When architect Karen Thomas surveys Seattle’s transformative growth, she sees something even more profound taking place.
“What I see happening in Seattle is the closest thing to a modern-day era of a Renaissance that we’ve seen since the original Renaissance times,” said Thomas, who works for Gensler, a global design and architecture firm. “We have become this Rome or Florence of sorts where you have the intellectuals gathering here, you have the innovators gathering here, you have the artists gathering here.”
Thomas is excited about the removal of the downtown viaduct and reimagining of Seattle’s waterfront, South Lake Union’s redevelopment, the new Key Arena and changes coming to Sodo, the light-industrial neighborhood south of downtown.
If you take the physical transformation in planning and design, plus all of the technology development, layer that with individual thought leaders and innovators, “to me that says Renaissance,” she said.
Thomas is the managing director for Gensler’s Seattle office. In January, the firm announced her promotion to Northwest regional managing principal. Along with a regional co-leader, she oversees San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., providing strategic direction for 44 Gensler offices and 5,700 design staff.
Thomas said it’s a great time to be in architecture. Building design has made significant advances, she said, thanks in part to biometric sensors and data being collected that reveal how people are using and responding to structures. That can include information on the effects of noise, light and smells.
Outside of work, Thomas is chairwoman for the Seattle Sports Commission board, on the executive boards for the Seattle ArtsFund and the Bloedel Reserve, on the board of directors for Visit Seattle, and an invited member of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Community Development Round Table.
We caught up with Thomas for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Seattle (with San Francisco, Oakland and Portland, frequently)
Computer types: Lenovo PC
Mobile devices: iPad, iPhone X
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Photos, Notes, Spotify in daily life, Sharepoint and OneNote for working with teams.
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “My physical office here in Seattle: I can see outside, I have lots of creative, energetic, super smart people around me, a big table to work on, no door so people can easily interact with me, choices of locations to sit and work around the office. But, I can really work anywhere as long as I have my iPad, phone, my black paper notebook and black Sign Pen.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Being present in both! I get up every day to take it all on in the course of my workday, giving it all I’ve got (and then some), but I am also aware of our human capacity. I’m pretty good about going home at a reasonable time each day, going for a walk, cooking, being with family, watching some really good TV. Creating rituals are also helpful, whether it’s stopping to walk around the office mid-morning and mid-afternoon or making the weekend latte and staying in bed with my favorite magazines every Saturday. Those rituals create moments of mindfulness and keep you connected to who you are and what you’re doing.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I tend to stay off the social networks, not enough time to manage or perfect! I use LinkedIn regularly for connecting, networking, recruiting and finding interesting reads from interesting people.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “1,068 (but they are mostly junk email from retailers who I haven’t unsubscribed yet).”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “32 (Waaaay too many. I’m getting help.)”
How do you run meetings? “I love to get everyone settled and focused by making it personal for a minute or two, take a breath. Take them from wherever and whatever else they have just been dealing with. Then, kick off with a clarity in purpose for the meeting. Get everyone’s head into the ‘why’ we are there. Make sure everyone in the room is participating, and is either providing value or intentionally gaining value, otherwise they shouldn’t be there next time.”
Everyday work uniform? “The prerequisite designer black. Black pants, black heeled boots, black cardigan or jacket. But the top and jewelry bring the punch.”
How do you make time for family? “Proactively creating family moments! We cook together. I’m a big holiday nut: lots of dinners, celebrations, decorations and entertaining. But I also love to do a family barbecue, family game night. The kids always have big groups of friends at the house.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Walking. Mindless sitcoms. Love to go to sporting events, music, shows to become lost in a performance.”
What are you listening to? “Banana Pancakes Radio on Pandora, Coffeehouse on Spotify, Pink is the real deal, love Florence and the Machine, got to give a shout out to Chris Stapleton.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “GeekWire (!), Seattle Times, New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, Puget Sound Business Journal”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,’ by Yuval Noah Harari”
Night owl or early riser? “Neither. I’m a midday person! But I’m usually asleep by 10:30 p.m. and that darn alarm rings at 5:35 a.m.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “My loftiest ideas come on airplanes.”