One Oregon Woman is Transforming the Architecture Industry

Designer Kathy Shaloo Berg is a leadership role model—and the lone woman at the top tier at ZGF Architects' Portland hub

By Randy Gragg March 2, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Amy Martin

Kathy Shaloo Berg speaks in short sentences. They could be bullets on a well-drawn to-do list. But she delivers them in the steady, cadenced breath of the cross-country scholarship–winning runner she once was. “It’s not about how much time you spend,” the architect says. “It’s about getting the work done well.”

Berg is one of eight partners at ZGF Partnership’s 235-person Portland hub—and the lone woman at that top tier. In an industry notoriously unforgiving to her gender, particularly to mothers, Berg is married with two young sons. An Architectural Record survey of prominent firms in 2013 found that women make up 17 percent of the leadership; of her 42,000 fellow “early midcareer” architects, women with children drop out of the field at a rate four times that of women without kids.

To John Breshears, a noted green-design consultant who has worked with Berg for 12 years, Berg “is transforming the industry”—not for being the rare female partner, but by managing ever-more-complicated projects with a nimble, ensemble style usually reserved smaller, “atelier” design studios. “Kathy is a role model for how leadership needs to move,” says Breshears.

Berg leads teams shaping buildings like a top-secret, 2.1-million-square-foot corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley; Clif Bar’s award-winning headquarters in Emeryville, California; or the intimate rehab of a Camas American Legion Hall into CID Bio-Science Inc’s headquarters. Berg’s most recent example of building since ZGF hired the Ohio native out of school 20 years ago: the internationally renowned sustainability think tank Rocky Mountain Institute’s new headquarters in Basalt, Colorado, designed to be net-zero in its energy use. But to Berg, the architectural success is the seamless fit into the landscape. Curvilinear, “biophilic” forms, she says, “will both protect and offer views.” Tapered, granite walls will catch the snow like the striated mountainsides nearby.

“Design is about setting up a framework where everyone can contribute,” Berg says. “The collective mind makes everything better.”

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