Women in Architecture Spotlight: Anne Torney
WIA’s Chair, Angshupriya Pathak, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, kicks off our first Women in Architecture Spotlight with an interview with Anne Torney, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Partner of Mithun. They cover the important topics of inequity, mentoring, leadership, and advocacy, while also highlighting some of Anne’s latest design work and offering advice for future leaders.
Anne Torney, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Anne is an architect who has made affordable multi-family housing and transit-oriented urban infill the focus of her work for more than 20 years. She brings a deep commitment to community outreach and sustainable design to all her projects, which range from supportive studios for formerly homeless seniors, to the revitalization of isolated public housing sites into walkable, mixed-use and mixed-income communities. Her affordable housing experience includes award-winning projects in San Francisco as well as San Jose, Los Angeles and Seattle. Notable examples are the national AIA Housing Award-winning 1180 Fourth, and Sansome and Broadway Family Housing, a CNU Charter Award honoree.
Anne serves on Mithun’s Board of Directors and leads the firm’s San Francisco office. She is Chair of the Executive Committee for San Francisco Housing Action Coalition. Through her broad work with organizations including AIA and SPUR, Anne advocates for diversity in the profession and expanded access to affordable housing.
Q1: How would you describe your career in one word?
Q2. Did you ever face issues of inequity in the profession? How did you navigate those moments?
Personally, I have experienced only negligible obstacles due to my gender. However, I am more and more aware of the privilege I enjoyed relative to many talented, committed professionals with different racial and educational backgrounds. Furthermore, working with affordable housing providers, community development organizations and their residents makes the inequities of our current system very vivid. I’m lucky to have a small role in addressing them, as an architect.
Q3. Tell us about a mentor or role model who impacted your growth in the profession.
Oh, so many... but for sure my onetime professor and longtime colleague Daniel Solomon, for his understanding of city-making as an integrated endeavor that embraces the whole spectrum from architecture to urban form.
Many of San Francisco’s non-profit affordable housing providers are led by women, and there are always a high percentage of women and women leaders amongst the development, property management and services staff. When I worked with other project types later in my career I realized how atypical this was in real estate development. Working with female leaders certainly informed my view of who leads, and how.
Q4. What was a pivotal point in your career that launched you into Leadership?
I became a Principal with Dan’s office in the 90’s; When our firm joined WRT a few years later I became an owner of the merged firm. Project leadership and then learning stewardship of not only an office but a large, multidisciplinary firm, was a great combo.
Q5. You have mentioned, there isn’t one model for Leadership. What is your model of Leadership?
Holding the larger vision and stewardship. I’m passionately committed to affordable housing and community development and to creating circumstances for others to work their own particular magic in the world.
Q6. You have been a partner in your practice for well over a decade. What are some of the pressing challenges that you face as a Partner and what motivates you on a day to day basis?
- Social equity and climate change… so much to do every day to keep our collective eye on the ball
- Promoting and maintaining work of the highest quality
- Plugging each individual into the right project, the right role, so they are challenged, but also keeping an eye on the whole firm and our collective narrative
- Day to day - it is so FUN to do the work we do together, ‘we’ being colleagues as well as the whole professional and urban community with whom we share a POV
Q7. You are the Chair of the Executive Committee for SF Housing Action Coalition and are a member of AIA, SPUR and the ULI. Tell us about the role advocacy plays in your life.
If you don’t show up for issues that are important to you, who will? That said, I originally joined these organizations for the invigoration of learning from a lot of smart people about the profession, urbanism and housing from the political, legal and financial perspectives, not just the design perspective. I love working in urban places because the projects are complex, but the result has an impact beyond just the building itself. Architects are cultural workers and the narrative, or story we tell with a building will resonate more and longer if it is deeply informed.
Getting out of the office and seeing the world through others’ eyes also helped me understand what designers contribute and the power of great design as a form of advocacy.
Q8. What are you most proud of in your career to date and why?
People moving into our housing and playing in our open spaces. I’m moved by what a difference it makes in people’s lives to live in safe, stable housing that’s as beautiful as any in the City. It’s also incredibly cool to watching people I have mentored become professionals I look up to! (like you, Angshu. And don’t you dare cut that.)
Q9. We would love to hear about projects you have on the boards. What projects are you are currently excited about?
A trio of buildings in SFs Inner and Outer Mission district for several of SF’s amazing affordable housing providers, helping them provide safe, delightful homes and cultural infrastructure for beloved neighborhoods undergoing rapid change. These buildings’ designs were driven by community priorities and insights; they are transit-oriented, green and health promoting and taken together will provide 400 new homes for about 1000 of our most vulnerable fellow citizens.
Q10. What is one piece of advice you would give that could be acted on today, that would make someone a better leader?
Find what you love and do THAT. Working with someone who is totally fired up is energizing, inspirational, and contagious.