Emerging professional profile of Kristina Kobulsky


By the AAJ Communications Committee

profile image

Personal information:

How do you like to spend your free time?

KK: I am currently working on my architectural license which is a time intensive process, so any true free time is usually planned well ahead. When time allows, I enjoy hiking or just getting outdoors. There are several trails close to where I live and I enjoy short hikes on the weekends. Once or twice a year, my husband and I take time off and go off to mountains to conquer the more intense trails. There is something special about the vast, serene, and open panoramas that the mountains offer. I cannot get enough of their energy and beauty. As a family, we also enjoy traveling. We love exploring new places, towns, cultures and cuisine.

Normally, my day does not really start until I can squeeze in some time for exercise. I love yoga and just started to explore tai-chi. They both require full attention, patience and the ability to slow down to see the effects and experience their benefits. Although exercise is a challenge to fit into an already packed schedule, it provides balance to my hectic pace.  

I also enjoy simple pleasures like cooking, reading, and my favorite; re-discovering the world and true joy through the eyes and imagination of my five-year-old daughter. This is absolutely priceless and I am trying to treasure every moment.

Where did you go to college?

KK: I finished my studies while in Europe at Slovak Technical University, Faculty of Architecture in Bratislava.

What degrees did you earn?

KK: I have earned my Master’s degree in Sustainable and Environmentally Determined Design and my Bachelor’s degree in Architecture.

When did you first know that you wanted to be an architect?

KK: I was always convinced that my career would involve changing the world, improving the quality of life for people and protecting the environment. I am very passionate about biology and ecology and love the arts and drawing. For a while, I was on the path towards becoming an environmental engineer or scientist.

When I was a teenager, my family gave me the task of de-cluttering our home. I discovered my vast collection of sketches and drawings from childhood. They included various interior layouts, floor plans and perspectives. Most of them were versions and evolutions of “my dream house”. I also found cardboard houses and furniture that I built for my dolls. The light bulb went on during this experience and it was suddenly clear on what I wanted to focus my studies.

Design and architecture provide the platform to support my visions of beautifying and improving the built environment.



What firm do you work for and how long have you been with your current firm?

KK: I work for AECOM in Arlington, Virginia. Having joined the justice studio last summer, I found an instant connection with the culture, energy and passion for the project type. I am very excited about my future here and the opportunity to be part of the AECOM justice team.

What is your role within your firm?

KK: I am a lead designer and project architect for the Justice studio in our Arlington, Virginia office. I have had the opportunity to collaborate on projects across the country assisting with quality control, programming and master plan design. I am also able to assist local leadership with business development efforts and enjoy the collaborative effort of pursuing new projects.


Why justice?

How did you become involved in the justice market?

KK: After coming to the United States, I worked for a few years with a small studio in NYC designing and producing permit sets for single and multifamily residential buildings, as well as small medical offices for speculative developers. I was given a lot of freedom and responsibility but felt limited in my growth by the opportunities available. I felt I needed to join a larger company that would afford me greater opportunities to express myself, gain more experience and grow as a designer.

I joined Dewberry at the time they merged with PSA, a company that always had a strong portfolio and expertise in justice architecture. I was originally hired to work on education and healthcare projects. I gradually transitioned to work on justice opportunities. Working on the justice projects gave me more opportunities to work closely with senior leadership, brought larger project experience and allowed me to develop a strong technical and design background. I’ve been hooked ever since and enjoy the challenges and opportunities that these highly programmatic building types bring.

What was the first justice project that you worked on?

KK: It was a design build contract with Centennial Contractors for a single courtroom courthouse at an army base in North Carolina. The bridging design included some challenges in that the documents were not well coordinated, did not address all the required program spaces nor include some of the basic principles of courtroom design (secure separate circulation, technology, flexibility, etc.).  This project made me realize that no matter what the scale or phase a project begins, there is always an opportunity to evaluate, improve upon and provide a better product for the stakeholder.

What projects have you worked on?

KK: I have a wide variety of justice experience ranging from courts, corrections/ detention and public safety. Some of my experiences include: Police Headquarters in Alexandria, VA; 3rd District Police Station in Silver Spring, MD; Travilah Fire Station #32 in Rockville, MD; Fire and Rescue Training Academy Expansion in Fairfax, VA; Fort Bragg Courthouse, Fayetteville, NC; Chatham County Courthouse in Savannah, GA;  Bucks County Courthouse and Administration Building in Doylestown, PA; Loudoun County General District Courthouse in Leesburg, VA; Master Planning and Programming for a Police Headquarters in Howard County, MD; Campbell Courthouse in Mobile, AL; Space Standards and Programming for the Central Arraignment Courthouse in Los Angeles, CA; Montgomery County Circuit Court, Rockville, MD; and space planning for two corrections projects in Baltimore: the Women’s Detention Center and Juvenile Detention Center.

What projects have you found to be the most rewarding and why?

KK: I have been most fulfilled by projects where I was able to engage in the entire process; from competition entry, through design, all the way to completion. Getting to know the client, the various user groups and better understand the community, regional and cultural specifics and needs helps engage the team wholly in the project process. Being given the opportunity to design or be part of the design team has made me feel most engaged on projects. These experiences taught me a new level of commitment.  

Collaborating with other disciplines, consultants and the client team has helped me to learn the importance of high quality document set, project control and management, as well as team dynamics.  The success of a project does not end with a cutting-edge design concept. It requires commitment of the entire A/E team throughout the life cycle of a project to assist the client and provide support. The key factors are keeping the project on budget, schedule and establish a good communication platform between the owners, users and A/E team.

What has surprised you most about working in the justice architecture field?

KK: The complexity of the administration part on the client side, the many groups, agencies and partnerships it takes to bring a project to start and take it through the approval process, continues to surprise me.  Further, the dedication, expertise and professionalism of the many individuals on the client side and the various user groups in the justice sector has also been unexpected.  

What prompted you to begin working within the field of Justice Architecture?

KK: It was the “noise” and the charisma of the team and its leaders that were collaborating on these projects at my previous employer. Projects seemed to be more complex and challenging and that intrigued me instantly. I wanted to be part of this culture and the creative problem solving team.

What motivates you to continue working in this specialty market?

KK: I know there is so much more out there and I am still hungry to see, be part of and learn more in this specialty market. I am excited at the onset of new projects and the opportunities they bring. I hope that I can make a difference in these projects. Through design, I aspire to improve the day-to-day experiences of the many professionals that contribute to the success and mission of the justice segment.

I am excited by the prospect of re-imagining justice projects and creating architecture that can more efficiently deliver public services to a wider base of people.

What did you find most challenging about working in the justice architecture field?

KK: I am not the most patient person so I find it difficult witnessing how justice projects are funded. There is an inadequate balance between the need and resources available for the justice system. I have toured many facilities that are outdated, unsafe, inadequate, and hazardous for the user’s health. Facilities that do not provide adequate area for required capacity needs nor the support for their operation needs. The funding is scarce and rarely adequate to meet the current or future needs. The process is very lengthy and non-transparent.

By the time projects finally get funded, the initial and available program requirements, space standards and programming as well as technology and safety requirements can be outdated. The budget and time does not always account for the design team to assess and evaluate these essential aspects and resources. There are also cases when even after awarding these projects they are put on hold due to other more pressing political crises.


The future of the justice market:

How do you see the role of the justice architect evolving over the next several years?

KK: I feel architects will have to become even more diverse and further expand their skillsets. Since the latest changes in the evolution of justice architecture are mostly technology driven, whether it is audio/video, communication and network platforms, or security electronics and technology services, architects will have to be well aware of the effects and opportunities these changes bring. Keeping up with the latest design trends and keeping track of their successful implementation, have a strong understanding of what has been successful and what has incurred challenges.

I believe the clients are looking to planners and architects to propose new innovations that allow them to keep up with not only the latest technology advancements but to provide a design that is truly integrated such that it can assist them with being more efficient in their process for providing services. I think the main goal is to engage justice architecture providers with the communities they represent and serve, regardless of socioeconomic background and remoteness.

What do you hope to contribute the justice market? 

KK: I hope to bring design that engages communities to all my work.  I believe all projects should offer something “extra”, whether it is for the visitors, users or surrounding community. It is getting more and more challenging with the constrained budgets to design anything more than just the basic building.

The public spaces are diminishing from our society and the architecture is not as celebrated as it used to be. Many projects do not account for any public area in their scope. I hope to bring awareness to the importance and need for a connection to outdoor space and the benefits of time spent outside in all of my projects. I strive to create buildings with surroundings that offer character and add to the overall experience for all occupants and visitors.

I am also passionate about the quality of interior space and user experience as they engage a space. I believe the plan layout should have an order, clear hierarchy of spaces and clear wayfinding.

I am very interested in the WELL building initiative. Its mission is to provide a built environment that positively impacts health and wellbeing of its occupants through air, water, light, fitness, comfort and wind. Most building tenants spend a significant amount of time in these facilities, work under pressure or deal with challenging situations on daily basis. I believe the justice segment occupational groups could use, and are well suited for such designed and furnished spaces. Environment that not only supports their day to day tasks, but provides a comfortable, safe, inspiring and healthy environment that also allows for time to reflect and recharge, collaborate and improve productivity and performance.

What do you see as the biggest issues or challenges facing justice architects and/or planners today?

KK: One of the biggest challenges is the uncertainty and ever-changing economic and political environment. Adequate project budgets that include respectful design fees and reasonable contract terms are also challenges that we face every day. These challenges are part of the reason why it is so essential for architects and planners to challenge the status quo and look for opportunities to engage in our communities to re-imagine the role of our justice system and how the built environment can support that role.




(Return to the cover of the 2017 AAJ Journal Q1 issue)