Women’s History Month/International Women’s Day

Women in Architecture: the stories of Sedgewick + Ferweda’s leading ladies

By Adam Biggers | Sedgewick + Ferweda Architects Marketing Director

Traditionally, architecture has always been a male-dominated field, spanning nearly every level in the profession from licensed architects to designers/drafters and project managers. Going back through the years, seeing women in architecture and/or design courses was a rarity at nearly every college. Oftentimes, men have made up more than 80 percent of students and professionals, so seeing women in a high-level position in the professional world used to be few and far between.

There is no doubt that women continue to face challenges in the STEAM area of study: Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics; however, those roadblocks – at least during the past two decades – have been slowly removed from the paths of many women looking to make a living in traditionally male-dominated spaces. 

Sedgewick + Ferweda Architects currently has four incredibly intelligent, talented, driven and passionate women in the office – and we’re proud to highlight the stories of Brianna Fuller, AIA; Annie Kufuor, Assoc. AIA; Lauren Meyer, Assoc. AIA; and Bailey Ramirez, Assoc. AIA.  

Each one of them has contributed to Sedgewick + Ferweda’s recent growth in so many invaluable ways. 

“As we all know, women’s and men’s brains are wired differently,” said Fuller. “Women tend to be more organized.” 

Today, in 2024, we’re seeing increases like never before. According to Pew Research, women make up 50 percent of the STEAM workforce compared to their 47 percent holding of the general workforce. 

Overall, the statistics never really discouraged Fuller, Kufuor, Meyer, or Ramirez. They knew what they wanted to do and were willing to put forth their best efforts. They continue to attend seminars, AIA training and other related educational courses in order to perfect their skills and better serve their clients. 

So men dominate architecture? That’s what they say anyway. 

But not at Sedgewick + Ferweda Architects, where the women have made incredible contributions to their firm and their clients, all while balancing marriages, children, and life at home. 

They’re not secretaries, assistants, or receptionists. 

They’re an architect, designers, and project managers. 

“They’ve all been valuable members of our firm and will continue to help us move forward,” said Jeffrey Ferweda, Principal in Charge of Sedgewick + Ferweda Architects. “They all bring diverse skills to the table and work well together. I couldn’t be happier to have them.”

Finer Points of Balancing Career and Family

Brianna Fuller pretty much knew exactly what she was getting into when she entered the field of architecture, which has been a strong interest since high school. She was also inspired to design because of her mother, who is a real estate agent and great at decorating. The idea of knowing how homes and buildings were designed and built sparked her imagination. 

Fuller did not realize that it was an occupation mostly composed of men. Once entering undergrad, at Lawrence Technological University she did notice that it was essentially an even split between men and women students. 

There was also another aspect that she didn’t fully grasp until she started putting on a hardhat and boots, getting her hands and feet dirty at job sites. 

“Honestly, you have to be direct and assertive in this field, especially when you’re on a construction site,” said Fuller, who is among leadership at Sedgewick + Ferweda and the only licensed female architect in the firm. “You have to let them know that you know your stuff. Contracting is more male-dominated. When I’m on a site, they don’t really know or assume that I’m the architect on the project, once I introduce myself I am typically shown a professional level of respect. However, once when I showed up to meet a contractor on site with Jeff (Ferweda), he said to Jeff ‘Oh, I’m glad you brought your assistant.’ It hasn’t happened too often but I’m sure most women architects have at least one of these moments. You shouldn’t assume people’s positions based on if they’re a woman or a man. I feel like as a younger woman, I put more pressure on myself to be professional” 

Her assertive demeanor has helped Sedgewick + Ferweda’s progress for nearly a decade. 

“If there’s something wrong, you have to say that there is something wrong. Nobody is going to sit there and wait for you to say what you need to say, you just have to do it,” she added. 

Fuller takes the same approach when it comes to co-managing her family. When things need to be done at home, they need to be done. When things need to be done at work, they need to be done – and she has worked out a doable plan to manage both aspects of her life. Being a professional, working mom and devoted wife can take on many forms – and Fuller has chosen to scale-back hours in order to focus on raising her daughter, in what she refers to as her “current season of life.”

“For me, since I decided to work part-time, basically to prioritize the time spent with my little baby,” Fuller said proudly. “Making the transition from working full-time to maternity leave, it was a big change and you’re learning new things – you’re in a totally different headspace than what your life was before. You become a different person when you become a mom. You want the best for your kids, if you can give up a little bit of something you wanted to do for yourself – like your career – I think it was the best choice for my family. Coming back into the field part-time, was also a large adjustment. Juggling both, it does get a little bit difficult at times, but it helps to have a really good support system of family and friends.”

Fuller describes architecture as a “pretty versatile career,” but appreciates that the firm works with her part time schedule to balance time for needs at home. But she also realizes that responsibilities at the office have to sometimes take priority over anything else. 

“You can morph your schedule as necessary, but the clients have to come first. They’re the reason why you have this job,” she said. “I’m very excited and blessed to be in this position. Not everyone would tolerate a part-time Project Architect. That’s a big kudos to the firm. I’m putting the firm first some of the time, but I’m also putting my family first some of the time. I want everyone to feel that they’re getting my full attention at work. When I’m a mom, I want my child and family to have my full attention. Separating those two is the biggest hurdle, but that’s what makes it worthwhile, being able to do a bit of everything.”

When it comes to projects, Fuller doesn’t necessarily have a favorite type – instead, she has a favorite type of client. 

“I really like when the client has a purpose and they’re trying to do something to make things happen for their business or non-profit. It has to be kind of a cool project, too…, “ she said.  “But the Crossover Outreach projects (in Flint) of the world have these missions behind what they’re doing. Designing big houses are fun, but I like projects that have special interests behind them ‘of doing something bigger than you.’ The buildings are tools to further this group’s goals.. Crossover Outreach’s goal is to serve the community, and their building is a tool to do so. This is what I love to help clients accomplish.”

Bonding with coworkers is an important angle for Fuller, who has formed solid working relationships with Kufuor, Ramirez and Meyer. Whether it’s a connection because of having children, or a link because they’re all married, or have the same sense of humor, Fuller has found common ground with all of them.

“I love it. Motherhood brings Lauren, Bailey and I closer, because we’re all in the same season of life at the same time. We’re sharing stories: the babies aren’t sleeping through the night, or something like that. That happens with every mom. It’s not just us three in the firm. Mom culture brings women close together. But at the office we’re all going through it at the same time,” she said. “It’s cool to have four younger women – it’s really cool to work with each other as professionals in the field. We all care a lot about our clients and our projects. We’re not stuck in our ways because we’re the new generation coming up in the design world. We’re all pretty open on how to figure out the best solutions. We all work really well together with new and different ideas, and figuring out what works best for the firm. We all have good taste and are focused on our profession.”

Annie knew it from an early age

Chasing a male-dominated career was never a big deal to Annie Kufuor…and for a couple of reasons: 1). She initially didn’t even realize that there has been a disproportionate ratio of men-to-women in the field; 2). In addition, she didn’t particularly care because she’s always known that her passion was architectural drafting, and she was going to follow the career path despite any perceived obstacles. 

She actually wanted to be a licensed architect since fifth grade, which was her goal for the following 10 years. But it wasn’t until her sophomore year of college that she began to have doubts about the career choice. She was more interested in the technical side of things, and ultimately made the decision to focus on drafting.  

“Taking a design and creating the construction documents from the design – that’s what I really like doing,” Kufuor said. “That’s what I think I’m best at. I’m very particular about our drawings! I have become the person who comes up with our standards and upholds them. I’m also the person to introduce or teach Revit drafting skills to the office.”

Kufuor would study her mother’s Better Homes & Gardens magazines as a child, putting herself into the featured floor plans and considering whether the designs were efficient. Her mom would try to flip the pages, but Kufuor would insist, “Wait, wait, I’m not done!…I used to draw a lot as a kid. Eventually, all of my sketchbooks were filled with floor plans.”

Her parents suggested that she should be an architect when she grew up, to which she replied: “What’s an architect?”

After looking into the field, she made the jump to the University of Michigan. 

“My dad and his dad both went to UM-Flint, so he told me early on I should go to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor since they had an accredited architecture program. From that point, my ultimate goal – throughout my junior high and high school years – was to do well enough to be accepted.”

The inspiration was present. The will to succeed was strong, so she then began the process of doing what she used to see in the design magazines as a child. 

“I went to Michigan, did some architecture prerequisites during my first two to three years, but ended up changing my mind about applying to the (Taubman) School of Architecture because I realized what architects did – and as an introvert, I wanted to draw all day, not talk to clients,” said Kufuor. “So I changed my major to classical archaeology (to complete a degree)…it was the closest thing to architecture that was available in the college that I was already in.”

Then the wheels started turning faster and faster. She wanted to make certain that she would have a marketable skill outside of her interest in archaeology (an incredibly limited field), so she decided to obtain her Associates in Computer Aided Drafting and Design. 

Kufuor was all-in from that point. 

“I started working at Sedgewick + Ferweda Architects in 2012 and the rest is history. It was actually at the school where I was getting the Associate’s that they (Sedgewick + Ferweda) found me – the staffing agency Jeff had hired reached out to the school asking if anyone met the qualifications. I was in my last term when I started working.”

A storied ending, indeed. After debating her course of action, Kufuor landed in the right spot. She’s been with Sedgewick + Ferweda for more than a decade and couldn’t be happier about pursuing architectural drafting, which has always been an interest since she was in the fifth grade. 

“I took four years of CAD classes in high school and loved that,” she said with a smile. “I actually won 1st place in regionals and 1st in states in the Michigan Industrial Technology Education Society (MITES) competition during my junior year for a residential duplex design.” 

During her senior year, she taught herself the 3D modeling software, Revit, and used it to create house plans for another teacher at the high school.

A true sign of someone with goals and passion is being proactive, creative and driven. She was bound to make things happen.

Essentially, she already had the knowledge of someone with an Associates Degree, but she wanted to get the degree to “prove that I knew what I was doing.”

Her attention to detail, ability to work closely with a team and communicate/teach ideas has put her in the upper echelon in the occupation. 

Her sense of humor, personality, and demeanor have been a great fit at the firm since 2012, and will continue to be for years to come. Like her female counterparts at the firm, Kufuor demonstrates key characteristics of what it means to be a strong, professional woman in today’s modern workforce. 

“To be honest, I didn’t even know it was a male-dominated field until coworkers mentioned it several years ago,” Kufuor elaborated. “Any architecture classes I took at Michigan were pretty evenly split. If anything, there were probably more females than males. In any case, I’ve never cared about or really noticed things like that because I have always felt more comfortable around a bunch of guys than women.”

Being a professional woman comes with great responsibility. Kufuor does a great job while on the clock, but she also makes certain that she has time for her husband and personal life. They’re both quite active in their church, setting aside time to work with their youth group.

Kufuor leads and teaches an ensemble of high school girls, further demonstrating her leadership qualities. 

“Originally, I only got involved because my husband had been serving in the youth group for years by the time we got married. But over the last seven or so years, I’ve grown to really appreciate that I’m able to serve in this way,” she said. “Even though it’s one of the hardest things I do – again, I’m an introvert here!… 

“But I love being able to share any wisdom or encouragement with them that I’ve learned throughout my life. And the girls are so bright!”

Mutual respect is evident, and Kufuor hopes to continue to teach life and career lessons to the youth group. 

“They have also been an encouragement to me in so many ways. But I think as humans, our value is often tied to our performance. Maybe it’s more of a problem for men, but I know I struggled with getting my worth from my academic or athletic performance when I was younger,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong…I always say, ‘this is my dream job,’ and I want to do my work well; but there is a freedom in knowing that despite your performance, you still have inherent value and dignity. I hope women everywhere can learn to internalize that truth.”

Family-inspired touch 

In high school, Lauren Meyer was voted “Most Motherly” during her Senior Oscar Night Award ceremony. Looking back, it all makes perfect sense to Meyer, who has been in architecture for roughly a decade – the past year at Sedgewick + Ferweda. She’s always willing to help and support her coworkers, saying that everyone works best with adequate instruction and guidance. 

Meyer has always been interested in designing homes that families could enjoy – a place suited for mom, dad and children – another example of her motherly nature. As a child, the interest in architecture and design was sparked when her parents discussed building a new home. 

“At one point, I thought I wanted to be an interior designer but wasn’t sure about my future (in that field),” said Meyer. “We moved when I was in third grade and my parents were considering building a house. We ended up with this house plan book that I just devoured. I loved imagining people walking through the home to go do laundry or where they would read their books and watch TV.”

Still in elementary school, Meyer would draw her own house plans. She would study home furnishings in JC Penney catalogs, figuring out how to put together the ideal home. 

“I was obsessed with homes,” she said with a laugh. “That’s really the best catalyst that I can pinpoint.” 

Meyer’s affinity for family and design have led to a career evolution. Like her female counterparts at Sedgewick + Ferweda, she’s also recognized as a highly skilled professional. Meyer gets excited about all projects that come across her desk, but she’s particularly interested in those involving early childhood. 

“I really love early childhood,” she said. “I’m very passionate about what early childhood means – and what they need to be supported.” 

That’s her motherly instinct showing itself, no doubt about that. 

Her passion for family togetherness is also clearly evident. She loves being involved with projects that focus on churches, a gathering place for families. 

“I haven’t done a whole lot, but I do like church projects,” she said. “The client makes me excited. They have been working hard on bringing their dream to fruition, some projects have been in the works for 15-20 years. They’ve been saving and planning, then I become the person that helps them get to their dream. I want to take care of my clients; this is a pivotal process for them.”

Being such a “mom” in a male-dominated field was never really a concern for Meyer, although she was aware of the “significant gap” in male-to-female numbers. 

“It did not occur to me that it was a male-dominated field until my campus tour at Lawrence Tech University,” she said. “They told me the ratio was 1-to-4, women to men. The ratio isn’t as extreme anymore. And even then, it didn’t feel it was as extreme … but later became very stark that it was predominantly male-dominated. I was naive and didn’t realize that. You hear it’s male-dominated, but not until you experience it does it hit home.”

Was it ever intimidating? 

“No, but there’s the practicality of it. I’ve had fantastic male mentors who’ve taught me so much and I so appreciate their knowledge, skill, and commitment to teaching me,” she said. “But there is just the reality of what it’s like to be a working mom and a young female in a male’s world, and some instances require an established female’s perspective.”

Becoming a mom really opened her eyes, making Meyer realize that scheduling would take priority in her life. 

“I think motherhood really highlighted it. It taught me a lot about how to be a sturdy yet flexible member of this field, relying on the necessity of organized calendar invites, clearly communicating with my amazing husband about daycare drop off, who’s taking sick kids to doctor’s appointments, and what late night meetings I need him to cover the homebase for, etc.,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m grateful to have found myself at a firm that supports my personal life, but I still feel driven to prove that I can show up and be a great employee, even when it’s ‘Sick February’. So, no, it’s never been intimidating … maybe a little frustrating at times, but never intimidating.”

Power Blazer, Powerful Intent

Bailey Ramirez loves her “power blazers,” and she is proud to be a young, successful professional in the field of architecture. 

“I don’t know. I guess it’s just a term. You know how they say: ‘Dress for the job that you want.’ It’s dressing in a way that makes you feel confident and shows that you’re professional. When I wear my blazer, I feel that way,” said Ramirez, who has been at Sedgewick + Ferweda for roughly one year but has 10 years of design experience. 

Her favorite? 

“It’s a new collection,” she said, laughing. “I’d probably say it’s my purple blazer.” 

A designer who loves fashion? Go figure, right?! 

All jokes aside, Ramirez is all substance and zero flash. Sure, her attire may send a message, but her work in design makes a far more important statement about her dedication to her career and love for helping others. 

Ramirez does far more than follow the basic codes and principles of design – she aims to make spaces more accessible and welcoming for everyone who uses them. 

“I would say that I’m a huge advocate in architecture. I love that you can have so much advocacy in architecture. We are designing for the user. We make spaces that are fully accessible for any type of disability… but it’s not just about disability, though. I’ve worked on projects that have also served racial and gender minorities too. I’ve worked on LatinX, a resource center for Latino residents in Flint. I’ve also worked on projects including lactation rooms for women in the workplace, prayer rooms, and gender neutral toilet rooms.”

Always mindful of the small details – which for some, are incredibly important details – Ramirez always tries to design facilities that offer free feminine care products, diaper changing stations in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms, and other often overlooked features that make a facility more inclusive and user friendly. 

That approach applies to everything she designs. Her intent is, and always will be, to create something that feels welcoming and inclusive. 

As a high school student, Ramirez displayed skills and passion that outweighed that of many of her peers. Her high school offered limited architecture courses, but Ramirez was so proficient and passionate, that her teacher made an almost-unheard-of exception for their rising student. 

“I took every architecture class that my high school offered. I took three, but they only offered two,” she said.  “The third one that I took, my high school teacher made an extra curriculum; it was a class of one. I was in a class with other students, but I had my own individual curriculum. I’m still friends with that teacher today.”

Ramirez’s passion spans beyond accessibility and inclusivity, which are her two highest-priority interests when it comes to design. But there is one more that really gets her excited about designing. 

“I’m super into historic preservation. I like saving buildings and bringing them back to their original glory days. I like doing historic buildings the justice they deserve,” she said. 

Like her colleagues at the firm, Ramirez was inspired early on in life. She was always willing to learn and couldn’t soak up enough knowledge once she figured out architecture/design was her calling in terms of a career.

“I’ve always liked art and design. As a kid, I was pretty crafty. I’m not sure what came first, learning about architecture or taking a drafting class in high school, but it just clicked for me,” Ramirez said. “It’s not ‘structured’ like structural engineering, but ‘structured’ in rules and right angles. I was good at that.”

While everything is relatively smooth sailing for Ramirez, she has encountered obstacles that many women in her position have had to overcome while pursuing architecture as a career. 

She saw the full scope early on in her career, as a fresh student out of Lawrence Tech (after transferring from Arizona State). Of course, the work hard, no-sleep thing was going to be an issue, regardless of her career path. But she also felt the need to prove herself as a woman. 

“I think when I first came in, I felt really intimidated by the field itself. I was young and had no experience. It really did open my eyes to how much there is to architecture, more than just the design aspect,” Ramirez said. “But I think it was good for me to just jump right into the field. I had good mentors at my first job. I learned a lot; although, I was constantly sleep-deprived being a full-time student and full-time employee… but I did learn a lot. Being a 20-year-old female in the field… I’ll tell you what, it’s hard to gain respect.” 

Ramirez feels fortunate to be in her current position and is pleased with the trajectory of her career and that of the firm. There aren’t many firms like Sedgewick + Ferweda, she said 

“I personally love it. I’m a self-proclaimed feminist,” she said. “I love working with other women. This is my first time working with other women my age. It’s really nice that we’re in the same stage of life. We’re all balancing work and family. We message each other in the evening for information on mom things and work things. It’s nice to have people on the same wavelength, who can give you tips and life experience.”

Strong, professional women aren’t an anomaly – but they’re still viewed as a rarity in some cases. Ramirez feels that it’s almost comical, but she fully understands the reasoning why women are asked about work/life balance, such as ‘How do you do everything with a child and husband?’

“As you know, women are excellent multitaskers,” she said about her ability to do it all at home and in the office. “I don’t think any man has ever been asked that question. Women always get asked how they juggle their career and kids, but rarely does that question get asked to men. My husband has never been asked that question.”

Ramirez elaborated on her opinion of the professional woman dynamic – more specifically, why there shouldn’t even be a “dynamic” in the first place. She’s a person working hard to help support her family, and that’s the bottom line. Most marriages and partnerships require both parties to work in order to sustain their lifestyle.

“Society puts more on the mom. It’s balancing. It’s making sure my time with my daughter is intentional on my lunch break and when I’m at home after work” she said.  “I have to find a way to pump, to feed my daughter when I’m not home. That is constantly on my mind. I think, in today’s society, there aren’t as many opportunities to be a stay-at-home parent. Single-income households aren’t realistic for most people. Being a stay-at-home mom wouldn’t be an option, even if I wanted to do that. I’ve always been really career-driven anyway, and that’s a huge part of my identity. Being a mom is a huge part, too – but I don’t think it could be my entire identity.”

With that said, she remains thankful that she is employed by a firm that understands the new, and constantly evolving nature of professional women in the workforce.