My name is Lindsay Schack. I married my husband the first year of architecture school. We had a joke about my level of devotion given his last name (his last name being Schack) – and that I would actually take his last name. Also about that fact that I was going to be an architect with the last name ‘Schack’ and that was going to be a handicap, right?!
I met my business partner Lindsey Love at graduate school. It wasn’t until 5 or 6 years ago we decided to start consulting for each other, then we thought we’d turn it into a business and take it seriously. We got massive pressure from all over the place to call our business Love Schack Architecture. We resisted it for a while, because we thought it was cheeky. What we’ve found is that it makes people smile. Thankfully the pairing of our names remind people of a band that generally people think of as happy and positive. It worked out well.
I grew up in a rural area of eastern Montana, where there are no architects. There was no culture of design. Everyone thought I was nuts for wanting to do it. I was one of those kids that wanted to be an architect when I was 6. I remember sending a drawing to my Grandmother after I had visited her, where I drew her entire living room and remembered all the details. My parents were just aghast at how I could see all of that in my head.
In order for me to go to college I had to get a scholarship somewhere. I managed to get an academic and athletic scholarship at The University of Montana, and studied psychology along with athletic training for track & field. My father was excited that I was getting into college, but actually discouraged me from going into architecture. He was trying to protect me. He thought, ‘you’re not good at math, you don’t want to deal with carpenters, plumbers and electricians…you should go into interior design’…right? It’s probably the best thing he could have said to me, because I went into architecture just to spite him! I later began my study of architecture at Montana State University and have dual degrees in social science and architecture.
Like Australia, Montana is a vast state. It takes like 13 hours to drive from one end to the other. I’m from the far eastern side and I practice now in the South-western part, near Yellowstone National Park, In a place called Bozeman. My partner Lindsey Love is in Teton Valley, Idaho, west of Yellowstone National Park and about 200 miles south of Bozeman. We have two other architects in the Bozeman office and another designer in Jackson, Wyoming. We are a remote studio, organized around the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.
The hardest part of setting up the business was just deciding to go out and start our own practice. My youngest daughter was about 2. She’s 8 now. I had been working for others for 15 years and had started to understand that the flexibility I wanted for my family, was going to be hard for another architect to provide. For years I had been getting approached from friends and colleagues for moonlighting and side work and had always said ‘no’. Finally a big project came along and it seemed suddenly obvious and I thought ‘Oh, I think this is how people start companies…’
Black Bull Residence, Bozeman, MT
A lot of the challenge was a confidence crisis. Everyone must be smarter than me. Better than me. I think the real fun thing to find out was that we were very capable of doing it on our own. It’s another design problem, right? Developing a business is a design problem and we are good at those.
We are continually evolving in our relationship. We realise that when we do solve problems together, it’s just better. I could never pull things apart and say, ‘oh I did this and Lindsey did that.’ At the start we thought it’d be just the two of us and we’d plug away and make enough money to survive. Inevitably these projects came in and we were challenged to realise we were going to grow the company. We are going to have a team. How are we going to do that? That’s the challenge now, to manage a team and have everyone pull in the same direction.
We somehow circumnavigated the challenges of the remote structure of our studio. We use technology to remain in contact with each other and find inspiration. We don’t necessarily have to just go down to the local lumber yard, we can find and reach far beyond what our local resources are, which benefits us.
There are a lot of interesting things about being a female owned architecture firm. All of our architects on staff are women. I made jokes in the early days when it was just the two of us that I was going to build a ‘lady army’. I often got self-conscious about it and was like…that’s not ok…gender is not the focus here! But we just happened to identify, through the remote studio pressure and through our drive for flexible space and time, that we open ourselves up to talent that all the other firms were missing.
We are really focused on good communication. It’s everyone’s responsibility to communicate their level of availability. What their conflicts might be. What their window of work is and when it’s not. One thing that was really important was there not being a sort of hierarchy of who’s flexible time is more important – we create those boundaries around our time ourselves and not defined by others. The choice lands with each person being personally responsible for time and not so much being about the division of work and whether you deserve to go take that day.
In my experience female designers appear to have some humility about the things that they still have to learn. I have approached other firms intending on wanting to give away all this information and work we have done, for free on Passive House methods. In my opinion everybody should be building Passive House! The majority of the principles I spoke to, who are my colleagues, my friends, said ‘thanks, but no thanks, I’m pretty sure there is nothing you could teach me.’ They were just very confident that they knew better. That’s changing now, however I think women are naturally more curious when it comes to those things and have some humility to say ‘I don’t know all the things.’
I often tell student interns they shouldn’t get stressed out about who they are going to work for when they get out of school. My advice would be no matter where you work, you are going to learn. And usually you’re going to cycle through a few firms before you find a good fit. If you’re really lucky you might stick with a firm straight out of school, but that’s rare.
Working as a young architect, you’re going to be drafting and designing at a computer forever. Consider getting out on a job site. Go pound nails. I did framing on site when I was in architecture school and I almost didn’t go back to school, because it was so much fun. I learned a lot about architects from the perspective of the builder. I always tell architecture students that if you’re struggling to find a position in a firm, go work for a contractor. You’ll learn just as much there than you would in an office.
When I was framing one summer, there was an issue with one of the roof trusses. When the project architect showed up on the job site, a muddy job site in her suit and heels and teetered around to where we needed to talk to her. She was very knowledgeable and professional but she wasn’t able to answer the question on site. When she left, the guys on the crew ripped her apart. I just observed all this, I didn’t have any judgement. I initial thoughts were if she can be an architect, I can be and architect and secondly, I want to be the kind of architect that can talk to builders and not be intimidated on the job site. I could see in her face she was saying ‘I don’t want to be here’.
Black Bull Residence, Bozeman, MT
I realised I needed to understand the language. I needed to understand how to talk to these guys. I needed to be able to pull up a sheet of paper and work out a detail right there and be helpful. I’m married to a contractor and so I’d come home and say ‘What’s this conflict between architects and builders?’ Why does this always happen? Does it have to be that way? Is it possible we could work with contractors and be on the same side of the table?
I tell my children especially when they are struggling (they are 8 and 11) that they are ‘smart, capable and can do hard things’. If they say they don’t want to do something, my husband and I say ‘…this is another hard thing you’re going to do. Remember that other hard thing you had to do? This is another one of those hard things. And guess what? You can do hard things…’ It’s become a family joke where I hear them saying it to each other, when they do think I can hear them…’remember, you’re smart, capable and you can do hard things…’ It’s so cheesy, yes, but it helps.
Danielle ran into Lindsay at the Passive House conference in New York and her energy was infectious. Chance meeting, but one that left an impression. Back in Australia, we knew that having Lindsay on the blog was a must. Touching base across the world and interviewing Lindsay about her journey and the firm she has created with biz partner Lindsey Love has been fantastic. Not only is Lindsay’s energy also infectious via Skype, but running an all female partnership and a remote studio is a testament to Lindsay’s passion and drive for architecture and good design. We wish Lindsay and Lindsey all the best for 2020 and hope you’ve enjoyed today’s piece. Remember you can leave comments below! D & J x