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Aug 23, 2023

Sandra A. Jahnes AIA

Sandra Jahnes Headshot EDITED

Sandra A. Jahnes AIA

Photo by Roxana Perdue.

Partner, RUHL | JAHNES Architects

Professional or personal website:


Master of Architecture, MIT
Bachelor of Science in Architecture, University of Virginia

Professional interests:

Residential design, building envelope design, modern architecture

BSA involvement:

Member of the BSA’s Small Practices Network

When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?

I became interested in architecture before I even knew what it was to have a career. Instead of playing with dolls, I built dollhouses and spent as much time as I could accompanying my father at his workbench. As soon as I heard there was a job that allowed you to create in such a way every day, I knew it was for me. To this day, I value the art of making and find my greatest joy in seeing ideas come to life during the construction phase.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

Finding an excellent mentor has been the greatest contributor to my success. Over the past 16 years, I have worked with and learned from William Ruhl FAIA—seeing him stand up for design vision, navigate client relations, and treat employees with respect. He has been my constant cheerleader throughout my career, and two years ago we became business partners, forming RUHL | JAHNES Architects. I owe so much of my success to him.

What do you hope to achieve through your work?

I hope to make the lives of individuals better by designing joyful living environments that are aesthetically and functionally honest, contextual, and environmentally forward.

Intext Nid Heureux EDITED

Nid Heureux Project in Cambridge, MA.

Photo by Tony Luong.

Which one of your current projects excites you the most?

I enjoy working in residential architecture because with each and every project, we get to positively impact the lives of our end user(s). The current project that stands out for me, though, is designing a home renovation for a family who has a child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The progressive nature of his condition means that his accessibility needs will grow with each passing year. Our goal is to provide basic and well-integrated support elements for his current mobility and allow for the addition of lifts, automation, and wheelchair compatibility in the future.

I find the family so inspiring and every moment of the design process challenging and uniquely rewarding. I am seeing things from a new perspective and learning things that I hope I will have the opportunity to apply to future projects.

Have you won any award(s) from the BSA or another establishment? What elements from that project would you like to see shape the future of the profession?

We were awarded an AIA New York/BSA 2020 Residential Design Award for the work we did renovating a home originally designed by midcentury Modernist Paul Rudolph. Seeing as we are big fans of Rudolph’s work, the project was a labor of love. It was challenging, however, in that it involved preserving the essence of the original design, all while reworking many aspects to suit the contemporary needs of the family and to bring greater energy efficiency to the home. As a profession, we can benefit from thinking openly and broadly about preservation and adaptive reuse, and bringing contemporary principles of comfort and energy efficiency into treasured architecture of all time periods.

Intext Rudolph House EDITED

Rudolph House in Cambridge, MA.

Photo by Tony Luong.

What do you see as the largest barrier to equity in your profession?

Equity stems from opportunity, and there are still significant financial barriers that prevent talented individuals from pursuing careers in architecture. The lack of diversity at the highest levels of our profession cannot be improved upon without solving this root problem. I had the pleasure of serving as a juror for the Architects Foundation Diversity Advancement Scholarship program and was overwhelmed by the talent, passion, and drive to improve the architecture profession and built world, yet these students have an uphill journey financially. My participation left me feeling that we have a long way to go to nurture, support, and mentor the next, ideally more diverse, generation of architects.

What do you see as the largest barrier to a zero-waste building, city, and world?

How we are communicating our environmental challenges and also understanding how they are interconnected. At the moment, we are struggling with the sometimes-competing priorities of reducing waste while bringing older structures up to the latest energy and stretch energy codes. We find ourselves having to demolish portions of building envelopes just for the purpose of increasing the energy efficiency, and there isn’t a good system in place for diverting this waste. When possible, we try to work with local organizations to facilitate the donation of items such as windows, doors, interior millwork, plumbing, etc., but these efforts feel small compared to the larger problem. It feels like a game of whack-a-mole, where solving one problem creates another, especially considering the lack of options for diverting waste.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find equal inspiration in people and in place. If we design to be true to the individual and the opportunities of the place, then I believe we’ll create a special space. Each project is different because these variables are unique.

What are you reading right now?

I am excited to be reading the first Harry Potter book with my two children—it is such a vibrant world, and I can’t get enough of their wide-eyed engagement!

What would you like to see change about Boston's built environment?

It would be a tie between the failing public transportation system and the lack of affordable housing. This is a big, complicated problem but one we need to continue to chip away at for Boston to continue to thrive.