Profile: Anita Picozzi Moran, FAIA

Profile: Anita Picozzi Moran, FAIA

Back to Columns Issue

James Adams
Contributed by:
James Adams

Talk About It

There are no comments yet, be the first!

Profile: Anita Picozzi Moran, FAIA

“When you ask most people about their college experience, they rarely remember specific professors or classes—rather their strongest memories of a university community are of events outside of the classroom. These ‘in between’ experiences and the memories that they create are what binds someone to a university community and compels their growth academically and personally.”

Those resonating words are from Anita Moran, FAIA, principal and director of collegiate recreation architecture at Dewberry. With over 30 years’ experience in the Dallas area, Anita has amassed a very particular skill set in the field of recreational architecture. Two of her more notable projects are the Gibbs Wellness and Recreation Center at Rice University in Houston and The Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future, formerly in Fair Park.

Recently, we sat down over breakfast before a busy day to discuss mentorship, wellness, and the impact of recreational facilities in our communities.

Where did you get your start towards this profession?

I come from an Italian-American family from upstate New York. My parents’ passion for education led to my lifelong involvement in higher education. Attending Cornell University, I received my bachelor of science in environmental analysis. My father believed that architecture was a man’s profession but was willing to compromise with interior design, and this degree was comparable to that at the time. 

After attending the University of Virginia (UVA) for my master of architecture degree, I worked in Washington, DC, for John Carl Warnecke. The firm was very politically connected to the Kennedys. After coming to Texas, I worked for Fisher and Spillman (which then became F&S Partners, now SmithGroup.)

How exactly did you end up in Texas?

My husband had finished up his master’s degree at UVA in 1980. He is a mechanical engineer who designs heavy equipment for oil and gas drilling. At the time there were few manufacturing jobs in Washington, DC, and the economy was poor. There were a tremendous number of people who had moved to Texas in the early 1980s. We were going to live in Texas for five years, and we have been here for 34. It has been a great place to live.  

How do you find ways to mentor young women in the profession or women who are interested in going into design?

It’s not about mentoring young women. It’s about mentoring young architects in general. Pat Spillman, FAIA was an amazing mentor and he led by example. Through working for Pat, I learned to become a good architect. Architecture is a wonderful career and one that, as practitioners, we should value. 

I think some of my design interests rubbed off on our daughter. She just moved to Portland, OR, where she works for NIKE as a skateboard shoe designer. Design does matter: I have found throughout my entire career that people value good design. Now that belief has been handed down to our daughter.

You are also on the University of North Texas College of Visual Arts & Design (CVAD) Advisory Board. What is that experience like for you?

My involvement on the advisory board is a blessing. I have the opportunity to support one of the few design programs in the metroplex. We meet every quarter to discuss what is going on in the college. We are ambassadors for great design and a great college. Personally, I can get behind promoting our growing design community, one that is not only in Denton but also spreads across the entire Dallas area. The dean of the college, Robert Milnes, is just remarkable. He retires in September and he will be missed. He is a great personal friend and a tremendous leader. That said, CVAD and UNT are dynamic institutions and will find a new vibrant leader.

You have been described as a pioneer in the design of campus recreation centers. Can you provide some history on how you developed this reputation?

F&S Partners completed a considerable amount of work for The University of Texas at Austin, going back to the mid-1980s. Pat Spillman and Ron Shaw, AIA [former president of F&S], received a phone call from the UT System in the mid-1980s. UT Austin wanted to build new type of athletics facility, but it wasn’t to be used for intercollegiate sports. It turned out it was UT’s first recreational sports building [The Recreational Sports Center].

The first goal of the project was to give (what is now) the Division of Recreational Sports a home and a visual identity. During this time the recreational movement really started. Now with recognition of the importance of healthy living, the movement is on an upward trajectory. Campus recreation is about building community. It introduced me to the importance of student life in accomplishing the mission of a great university.

How does this impact the programming process?

On any college campus, you typically work with a committee. Universities are very “grass roots,” democratic organizations. I’m very accustomed to working with multiple users for any project. That said, all input has to be balanced.

We are currently working on a project that is a student services building which will include student affairs as well as admissions offices for their five schools. At any one meeting we will have 25 users in attendance.

When it comes to programming for a community, we define the needs based on that community’s population, demographics, mission, cost recovery, and the kind of programming that will attract and maximize the number of participants. 

These days, university and municipal recreation have to remain mindful of revenue generation. Universities must demonstrate that they are providing value for their offerings.

Most campuses can’t build enough fitness space to meet the demands of their students, whose numbers continue to skyrocket. Collegiate recreational sports have continued to morph over the years because they must serve the evolving needs of their customers: the students. In the ideal, 25% of a student body changes every year and with that brings rapid change in interests. Viable programs continually change to remain relevant to the overall mission of the institution as well as the interests of students. I think recreational sports and student life programs play an incredibly key role in keeping students in school, on campus, and engaged in their community, all of which equates to success.

Wellness now encompasses more than just recreation and fitness. Recreational sport programs on college campuses are often one the largest employers of students, second only to the dining halls.

That is purposeful, not only to provide financial support, but also to provide students with working team experience. Recreational sports provides other leadership opportunities as well. A typical campus has hundreds of intramural sports teams, and each and every one has a captain. Recreational sports programs teach healthy living and create a community that embraces wellness. 

What about the privatization of municipal fitness and wellness?

When it comes to a marriage between municipal recreation and private management, in order to be successful, there has to be an alignment of goals.

Without a doubt we are seeing more and more athletic event centers such as those operated by the Plano Sports Authority. Often these facilities focus on serving team sports. You are seeing a lot of places where huge court floors can be divided into many smaller courts or competition courts. This provides a great deal of flexibility for tournaments and team sports. When I was growing up, team sports for girls wasn’t a big deal and definitely not outside of the school environment.

Based on their college experience, young professionals expect the communities where they first live and work after school to offer similar facilities. This has fueled a new generation of municipal facilities. Now the expectation is that working out is a part of a person’s everyday routine. So, when it comes to wellness, we are moving in the right direction.

How did you become involved in The Women’s Museum?

Everyone once in a while takes a left turn off the track. We received a RFQ (Request for Qualifications) from what was then called the Foundation for Womens’ Resources. My partners at F&S came to me and said, “We really should look at this.” I told them, “It is a museum, and you are talking to the rec lady!” But they had more foresight than I; they recognized it as a great opportunity.

It was an exciting design opportunity. The foundation was looking for an architect of record to see the project through. They had a designer: Wendy Joseph [of Wendy Evans Joseph Architecture in New York].

We started in the fall of 1998 with the mission to have it open by 2000. We had a fairly large team assigned to the project and, due to the time frame, it was a very intensive effort. The administration building in Fair Park which housed the museum had never been a public building. 

The foundation was ahead of its time in its use of technology to create exhibits. When you walked into the principal large space (The Gathering), there was the electronic quilt. This was a series of monitors that could be programmed to provide a single large image or multiple images. In 2000, that was a pretty innovative idea.

What was really interesting about that project was that the board decided that they needed bipartisan support to see the project though. Members of the board included Ann Richards and Cathy Bonner. They hired Dealey Herndon in the process, and it really was my first introduction to Texas politics.

You look back at your career and there are always a handful of projects that standout as the incredibly meaningful ones. This will always be one of those for me.

Finally, what do you do in your free time?

Have you heard about the “Ladies Who Letter”? This is a dinner group of women leaders in the Dallas architectural community. We have been meeting for dinner close to 15 years. It is very ad hoc as we have dinner when somebody is free to host it. We get our name from our vintage and our passion for the art of architecture (and knowing what lettering is).


Interview by James Adams, AIA, RIBA, a senior associate with Corgan.