Holli Smith has been promoted to Associate Principal! Her commitment to our firm and role in shaping its evolution over the last 20 plus years has been significant. As a licensed Architect and certified Interior Designer, Holli’s ability to visualize spatial design, and then bring it to life through color and materials, furniture and equipment, and technical interior detailing, is reflected in a broad range of TCF’s projects. We seized this opportunity to ask Holli about her time at TCF and experience as a young professional growing up in the industry.
Written by Mishka Morgus
TCF just celebrated its 60-year anniversary in 2020. You’ve been at the firm for 20 years — a third of its existence. How does it feel to be part of shaping TCF into what it is today?
The industry has definitely evolved. In the early years, there were many junior staff starting their careers like I was, and we had a great time learning, laughing, and figuring things out within a production-focused, and often competitive, work environment. The stress level was pretty high; we learned a lot, but didn’t really know any different.
I’ve matured, and like the profession as a whole, have become more thoughtful and intentional. And I’m pleased to say that my favorite aspects from office life that I enjoyed in the early years — humor and camaraderie — have remained. I love how our team strives for deeper, meaningful design together, and recognizes contributions that all individuals offer in bringing ideas to fruition.
Originally, what drew you to TCF Architecture?
Having worked for smaller offices, I wanted to grow outside of what I knew and take the next step in my career.
Reaching back to experiences as a young professional starting out, any words of wisdom?
One – I’ve learned to not hold questions back. It’s better to be open about what you don’t know and grow in understanding than make wrong assumptions. Two – Take on assignments and own the responsibility for seeing them through. Three – Follow your curiosity in pursuing personal passions, because you will discover how seemingly random knowledge will eventually provide a unique and useful perspective.
You’ve become quite an advocate for promoting others and in providing recommendations for project teams. Can you speak more about why advocating for others is important to you?
My early experiences in architecture were equally valuable and challenging. This has given me thick skin, empathy for others, an appreciation for atypical skillsets, and a drive for providing equal-opportunity mentorship.
As ideation Architect for the K-12 studio and focus on interiors, can you speak more about your process? How do you develop concepts? Where do you find inspiration?
I do my best to listen intently to the conversations with users and take good notes. I’ve learned to be patient in coming up with a concept, and not rush it. Have confidence in knowing that inspiration will come if you know what you’re waiting for. A strong concept becomes evident when you are not only convinced, but others around you are equally excited and start building on it.
Any favorite projects? Fun design moments that really came together?
Browns Point Elementary School is my favorite project, due to how our team truly collaborated on bringing together the interior design. I can point to many remarkable design elements and credit their authorship to individuals across the team whose support and passion further strengthened the concept. As strong ideas emerged from others, we rallied around each “champion”, offering guidance in our various areas of expertise to develop and implement these aspects so that they would really shine. One of the building’s characteristic features was imagined by a summer intern who was able to convey the design intent in words and 3D. Today, he is an integral member of our team who carries that formative experience.
You’ve balanced your time between Design and Marketing, developing a niche role at the firm. These are two roles essentially in one. Can you speak more about day-to-day skills you’ve developed to thrive and shape this role successfully? We know you prefer strong coffee.
Diligence, grit, flexibility, and persistence.
As the first woman Associate Principal at TCF, do you have any advice for other women in the industry seeking principal/partner roles in their firm?
Regardless of race/gender/background/beliefs, work hard and have confidence in your value. Lift up others around you, because this is just as important as advocating for yourself.
What’s next? Where do you see yourself going from here? Either in the role as Associate Principal or other?
I enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Read more about Holli’s projects.