Thorough Curiosity: Jean Brownhill of Sweeten on Embracing Diversity and Realizing Dreams

Jean Brownhill madame architect headshot
Image Courtesy of Jean Brownhill via Madame Architect

Trained as an architect, Jean Brownhill is the Founder and CEO of Sweeten, a free service that matches people with major renovation projects to the best general contractors, offering personal support until the job is done. She has 15+ years of experience in residential and commercial architecture, construction, project management and systems, and while working in Global Architecture at Coach, Jean won the company’s Chairman’s Award for the creation of web platforms for construction of stores worldwide. She is one of only 11 African-American female entrepreneurs in the US to raise more than $1M in venture capital.

Gamolina: What advice would you give to those just starting their careers in the built environment?

Brownhill: I’d encourage people to optimize for their obituary. This sounds morbid, but what I mean is, think about the end of your life – who do you want to be and what do you want to have done? In any of these small incremental steps, when you’re thinking, “Will I be a failure? Will I change my career ten times?” Guess what – nobody cares! At the end of your life, that won’t matter. I find so many people that are afraid of the wrong things. I’m terrified all the time, but I’m more terrified of getting to the end of my life and not having lived the full depth of it.

When you start thinking in that bigger and more meaningful way, you really start to make some shifts.

Read the full interview where Jean talks about her drive to ensure that the online platforms for architecture are built by those who care about it, her drive to embrace inclusion and diversity at every corner and scale of the company, and her drive to realize all people’s dreams for the most intimate spaces in their lives. 

Being Different: Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri on Culture, Success, and Mentoring Women

Portrait of Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri
Image Courtesy of Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri via Madame Architect

Gisue and Mojgan Hariri are two Iranian-born, Cornell-educated sisters, who founded Hariri & Hariri Architecture in 1986. Today they are celebrated as two of the most accomplished women in American architecture and design and are described as one of the most progressive and out-of-the-box firms currently working in the United States. Their projects range from luxury residential developments and hotels, to single-family houses, and high-concept, high-tech experiments. Gisue Hariri has devoted time to teaching since 1987, to emphasize the importance of academic and philosophical discourse within the context of a professional practice, and has been an Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University and a Visiting Critic at Cornell University. She is an activist promoting “Women Empowerment, Equality & Equity” for all women, especially in the male-dominated field of architecture.

Gamolina: What do you wish you knew when starting out that you know now? What advice do you have for those starting their career?

GH: I wish I knew that going into architecture is like going to war and that if you are not a warrior you are not cut to be an architect. There are so many challenges and obstacles in your way of making an inspiring project. If you are not ready to face them with conviction and strength you might as well do something else.

My advice would be to nurture and create opportunities for women in architecture, as I truly believe that women have a lot to offer to the field. We need to be mentors and sponsors to younger women. According to the Architectural Record essay by Sarah Williams, men still largely control architecture’s higher reaches, and they are more likely to lavish attention on younger men. Remember that until we respect, recognize, and appreciate women’s contribution to the field of architecture we cannot change the boys’ club culture, and the sexism and racism that exist globally in architecture.

MH: I wish I knew that the simplest things in life are the most complicated, magical, and extraordinary. What is important is to create memorable experiences, moments, and structures. Great architects are the ones trusted by the public to make buildings that offers a wider range of human experiences.

My advice to the young architects is to remember that Architecture cannot be defined as one thing, style, philosophy or ism. It is the amalgamation of many things, which at it’s best, helps us define who we are today and who we might be tomorrow.

Read the full interview where Gisue and Mojgan talk about coming to the United States from Iran, setting up their practice, and what success means to them, advising young architects to nurture and create opportunities for others, and to remember that architecture is not just one thing.