Profile: Diane Collier, AIA
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Profile: Diane Collier, AIA
Diane Collier is a principal with Collier Galvin Associates, a Dallas-based firm representing manufacturers of site amenities and materials for cities, universities, corporations, and retail environments. An active and enthusiastic member of AIA for decades, she received her master of architecture degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and her bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Nebraska. An affiliate member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, her passion lies in the intelligent design of urban spaces and enhancement of those spaces using signature materials and furnishings to develop unique, safe, and inviting outdoor environments.
Why did you become an architect?
My father was a carpenter, a builder of things. His grandfather and his brothers and ancestors were carpenters in Czechoslovakia and immigrated in the first part of the last century to Omaha, NE. My father carried on the family tradition and I remember visits to job sites early on, as well as stories of which buildings in town my family helped to build. When I was growing up, I loved to hang out with my father in his shop, exploring all the tools you could imagine. To this day, one of my favorite fragrances is sawdust.
In high school, I met a college student studying architecture and that started the life-long passion for architecture, history, etc. As a sophomore, I started taking mechanical drawing classes and, in my senior year, my high school offered an architecture class. After that there was no looking back.
Being a woman in architecture in the ‘70s was interesting. I was the only woman in drafting classes for all three years in high school. There were only a couple of females in the architecture program at the University of Nebraska. That being said, I really didn't feel that unusual on a day-to-day basis, but my place as a woman became clear when I interviewed in 1974 to become a summer intern for a large architecture firm. After the interview the principal walked me out of the offices, put his arm around my shoulder, and told me that this was one of the most interesting interviews he'd ever had. He said, “I'd hire you, but I have no idea what we would do with a woman.” Truly, I was stunned yet determined, and soon found a job with a smaller company that offered me a terrific summer of learning. That was the beginning of my understanding that women had to work differently to get ahead in architecture.
Above: Diane's life may best be illustrated by some of her personal effects. Photo credit: Nicholas McWhirter, AIA
How did you adapt to entering a male-centric profession?
I moved to Dallas in the late ‘70s where I met a few women architects, all of whom had similar “gender lonely” experiences in school. It was an exciting time to be in Dallas with buildings being planned and built, and urban plans like the Dallas Plan being promoted. We were excited to meet each other and became fast personal and professional friends. In 1979, we formed Women in Architecture, an independent group that continues today as a committee within AIA Dallas that enables women in the industry to connect, engage, and support each other. Some of these women are still my closest and dearest friends.
How did your career evolve?
After graduate school at UTA, I worked for a firm called Beran & Shelmire. Where I live today in downtown Dallas, I look up from my living room window to the window where I sat in my first office, working on projects like the Adolphus hotel, the Anatole hotel, the World Trade Center, and St. Mark's School. Other memories surround my current home in a downtown high-rise. The Statler Hilton, another view from my current downtown residence, is where I met my future in-laws. While working for a developer in the 1980s, I helped build three buildings in adjacent blocks, bought nylons at Dillard’s, and learned just about everything I know about fashion at Neiman Marcus.
By the late 1990s, when my children were small, I was burning the candle at both ends, working in the development/construction management sector and involved in my children's activities. My commercial interior designer husband had started a company representing commercial furniture lines. It seemed logical to join him and support his efforts in a more family-centered effort. Within the first year it became clear that I had a penchant for sales. When we were hired by a company that manufactured site furnishings, I began to work with landscape architects and outdoor built environments. This made me very happy and fulfilled my dreams of making an impact on the American city.
It is a blessing to have landscape architects in my life today as clients and as lifelong friends. In general, these professionals represent some of the more earnest servants of the earth—people who remain vested in bettering the world we live in and enhancing the quality of our lives, bringing nature and people in tandem with each other.
Tell us about your experience when Philip Johnson came to town.
That is one of my favorite career stories. It happened in the mid ‘80s when I was working for a large developer, helping with a variety of large buildings in downtown Dallas. We were all excited on the day that Philip Johnson was coming to town to present his concept for a new bank building in downtown Dallas. I was chosen to help set up his presentation.
He walked in the door with this very large wooden box housing his impeccable building model. As he flipped open the locks and pulled up the model, I gasped. “Oh, my gosh, Bertram Goodhue!” I exclaimed. He laughed and quickly shot back, “Miss History Buff … Who else does it remind you of before that?” I answered: “Eliel Saarinen and the Helsinki railroad station of 1909!” I had guessed his inspiration for the tower and felt like I was on top of the world! We continued to laugh and joke as he watched me install the model of his proposed building into our larger city model prepared for the presentation.
All students of architecture will understand what happened next. When you're nervous and you're down the line and you've got a sharp knife in your hand, stuff happens. I sliced my thumb to the bone with my X-ACTO® knife and the blood was flowing fast. He shooed me away from the model, wrapped my thumb in a paper towel, and held my arm up in the air. Then he told me to stay and talk to him while he finished preparing for his presentation. The meeting didn't go well. He left disappointed and sent a completely revised MBank Tower design. He returned only when the building—now Comerica Bank Tower—opened.
What keeps you passionate about the industry today?
There is so much excitement today surrounding our built environments. Right now our cities are changing, more people are moving into urban circles, and the planning and architecture communities are responding in-kind by creating better places and spaces. My original dream to enhance the creative building process for urban lands and landscapes is now possible by working with architects and landscape architects to provide many types of site amenities for parks, campuses, streets, and rooftops. I want to see the outdoors in North Texas come alive with functional beauty and visionary leadership for public spaces.
In a web exclusive, view Diane’s picks for 10 of the most innovative landscaping products on the market today.
Interview by Linda Mastaglio, managing editor of Columns magazine.