“Architects are late bloomers,” writes architect and urban designer Matthew Frederick in his book, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School. “Most architects do not hit their professional stride until around age 50.”
Amanda Loper is no late bloomer. She hit her professional stride much earlier and in doing so won a 2021 AIA Young Architects Award, which honors individuals who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the architecture profession early in their careers.
In 2006, just a year after graduating from Auburn University with degrees in architecture and interior architecture, Loper joined David Baker Architects (DBA) in San Francisco, where she became a senior associate in 2013 and made principal in 2014. After working in the Bay Area for over a decade, in 2016 the Decatur, Alabama native moved to back to her home state and now leads the firm’s Birmingham office, DBA_BHM.
DBA is a progressive architecture firm that describes itself as designing “thoughtful places that allow communities to thrive and that serve as a ‘multiplier of good’ – that is, that enable and support engagement, connection, and other neighborhood benefits.”
In the fertile Black Belt soil of Hale County, Alabama, Auburn University’s internationally renowned Rural Studio took root, driven by a similar call to action. As an alumna of the Rural Studio, it was instilled in Loper that architects should take a greater role in the civic advocacy of their communities, and that both the rich and poor are worthy of good design.
“From a design perspective, I can trace a consistent thread from the Rural Studio to my career at David Baker Architects and would characterize my design approach as a balance between contextual (place-reflective) high design and a healthy dose of pragmatism, with a sprinkling of joy and hand-made imperfections.”
No surprise that involvement in the Rural Studio would lead Loper to David Baker Architects. The firm participates in JUST, a voluntary disclosure tool for organizations to evaluate themselves and optimize their policies that improve social equity and enhance employee engagement. DBA staff is encouraged to be advocates for good design, equitable housing and sustainability within their neighborhoods.
Says Caroline Souza, also a principal at DBA: “Amanda’s insight and vitality broadens our horizons. She is connecting our urban and housing know-how to communities across the country… Not only is she doing amazing work, she’s paving the way for more great things to come.”
Loper works and collaborates on projects of all scales. She is presently collaborating on a community center for Hunters Views, a high-density affordable housing development in San Francisco, and lead a density study for the San Francisco Planning Department. She specializes in rapid architectural prototyping and works to bring social awareness to issues of housing and density within the urban setting.
In addition to projects of significant scale, she is about to start construction on two modest projects that will have an impact on downtown Birmingham.
“One is the adaptive reuse of one of Birmingham’s oldest buildings into 2,500 square feet of ground floor activating commercial space with six rental units above. The other is a ground up 11-unit development that puts new three-story buildings on the street and alley with an urban courtyard nestled in the middle.”
Though much of her work is large scale, Loper is aware of the potential smaller projects have in contributing to the common good.
“I started talking about ‘small but mighty acts of urbanism’ because I saw the impact our work was making at places like Pepper Place in the Lakeview District of Birmingham. Adding a courtyard, a sheltered bus stop or even a sidewalk extension can make places more vibrant and pedestrian-oriented and when aggregated together, have a meaningful impact.”
These small but mighty acts that benefit Birmingham are clearly satisfying and her husband Brandon is also leaving his mark on Birmingham. A film and commercial director, Brandon was missing his favorite wines and neighborhood wine bars in San Francisco, so he partnered with Trent Stewart to open Golden Age Wine, a wine bar and retail shop in Mountain Brook. The couple has two children, Eleanor, 8, and Liv, 5.
On the professional front, Loper’s main focus right now is connecting with clients, city agencies and communities where the firm’s work and expertise can make a difference.
“I hope in five to 10 years, we are doing work with and in cities here in the Southeast to being well-designed housing to folks of all incomes. We are already working in Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville, and I would like to extend our reach to other growing cities in the region to design equitable, vibrant neighborhoods.”
She would also like to be involved with policy advocacy and pilot projects that explore not only how to preserve affordable housing in southern cities, but how to eliminate barriers to affordable housing.
“Currently, we are constructing a brick-and-mortar Southeastern studio where our current office of four will work. The collaborative space has room to grow so in five to 10 years, I hope we have up to 10 people working there. On the home front, my kids will be in their teen years, so I’m sure they will be keeping me on my toes.”
Article Written By Jessica Armstrong