Zhanina Boyadzhieva AIA
Associate at Leers Weinzapfel Associates
When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?
I was interested in the arts from an early age, and would often put an artistic spin on my homework assignments, such as when I embellished my 8th grade essay with a paper model to frame it. Math came easily to me; my father is a math professor. In Bulgaria, where I come from, students typically choose their career path before applying to universities. I was in 10th grade when I figured that architecture could be an interesting mixture of both art and math.
If you could give the you of 10 years ago advice, what would it be?
Stay open-minded and curious, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone to try new and different things. Travel. Meet diverse people. Take risks. Now is the time to experiment. Each experience, whether perceived as a success or a failure, is an excellent learning experience that will help you grow.
Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
Boston, actually! I always thought I would return to Europe after finishing my studies here. Instead, I found a wonderful workplace and environment in which to live and thrive. It took me several years to realize that the Boston area, especially its design world, has grown on me and become my new home.
What has been your most proud moment as an architect/designer?
The project I spent most of my career on so far is the Harvard District Energy Facility (“DEF”) in Allston. During its construction I grew from a designer to an architect to a project architect. As an energy facility, it is not of the typical typology often discussed in architecture. DEF opened my eyes to a new set of design and sustainability complexities. I spent six years with a wonderful team of colleagues, thinking about how to transform the a purely functional facility, hidden behind walls away from the public, into a distinctive urban object that brings beauty and celebrates the invisible infrastructure supporting whole neighborhoods. I smiled when a stranger commented that the building looked like a cool museum.
What are some changes that you have implemented in your firm (or for yourself) to address issues of equity in your profession?
Equity has always been a core value for me, both personally and professionally. Coming from Bulgaria, I have always aimed to approach others with respect and curiosity about their cultures and beliefs. As an “outsider,” it has been perhaps easier to take a step back and question the status quo on practices and norms. In 2017, my friend and colleague Juliet Chun and I initiated a national initiative called the Girl UNinterrupted Project that aimed to bridge the gap between emerging professionals and leaders in the field. Through research and data analysis, we aimed to create transparency on ongoing issues while offering tips for building equitable office cultures. Within Leers Weinzapfel Associates, I initiated and collaborated on the JUST application process that has resulted in several policy changes. I am grateful to the BSA for allowing me to participate in rethinking the organization’s mission to center its core values on equity and look at its practices through that lens.
What is the most effective step you’ve taken in your work toward a more sustainable built environment?
Collaborating with sustainability experts, asking many questions, and applying critical thinking to each project and each situation individually has been an effective approach for me. I am always curious about options and their impacts and then share lessons I learned with others.
What is the greatest potential for architecture to shape a neighborhood community?
Architecture has the power to transform cultures. It can inspire or suppress, unite or separate. I grew up in a city defined by neighborhoods of identical, monotonous, gray communist blocks that lacked beauty. My graduate thesis focused on rethinking the relationships between architecture, politics and social practices. For me, each building is an opportunity to reshape the character within a community and bring people together.