Young architect spotlight:
Meet justice architect Christine V. Smith
By Ashley Hartshorn
Christine V. Smith, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
Smith is an Architect at Arrington Watkins Architects LLC in Phoenix. After an alternative path due to the state of the economy in which she worked and volunteered for various police dispatch units, Smith reentered the architecture realm when the chance came. She brought with her a wealth of knowledge and passion for justice architecture and is eager to keep that passion ignited for generations to come.
Christine Smith, originally from Wisconsin and now in Phoenix, graduated from Iowa State University, found her dream job, and then was hit by the 2008 recession. Smith did not let this hurdle deter her passion. While staying active with small architectural competitions, teaching herself programs like Revit, and learning from her dispatch jobs, Christine always had public architecture in the back of her mind.
When a colleague from a former internship called, Smith had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Her experience being a part of the communities she wanted to design spaces for has only helped her become a more holistic thinker and problem-solver. She believes wholeheartedly that architects do not just deliver a building, but also an experience.
The experiences we hope to create can be helped by alternative paths that may be inevitable during economic downturns. The current and future generations of architects should keep seeking out opportunities, never give up hope, and use their knowledge and interests to bolster the immense capabilities of the architectural profession. Learn more about Christine’s path below.
Ashley Hartshorn (AH): Did you take a non-traditional path to become an architect or since you became a licensed architect? If so, please describe that journey.
Christine Smith (CS): I graduated from college in the midst of the Great Recession. I was laid off in 2008, just four months after landing what I thought was my dream job. I would send hundreds of résumés out and rarely even heard back. I took a job as a police dispatcher and ended up working for multiple police agencies across the country for over five years. When my husband and I moved to Phoenix, I switched paths into the insurance industry and ended up writing property and casualty insurance for years. The overlap of experience that I gained in both the police department role and the insurance underwriter role provided a broad viewpoint for my current role as an architect that I never would have expected. Having written insurance policies, I understand contracts, coverage, the liability of what we do on a daily basis, in addition to my technical architecture education. The knowledge that I gained in those roles has provided me with a unique perspective and understanding of my clients and my professional responsibility to them.
AH: What inspired you to become an architect?
CS: When I was young, my mom and I would tour the Parade of Homes every summer in my hometown. I was drawn to the unique feelings that could be invoked by different spaces and materials. I gravitated toward the public safety and justice industry very early, being drawn to the endless “Law & Order” marathons. When I was in college, I worked as a police dispatcher. The department I worked at was small, and I had in-depth interactions with the detectives, chief, and officers on a daily basis. I was always impressed with their ability to adapt to their environment — not just in their job on the street, but within their facilities. I am inspired daily by the work of our law enforcement agencies, and I am truly passionate about using my talents to create work spaces that they deserve.
AH: Why did you decide to get licensed, and what year did you receive your initial license? What has your architectural license helped you achieve?
CS: After getting laid off, it took me over eight years to find a job again in the architecture field. When I finally got that job offer, I ordered all my study material and got to studying. Getting licensed was a goal of mine since my first day of college, and knowing the industry would always deal with economic uncertainty, I wanted to be diligent about building my résumé. I received my first license in 2017.
My architectural license has allowed me to step into leadership roles on projects and be valuable to my company. It has also signaled the beginning of my mentoring the next generation of architects. I enjoy being able to guide and help shape the future of the profession.
AH: What unique perspective do you bring to this Knowledge Community as a young architect?
CS: When I was in college, our studios shared a space with the police department, which happened to have jobs open for students. My schedule was packed with classes, so I found being a dispatcher for the police department to be the perfect job — I was able to work nights and study and do studio work when things were slow.
After I graduated and subsequently was laid off, I needed something to pay the bills. I applied for a full-time dispatching position where I lived. I learned so much about the justice system from spending five years immersed in it. I’m currently working on a project that has a full dispatch center, and it feels incredibly rewarding to be able to create an environment that improves the daily life of these men and women.
AH: What words of wisdom would you like to share?
CS: I had a professor in college who would not allow us to work in the studio on Friday or Saturday nights. He would come through the studio and kick everyone out. He told us that you cannot design for a world that you are not a part of. To this day, I truly believe this. We have to understand our clients and the world around us. If we get too isolated in our own bubbles, we become disconnected and narrow-minded. Being focused on public safety and justice architecture, I have made an effort to connect with police departments by completing ride-alongs, touring facilities, and taking part in citizens police academies. These all offer an inside look of how various departments operate.
Ashley Hartshorn, AIA, NCARB
Hartshorn is a Project Manager at Archis Design in Albuquerque. She received her M.Arch from Northeastern University and is the AIA Western Mountain Region Young Architect Regional Director.