We’re counting down to our much-anticipated Gender in Architecture event at the Shop on June 7, a night of conversation and connection about gender identity in the built environment. The program features a panel of amazing designers, who will share their lived experiences and singular visions. To get you ready for the event, we’re featuring each panelist here on field notes so you can get to know a little more about them before attending.
Today we have K Kaczmarek (they/them), an Associate Interior Designer at Mithun. K designs spaces by first considering the people who will interact with and use them. They work collaboratively with architects and built environment teams to create beautiful, barrier-free, inclusive spaces. As a member of the transgender and disabled communities, K is passionate about equitable design. Their most recent project work has centered on designing with neurodiverse communities for inclusive workplaces, as well as leading a research initiative about the effects the built environment has on gender.
Was there a moment in your life that you realized that the built environment impacted your idea of gender?
I realized very early that there were a lot of things out of my control that had a huge impact on my idea of gender and the relationship I had with it. It wasn’t that I had a problem with my body but the people and places around me did. It was probably around middle school age when I was able to piece together that the way I wanted to exist in my body was different than what was expected of me and a lot of that came from the way I was forced to interact with the built environment. So many choices are made for you that you can’t control, and it added a lot of unnecessary stress to my life. Being forced into spaces that don’t align with your idea of self is really harmful and to this day I still actively avoid many places that I don’t feel like I belong in.
How does your gender identity impact your work?
My gender identity greatly impacts every aspect of my work. Because I’m made aware of my otherness all the time, I am hyper vigilant about creating a space that is going to do it’s best to minimize harm. Architecture and design cannot solve the problem alone but it can remove unnecessary barriers.
When you are beginning your design process, what are the first questions you ask yourself?
When I start designing, I try my best to ask questions about who the user of this space is and how can we best support their needs. I work in a creative workplace, so typically tech offices, so I understand that I won’t ever be actually occupying these spaces, so why should I design for what I like? Really understanding the people who are currently spending time here, and also asking the question “who is missing and why” helps to start the conversation on how design can help better the lived experience of the user.
If you ever imagined yourself doing some totally different job or career, what would it be? And why would you rock it?
I was a hairstylist and teacher for over ten years, as well as a touring musician, so honestly the different career for me is design! I never had any intention to make this my career, but I am so happy that I did. I had to abruptly end my old life and was at a crossroads about what to do. I wanted to do something that was still creative but had the potential to really make a positive impact on people’s lives, so I kind of fell into design and have been happy about it ever since.
When you’re deep into your work, what’s the guilty pleasure song or artist you listen to or sing to yourself?
At my core, I am a whiny midwestern emo boy, so I listen to a lot of Mom Jeans. It’s embarrassing because their album cover is them jumping naked into a lake, so sometimes my coworkers get accidentally mooned by my music, haha.
Thanks so much to K for these illuminating insights! Want to hear more? Join us on June 7.