Oct 29, 2015
THEME: Point of View

15 Minutes with Zena Howard

Zena Howard has more than 25 years of experience with private and public institutions, museum and cultural facilities, libraries, and higher education facilities. Her experience focuses on clients with specialized and/or unique design goals such as environmentally sensitive artifact exhibit areas, environmentally and spatially sensitive spaces for autistic children, historically and culturally significant buildings and locations, and sustainable design in pursuit of LEED certification and other high performance building goals. We recently sat down with her to hear about her inspirations and get to know the woman behind the buildings.

What is your role at Perkins+Will?

I am a Principal in Perkins+Will’s North Carolina locations. I am also a member of the firm’s Global Diversity Council. I have over 20 years of experience with a career focused on cultural facilities, specifically museums and libraries.

I am passionate in my belief that equally important to what we do is how we do it. I am a champion for collaborative and inclusive processes that engage diverse individuals in healthy environments and support the notion that great ideas can come from anyone.

What are your workspace must-haves?

The great thing about my workspace is that it is not only one place. It changes as necessary (workstation, conference room, studio teaming & wall areas) to support great design and collaboration. Therefore, my workspace must-haves are people…and, of course, chocolate of any kind is a must.


Zena leads a design discussion in the RTP office of Perkins+Will.

What’s your most coveted design object?

Eero Saarinen’s womb chair designed in 1946. Beyond its elegant, sculptural appearance – its simplistic shape captures the essence of its primary purpose of comfort.


Saarinen nestled in his iconic chair.

Which designer do you most admire–and why?

I admire Renzo Piano mostly for how well his buildings connect, engage, and promote the surrounding context and create great public spaces. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “Architecture in some way has the duty to suggest behavior. In some way, places are the portrait of communities, and if the place is impossible, the community becomes impossible.”


Piano’s California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

What is your dream project–real or imagined?

My dream project is always the same – one that inspires and changes people and communities.

If you weren’t in your position at Perkins+Will, what would you do instead?

I would spend more of my time volunteering in underserved communities or underdeveloped countries.

What lesson would you share with the next generation of designers, or what do you wish someone told you as you started your career?

I encourage this next generation to seek out the opportunities for great design in everything you do. These possibilities are always there waiting for you; don’t overlook or discount them.

In ten words or less, why does design matter?

Because everything in this world is designed…and designed for a specific purpose.

  1. Bill Edmonds
    8:15 am on May 17, 2016 | Reply

    I just saw a blurb about your work on the NMAAHC on FB. Wonderful! You’ve gone a long way since Pittsburgh. 😉 Very much congratulations.

Leave a Comment