Meet Our POWERFUL Women Speakers

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Susan Painter, Ph.D
Director, Research Studio, Senior Planner, Urban Design and Planning - AC Martin

  • When did you first realize you wanted to become an architect?
    I was a psychology professor—a research psychologist—but my friends were all designers, architects and artists. I was the “left brain” person and they were the “right brain” people and they fascinated me. An unexpected health crisis triggered my decision to follow my heart and I entered design school in the middle of my academic career. I came to realize that my unique contribution would come from combining my psychological “lens” with my accumulating experience in the design world. In my office, and probably in the field in general, I’m ‘one-of-a-kind’—a planner/designer/psychologist/researcher whose work embraces all these fields.
  • Who has inspired you and/or influenced your career the most? And how?
    My career has grown as much by chance as by design (though there are those who say that nothing is an accident…). My sister, Constance Forrest, who is both a designer and a clinical psychologist, had an early, broad vision of how the fields of psychology and design could be combined and she encouraged me to venture into unexplored territory. Together we developed a private practice in Design Psychology (my “part-time job”), and she supported my desire to convince architects that behavioral research has an important role to play in their field. She introduced me to the new wave of neuro-biology advances and helped me figure out how the psychology of adolescent brain development should inform the design of campus housing. Among many other things…. The fact that I came to the field of architecture, design and planning after a successful academic career gave me a level of confidence I wouldn’t have had as a 20-something newly hatched designer. That confidence encouraged the management of the architectural firm where I landed to give me more responsibility and to take a chance on me when I wanted to launch a Research Studio within the firm. My ability to write, to speak authoritatively and to learn new skills—and whole new fields—all helped me move quickly when opportunities arose. Some aspects of my background were working underneath my conscious awareness—for example, it was only after I’d been working as a university campus master planner for several years that I realized my main interest in my BA Sociology program had been the behavioral aspects of urban planning and design.
  • What are your recommendations for increasing diversity in the workplace and within the design process particularly?
    Women need to mentor, support and promote other women. But that’s not enough. Men need to mentor, support and promote women. Men still dominate these fields, and their voices still largely determine how the fields will progress into the future. Recent research showed that women’s actual voices are often drowned out—for example, we are more frequently interrupted in meetings than men, and our suggestions and ideas are ignored until a male colleague takes credit for those same ideas and suggestions—so we have to find ways to change this.
    People like Helena Morrissey, a financial analyst in the UK, are using data to prove to their male colleagues that increasing women’s participation on corporate boards to 30% positively affects a corporation’s financial viability; and they are winning their male colleagues’ support and action. Our fields might also look to the high-tech world (and our world IS more and more a high-tech world), currently launching a series of attention-getting campaigns to bring more women into their ranks. In fact, they are using design to make their work environments more inviting to women, using the physical environment to increase their diversity.
  • As a woman, what are your thoughts on the Los Angeles region as a place to work?
    The LA region is a place of risk and opportunity. The urban sprawl means you may be working far from your home, thus reducing your personal time to small, less-than-satisfying segments. It is very expensive to live here, and the field of architecture, design and planning does not pay well. At the same time, opportunity is abundant (except in the recession…)—many places to work, many projects to work on. LA is also well known as a place of self-invention, and a creative person can make that work for her.

Susan Painter, PhD

Director, Research Studio, Senior Planner, Urban Design and Planning - AC Martin

Susan Painter, Ph.D., is Senior Planner and Director of Research at AC Martin, Inc., in Los Angeles, where she specializes in university campus master plans, teaching and learning environments and campus residential communities. Her current research is a series of behavioral post-occupancy studies on AC Martin’s recent education and workplace projects. Susan is a developmental psychologist; she was tenured Associate Professor of Psychology and Architecture at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada for twelve years, and Instructor in the UCLA interior architecture program for fourteen years. She served as Principal Researcher for a major research review on learning space design, sponsored by the Society for College and University Planning and the 2012-2013 Perry Chapman Prize.

With her design partner, Constance Forrest, she is a founder of the field of Design Psychology. Their work been cited in a number of books and articles, including the Handbook of Environmental Psychology, and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the NBC Today Show and in other media. ForrestPainter Design specializes in using psychological tools and techniques as the basis for client assessment and the creation of interior, environmental and landscape design.

Susan’s unique career connects design with psychology through the insight that the attachment relationship between person and place is an emotional relationship and holds equal rank with the emotional connections between people. It’s this insight that lets her understand why a place ‘works’ –for a group or an individual—and how to address it when it doesn’t.

Susan received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of British Columbia, where her dissertation research was on the development of parent-child emotional bonds. She holds a CIDA-accredited certificate in Interior Design from UCLA, where her design thesis, a pediatric clinic, received an award from the Center for Health Care Design

Last updated: 09-Feb-2015 04:09 PM
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