David Baker Architects

2021 LEADERS

Caroline Souza, AIA, Principal


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Principal Caroline Souza, AIA, is a skilled architect and leader in social justice-focused design, including affordable housing and design for underserved communities. Caroline has been with DBA since 2014, expanding her role as an “architect communicator” and sharing her knowledge as a housing expert at conferences, particularly on designing viable and activated ground floors. She has been a mentor and advocate for upcoming industry professionals, formerly serving on the steering committee for the NPH Emerging Leaders Peer Network, participating in Enterprise's Affordable Housing Leadership Institute, and ongoing in support of the DBA staff’s professional development.

Caroline’s recent projects include Five88—affordable workforce housing in San Francisco that won the 2018 AIA/HUD Secretary’s Housing and Community Design Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing Design—and La Fénix at 1950 Mission Street, a newly opened 9-story supportive family community featuring extensive services and artist spaces in the Mission District.

Currently, she is helming the design for the first mixed-use building to go into the redevelopment of the Sunnydale public housing community in San Francisco and the Phoenix, a modular housing midrise in West Oakland.

“Caroline has a real knack for making people comfortable. I’ve always been impressed with her skill at community engagement, presenting things clearly, and getting people on board.”
—Daniel Simons, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal

 

Get to know Caroline.

Where I came from:

I’m from southeastern Idaho, from a 4,000-person town on the edge of the giant lava flow left over from the last time Yellowstone blew up. My parents were both Californians from the Central Valley. They’re crop scientists. I can tell you everything that you’d want to know about wheat.

I was interested in architecture even as a kid—the oldest drawing I have is a "sketch" of the Old Faithful Inn from a visit to Yellowstone when I was four years old. I decided to formally study architecture after visiting the Steven Holl-designed chapel at Seattle University. I was so inspired by the light and textures that I knew I just had to learn how to make buildings.

How I got here:

I earned my Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Idaho in 2008 and took an internship with Behnisch Architects in Los Angeles. That summer, the bottom fell out of the economy, so I headed east to earn a Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan. I graduated in 2010 into a still-stagnant economy. I built homes with Habitat for Humanity in Wooster, Ohio, where my parents then lived.

I got my first architecture job at Urban Works in Chicago, a small minority-woman–owned firm. That was where I learned that you should always have both steel-toed boots and a pair of heels under your desk. Urban Works designed libraries and schools in underserved neighborhoods in Chicago. They were creating buildings that improved the everyday lives of people, and that mission put me on a track of compassionate design that led to David Baker Architects. I was originally drawn to DBA because of the quality and generosity of the work, but I’ve really found my home among our team. The people who work here are warm, bright, funny, optimistic—and killer designers. Our work is really a byproduct of having a great team of people who have room to grow, evolve, and have agency.

My role with DBA:

I’m pretty good at getting decisions made: Collecting feedback, organizing people’s thoughts, and moving things forward. I’ve started a lot of initiatives related to the culture of the firm and how we work day-to-day—like our all-office design pin-ups—and collaborated with other colleagues to organize office tours and staffing meetings. I guess I have a bias for progress.

I’ve become more focused on the business side of our projects and the pragmatism that is required in addition to beautiful design. Being clear-eyed about what's important allows me to help direct the firm’s time and energy to things that truly make a difference to our clients, residents, and neighbors. I’ve joined the staffing team and have been taking on personnel management development, mentoring teammates and establishing best practices—but I’m always still learning. I’m also involved in the marketing and communications part of the firm, an interest that builds on my time on the founding editorial team of SOILED, an annual architectural periodical launched in 2011 that investigates architecture, design, and the politics of space.

And of course, I'm engaged with the DBA team in making great buildings and stronger neighborhoods. I took Five88 Workforce Housing through completion in 2018. It felt good to make housing that helps working families, educators, and health-care workers stay in San Francisco. I was the design architect and project manager for La Fénix at 1950, supportive housing that will celebrate its grand opening at the beginning of this year.

Looking ahead:

I think architecture is a fundamentally conservative and institutional practice, which means it’s slow to change. True change in the social and political agenda of the industry is the work of generations. I'm the beneficiary of a lot of work that people before me have put in to improve our profession, and it's my responsibility to help move the needle for those who come after me. I'm active in our women-in-architecture and equity groups in the office, and my growing role in personnel development means I have a bigger hand in supporting the professional flourishing of our team.

As an office, we're pushing ourselves to be more engaged with our communities, both personally and in our work. As architects and citizens, we have the skills and responsibility to support others. I’m excited to take this next step as a principal at David Baker Architects and help bring our work and expertise to the rest of the country. Building sustainable, affordable housing in the Bay Area is challenging, but it means we have devised and innovated a lot of great strategies that we can bring to other cities that are struggling with housing insecurity and environmental injustice.

I see a lot of beautiful buildings that don’t support human thriving. Humans are messy. We have emotions and instincts and lives. One of the things I appreciate about David Baker Architects—that I don’t see universally—is the firm’s real interest in humans. We're not just making showpieces—people actually live out their lives in our buildings, and we treat that with dignity and care.

"Getting to go see people living their lives in a place that we made—supporting human thriving—means so much to me."
Hear more in Caroline's bio video.

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Connect with Caroline at carolinesouza@dbarchitect.com.

Meet DBA's 2021 Leaders.