Karen Braitmayer, FAIA
I did not begin my career as an architect or an advocate. My dad worried about the limited potential of a liberal arts degree and he encouraged me to consider other fields. Testing revealed my aptitude for architecture, but it was not until I graduated with a behavioral science degree from Rice University that I decided to try architecture school at the University of Houston. I loved it and realized that I found the creative outlet that I never even knew I needed.
After graduating with a Master in Architecture from the University of Houston in 1985, I worked in a Houston firm, then moved to Seattle in 1987. While interviewing for a job, I met architect David Wright who encouraged me to examine how, through my own experience as a wheelchair user, I might make a unique contribution to the field.
I was born with the genetic disorder Osteogenesis Imperfecta. It causes brittle bones that break easily, often with little or no apparent reason. If you think of the collagens that make up bones as bricks, some of mine are normal but others are irregular; it makes the architecture of my body wacky.
I thanked David for his advice, but at the time I just wanted to be like any other young architect. However, his words continued to percolate in the back of my mind.
I landed a job at Callison Architecture working on retail projects but realized that colleagues regularly stopped by my desk for advice on barrier-free design. I’d find simple errors that could have a huge impact on accessibility. In 1993, I founded Studio Pacifica, Ltd. with my friend and classmate from UH, George Hallowell. With his experience as a Grammy-nominated audio engineer, our firm had expertise in designing recording studios, as well as commercial, institutional and residential projects. He decided to pursue other interests in 2006 and I became the sole owner of the firm and renamed it Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, Ltd in 2012.
One of my first forays into public policy making was as a member (and later chair) of a Technical Advisor Group for the Washington State Building Code Council (WSBCC). Washington State was an early leader in accessibility design legislation, acting long before the ADA passed in 1990. I participated in the development of state regulations that subsequently were the first regulations certified by the Department of Justice as equivalent to the requirements of the ADA. I served as a Governor’s appointee to the Building Code Council from 1994 to 2001.
In 2004 the American Institute of Architects elevated me to the College of Fellows for my contributions to the profession.
In September of 2010, President Barack Obama appointed me to the U. S. Access Board, an independent Federal agency that provides leadership in accessible design under the ADA and other laws. I have served as Vice-Chair and Chair and am currently serving my second four-year term.
In addition to my work as a consultant and advisor on public policy, I provided pro bono services to local review committees including those for Safeco Field, Seahawks Stadium, Seattle’s Civic Center and the Central Library. I also enjoy mentoring college-bound high school students with disabilities as part of the University of Washington DO-IT program. It’s important to me that the students see that they are welcome in any activity, environment or experience that they wish to participate.
My office is in a Lake Union marina not far from the Center for Wooden Boats, where I met my husband, a marine mechanic. As a Connecticut native, I grew up sailing off Cape Cod. Right now, I love juggling my life as a wife and a mom to a busy teen-age daughter. I believe that anything is possible and don’t let the perceived or physical limitations of the world slow me down.