusive teaching congregation, rooted in Christian tradition as a member of the oldest continuous Protestant Church in North America. Middle has an active presence in the life of their community and has experienced a growing need for additional program space and heightened accessibility within their 125-year-old Church House. My role is to help manage the renovation of their space, including a reconstructed façade to provide a welcoming street level entrance to a newly lowered first floor and lobby space. A new elevator is being provided to support ease of access throughout the building's six levels, thereby enhancing the church’s ability to serve its community.
Military Park is a 6-acre, nearly triangular-shaped park located in the heart of downtown Newark. Restoration, redesign and reconstruction of the existing historic park will include a restored southern plaza, 1.75 acres of new gardens, a restored “Great Lawn”, improved park lighting, renovated garage entrance structures, a re-purposed reflecting pool that will be converted into a signature floral display for the park, a new café and comfort station, and other built improvements to support enhanced park programming. My role is to help manage the work required to activate this vital urban space, which is one of several built projects in the immediate area that are intended to significantly contribute to Newark’s overall revitalization strategy.
Novedge: What was one of your biggest challenges and what have you learned from it?
Kimberly N. Dowdell: One of my biggest challenges was finding the time to actually become a registered architect. In the midst of being a connector, change agent, friend, family member, employee, founder, board member, young person in New York, etc., I could not seem to focus on passing the seven exams that are required for licensure. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t able to just study when I found the time. I literally had to make the time by stepping off of a board position and scaling back a lot of my social engagements. It was very difficult to make those decisions, but ultimately it resulted in the kind of study routine that yielded success on my exams. The major lesson from all of that is similar to what I hear on every flight that I take, “please ensure that your oxygen mask is securely on before attempting to help others.” It was challenging, but I had to take the necessary time to secure my own future before turning my attention to others. Becoming an architect has been a goal of mine since I was eleven years old, primarily because I wanted to rebuild the deteriorated sections of my hometown. I still feel strongly about the power and potential of design to improve places like Detroit. I believe that my official credential as an architect will enable me to be of greater service to urban environments that need redevelopment. This grueling examination experience helped me to understand that one must truly focus at times to move forward and make progress. I also learned that failure informs future success.
Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Kimberly N. Dowdell: Life is like an investment. While it will certainly have its ups and downs through the years, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. In particular, I strongly believe in mentorship and investing time with both mentors and mentees. We always have something more to learn and we always have something to teach.