Kate Edwards keeps everything pint-sized in her role as an architect.
Her designs include cozy nooks, low-hung windows and small-scale toilets because those types of elements heighten the connections children make with their environments.
“I’ve really found out how important the physical environment is to small children and how their learning, both physical learning and cognitive development, can actually be encouraged by the physical space they’re in,” said Edwards, who focuses on early-education projects at Quorum Architects, Milwaukee, and is an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
It’s a specialty Edwards never expected, she said, but one she embraced after a mentor introduced her to the concept nearly five years ago.
“I dug in and tried to read everything I could,” said Edwards, a mother of a 10-month-old and a 3-year-old. “The more I read, the more excited I became.”
She said she learned how positioning a window closer to the floor not only helps a child look out at the world, but also keeps that child safe by eliminating the temptation to climb.
“Small things like that were things I started to notice,” Edwards said. “And it didn’t have to mean that the rooms for a children’s center have to be all carpeted and padded.
“There should be different surfaces. There should be surfaces that are cold and smooth and others that are soft and cozy.”
Her designs, Edwards said, should do more than just make children safe and comfortable. She said she wants to challenge them and use architecture to teach them.
“Being able to let kids do for themselves and encouraging their independence,” Edwards said, “helps them become independent people and learn from themselves and each other.”
The Daily Reporter: What is your biggest challenge on the job?
Kate Edwards: The challenge of being an architect is we’re responsible for everything. We have to oversee the concept and the poetry of the project, how to make it a useful and beautiful project, all the way to understanding how, when you’re coordinating with your structural engineer, how the beams and columns work and, when you coordinate with your civil engineer, how site drainage works. That ends up being a challenge, being sure you’re covering all your bases and keeping all these pieces moving in the direction that’s going to be unified, asking, ‘Did I check all the boxes? Have I covered all the bases?’
TDR: What do you consider your biggest achievement so far?
Edwards: This is kind of a personal answer: It’s to have the courage to be tested for a genetic disease that ran in my family. It’s Huntington’s disease. I found out as a teenager it’s something I could have inherited. I struggled for 15 years to get the courage to get tested and, when I finally did, I found out I don’t have the gene. It was a life-changing moment when that envelope came in.
TDR: What’s your biggest extravagance? What do you splurge on?
Edwards: I splurge on good food. I think that my travels in graduate school … I lived a summer in New York City and went from there to Italy for four months. During that time, I was exposed to food that I had never heard of. Just the freshness and quality of it made it impossible for me to come back home and ever go back to the cheap food that was just food and not something to be enjoyed. So now when we are grocery shopping or even going out to dinner, we love to splurge on good food. Life is too short for bad food.
TDR: What song is on heavy rotation on your iPod?
Edwards: When I’m in the car and I don’t have kids in the car, it’s usually catching up on my podcasts. I like Fresh Air, This American Life, 99 Percent Invisible, done by an architect, but it’s about all things design. So, it could be about a building, but it’s not the boring things that only an architect would be interested in. It might be the history or the story behind the building.
TDR: What object in your office means the most to you?
Edwards: I think, in the office, it’s my architecture license. It was such a difficult and lengthy journey to actually get to be licensed. Architecture school is really different in itself. It’s just super time-consuming and hard, but then the licensing process is even harder. There are so many exams, and you’re working and studying. So, when I got licensed — I’ve never run a marathon, but I can imagine the feeling: I’ve reached the end. It’s nice to see it hanging there.
TDR: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Edwards: At work, it would be, ‘Let me look at that and get back to you.’ I like to take the time to do the research, rather react and be wrong.