No. 1 Must-Have: “Radical love”
Kerri Brady, AIA, vice president of educational practice at architecture firm Huckabee, describes her one “must-have” as radical love. And judging by the path her career has taken, it’s not hard to find where she’s incorporated it.
Brady has been at Huckabee for 10 years and has an educational background in architecture. Nominator Dillon Brady, president at Prime Contractors Inc., considers her a “leader in educational architecture in the state of Texas” and mentioned that Brady even co-chaired a statewide committee to review and make recommendations for updates to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) state facility standards for educational facilities, which were updated in 2021. “Her leadership in trauma-informed design continues to create inclusive environments for children with full consideration of their personal and emotional struggles,” Dillon said, “changing the way the industry constructs facilities for long-term use and adaptability.”
She considers her biggest career accomplishment thus far a relatively recent one: leading the project planning and community efforts for the new elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In May 2022, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was the site of a mass shooting where 19 students and two teachers were killed. Robb has since been closed and is under direction to be torn down and rebuilt in a new location. Huckabee has been heading up the design and planning of the new school. “Uvalde is an incredible community that I’ve had the opportunity to serve as they move forward in their grief and healing,” Brady said.
In terms of working in the industry, Brady believes that the biggest challenge facing construction currently is change. “Whether it’s changes in expectations, supply chain ... it’s impacting not only the logistics of construction but conversations that communities are having around funding construction projects,” Brady said.
However, these rapid and broad changes to the industry could also be a major boon. “I think it’s a prime opportunity for all of us to step up and get really creative,” Brady said. “It’s an opportunity for us to create sustainable changes — big market disruptions that could easily come from within the industry that would make it a little bit more resilient.”
In an industry that is still largely made up of men, Brady described her career in construction as an “evolution” as she has gradually learned to “show up how she wanted to show up.” Brady mentioned beginning her career and going to work in dresses and heels, but quickly switching gears when she noticed scrutinizing looks and judgment from jobsites. However, she has returned to dressing in the way she wants to and encourages newer women to the industry to do the same, regardless of the reception they receive.
“[I’ve] candidly also embraced the opportunity to model showing up how I want to for other people so that they could have that implicit permission to show up how they want to show up and create a culture for the women within our organization — to find their way and not through the looks and expressions and side comments I got early in my career.”
Even outside of her company, Brady has made it a mission of hers to make the industry more welcoming for young women. Brady said she and some other colleagues in Houston have been considering forming a sort of “girls’ club” to help foster connection with the other women in the industry and create more spaces for them. Brady mentioned that these women aren’t purposefully being excluded, but that typical networking methods in construction like dove hunts and fishing trips are very difficult to make coed. So, one undertaking of this group would be creating networking spaces that are open to everyone in the industry. “Really just creating a space where women can show up and network and build good relationships.”
Her biggest piece of advice for emerging professionals in the industry is to simply find those places and people who will cheer them on and champion them. She remembers a discussion she had with a younger female colleague who wondered when the best time for her and her partner would be to have children on the timeline of the projects the firm was working on. Brady responded: “If that’s what you want to do, then that’s what you should do and leave the rest to us. We’ll figure it out.”
“I wanted to make sure other women within our organization got that message so that at whatever point they chose to take forks in the road, they didn’t have to choose between us as an organization and that other thing they wanted to pursue,” Brady said. “I wanted to make sure that anytime I was asked about how to make it work, it was really more about how the company could support the individual, and not how the individual could make it work for the company.”