Architect Solves Design Puzzles -- A Conversation With Carolyn Geise

A conversation with Carolyn Geise

Job: Principal, GEISE, Associates in Architecture Inc. Age: 58. Her specialty: Problem-solving, including service-oriented design from homes to facilities for the disadvantaged. Biggest challenge: Finding design solutions that preserve the environment and resources. Quote: "I don't impose my design on a situation. I listen for the right solution that meets the needs of the client, the environment, the site and the economic conditions and situations."

Century 21 Real Estate Corp. and the Easter Seal Society recently honored Carolyn Geise - of GEISE, Associates in Architecture Inc. - for a home that her firm redesigned for Wedgwood resident Barbara Allen, who uses a wheelchair to get around.

Allen now can easily reach all of her kitchen appliances and cupboards, and like most homeowners, she enjoys her garden - now accessible by a wheelchair path.

Geise thinks it's important for people such as Allen to have homes that fit their special needs.

She was among the first architects to start thinking about barrier-free designs, beginning at Camp Long in West Seattle in 1978 where she had to badger the contractor to reduce the slopes on paths and make restroom facilities more accessible to wheelchair users.

"There's been amazing progress from awareness to new products developed," she said. Geise seeks out jobs that she believes create some social good, and she sees new challenges ahead,

especially design projects that call for more sensitivity to the environment.

"I want to be a leader in finding a more responsible use of resources," says Geise, who believes commuting to work will lose favor.

"People are going to have to live close to their workplaces." This means better use of urban spaces like those she sees occurring in the Denny Regrade.

"It finally has social services, housing, offices, groceries and is well-located," she says.

Geise and a family corporation are redeveloping a building at 81 Vine St. into commercial and artist live/work units.

Another way people will de-emphasize commuting, she said, is by using home offices and computers. Geise got firsthand experience with telecommuting and observing the workings of city spaces this spring when she spent three months in Rome on a fellowship.

Born in Olympia, the University of Washington graduate has developed a wide range of friends and contacts who suggest work that she likes.

Family ties and support are important to Geise, a grandmother who lives on Queen Anne Hill. She established her practice in 1969 after a divorce left her a single parent. She later married Bill Jobe, a Boeing engineer and one of her first clients.

Giving back to the community on public jobs that pay less than private work prompts Geise to maintain an unpretentious office at 1601 Second Ave., and she even provides office flowers from her own garden. Her staff of seven includes four licensed architects who work as a team on their projects.

Calling herself a problem-solver, she's found ways to make big old churches meet contemporary needs for children and working adults and created an attractive shelter for battered women in a space that doesn't have outside windows.

A leader for women in the profession, Geise was the second in the state to be named to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (behind former partner Jane Hastings) and has been active on numerous professional boards and committees on design issues.