Women are seen to be conquering every field, architecture industry being one of them. With their keen sense of creativity and design, women are transforming the industry and taking it to the new heights. Amongst those women, Rada Doytcheva, PhD, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, the Principal/Head of Design of RADA Architects, is serving as an inspiration to many young female architects, not only with her work and tenacity to succeed, but also with her relentless advocacy for giving opportunity to others.
We, at Insights Success, caught up with Rada to unveil her inspiring journey and her contribution to the field of architecture through RADA Architects.
Leading on Multiple Fronts
Rada started the company 25 years ago and she is still the engine that moves projects, people and ideas to execution. At RADA Architects she leads in design for all projects; in calibrating daily and strategic management, in finding new clients and partners in success, in taking the message about equality in design and procurement to conferences and conventions as well as to government and corporate institutions. With strong convictions and tremendous energy, she doesn’t only “preach” but also acts on the issues. All of this she does in the difficult business environment for small and midsize firms, the environment of the women-owned architecture firms – mostly. Never has this exceptionally busy and challenging reality prevented her from mentoring aspiring young women and other professionals – with a life-long impact on their careers.
Promoting Rational Sustainability
RADA Architects professional credo is for resolving individual client needs with creativity yet with rationality and without excess. Designs that serve people’s needs and expose them to new experience are in the center of the firm’s work. Creating transformative environment, new identity, multi-use enhanced functions – all of them go hand in hand with promoting sustainability. In crossing the line from architect to developer, RADA created the first Silver LEED project in Chicago Cabrini Green – setting the standard for revitalization of a former “projects area” and doing it to higher – “green” sustainable building standards.
Overcoming Challenges With Exceptional Endurance
The challenges were enormous as Rada started the organization all by herself, with no capital, no clients, still as a newcomer to this country, and soon with a young child on her hands – all by herself.
Prior to starting her own business, she was employed with a large male dominated firm. The work she performed for higher education, hospitals and international commercial projects was exceptionally well received by clients. However, the moment she pursued working with the same clients as a new firm – they were unsure how to treat her. The male ownership of her previous employment fought unethically to bring her down. The mistrust and suspicion to a new, small woman-owned firm was the norm. There was only a handful of women-owned architecture firms in the Chicago area at the time. This was a start only working for the “fearless”.
Now, 25 years later, Rada feels that the biggest challenge to start and grow an architecture firm is to secure commissions and revenue. She says, “One cannot grow a company without getting commissions. You need to grow people and talent – architecture is no sole venture, you need to build the experience, benefits and good salaries to be able to retain people, and all of this starts with having a flow of good sized projects and revenue”.
Rada continues to elaborate how growing a firm was a long and tough road of survival, in an environment that prefers larger and established firms. She adds, “It takes exceptional endurance and sacrifice of one’s personal life – in the above circumstances – to keep going so that one can ultimately lead a firm that can sustain people working there, and even better – a firm that can function for the purpose of making other people’s lives better.”
Being Fearless, Magnanimous and Strong came about through growing up with a Great Mentor
It is Rada’s father, Dr. Kiril Doytchev, an architect still living and working at 98, who has been her role model, inspiration and mentor. In his own career he was able, in spite of political turmoil in Easter Europe, to lead the profession and set his mark on the health care design throughout Europe and Asia. The American Institute of Architects recognized his achievements as an Honorary Fellow of the Institute – 30 years ago. He has not only been Rada’s mentor since her early time in the profession, but also unstoppable to this very day in encouraging her to be fearless, magnanimous and strong.
Securing Strong Lines of Communication and Positive Work Culture
The pandemic was a challenging situation for businesses. RADA Architects’ way to survive the difficulties of working remotely was to secure constant communication between team members, to hold regular meetings for status as well as for fun talk. The firm also provided the necessary technology and software to all to be able to work from home.
Rada says that positive work culture is “the name of the game of today”. Even with everything else working well, if it is missing from the workplace – a firm could be headed for disaster, losing valuable workforce. The definition of a positive workplace is constantly changing – and the bar is constantly being raised.
Raising A New Generation of Young Architects
RADA Architects is intent on raising a new generation of architects, planting the seed of responsibility and knowledge. The firm is committed to continuing education, individual mentorships, and extensive internship program, including bringing high school students as well. The system of award and encouragement goes beyond compensation. The firm has given yearly for the last 15 years an architectural Travel Award to firm individuals and teams, who travelled around the globe – to places like China, Germany, Great Britain and many other.
Advocate and “Game Changer” for Women-Led Architectural Firms
The biggest impact that Rada has personally sought to have is the empowerment of women and minority architectural firms – for equal opportunities in project procurement, for women to be able to thrive in a level playing field. In the last year, Rada put together and led three “all women architects and consultants” teams for major Chicago area projects, two of them successfully underway now. In her advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs in the architecture industry, Rada says, “Build your body of knowledge and skills, add a good amount of confidence and trust in yourself and in others – and launch them to achieve the unthinkable.”
Redefining the Architecture Profession
Rada believes that the Architecture and Design Industry, as a whole, needs to restore the faith in the architect as a leader, and the architects need to be assertive and more responsible with the work they do, and the values they foster.
In conclusion, Rada mentions that RADA Architects will remain a leader showing how women-owned firms can do as good of a work as large firms – redefining a model for the profession, a model from which all can benefit in the long run.
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