One of VCBO’s most accomplished and decorated Principals is Jeanne Jackson. Jeanne has made a name for herself not only here, at VCBO, but across the entire Western Mountain Region. Her main area of focus is centered around K-12 educational spaces. Jeanne has been a leader in several award-winning architectural projects including The City Library, located in the heart of Salt Lake City and West Point Junior High School. In addition, Jeanne was recently named the recipient of the AIA Western Mountain Region Silver Medal; as the second woman in the region to ever receive this recognition, Jeanne Jackson currently stands as the first woman in all of Utah to have ever won this award.When I got the chance to sit down and get to know Jeanne, I learned that Jeanne is more than an outstanding, award-winning architect. She is a passionate, optimistic creator of beautiful, state-of-the-art learning spaces. When Jeanne discusses the projects she has worked on throughout her career at VCBO, you can hear her sincere devotion to improving the education experience for children. Beaming, she told me about why she loves her job and what a difference these projects have made in her life. She’s a go-getter, a natural-born leader, and a prodigious architectural principal. After speaking with Jeanne Jackson, I gained a greater appreciation for her, VCBO Architecture, and our own Utah school districts.Read my interview to find out why…
Do you think there has been a defining moment for you as an architect?
My defining moment, I think was West Point Junior High which won the McConnell Award– That was a pretty amazing moment for me because it really validated all of my passion for making great learning environments. It gave me even more confidence to know that what we were doing was right.
What is it about K-12 schools that makes you passionate about these projects?
Oh, that is so easy! I think the equivalent comparison would be obstetricians, they have the best job. They get to have “the happy thing.” It’s usually a happy event. So, school design architects have those happy events. You can be designing places that children are so happy in. We’re really fortunate in Utah because we have a bunch of good school districts who let us create these beautiful learning spaces– which by the way, don’t cost any more than ugly learning spaces. And I think the idea to me is that if one kid wants to go to school and can’t wait to go to that school every day, that makes it all worth it. We have a lot of kids like that. I have about 10 stories about kids like that. You feel like you can help them succeed. And the faculty and staff with the projects we do, they become happy and then it becomes this cycle of happy learning, which is what learning should be, right?
What are the challenges you face as an architect working in educational spaces?
Well, the challenges are constituents who don’t want to pass bonds because they think our schools are too “extravagant.” They’re not. They have really low budgets– which is also a challenge; to create beautiful, inspiring places with low budgets. They have to be durable because they have to be there for 75 years. They have to be sustainable and using less energy is very very important to me and to our firm. The Odyssey Project which was the trendsetter for net-zero. It produces a lot more energy than it uses. How can you not love a place that’s inspiring, economical and good for the environment?
Another challenge with that– we need to stop apologizing for making our buildings beautiful.
Do you have a favorite quote or life motto?I do, I have a couple, actually. One is, “When one can, one must.” And my favorite thing my father told me was, “You can be anything you want to be.” I try to share that with young people.
Who are your role models in life?
Walt Disney. I love what he did for young people, children. I loved his optimism, his creative mind and his ability to do things other people think can’t be done. I would say he’s one of my big role models. My father. He was a big role model for me. He was an electrical engineer. He was a good guy, the kindest person I’ve ever met.
Do you have any specific female architectural role models?
You know, I didn’t when I needed one, because there weren’t that many women in the field. I’ve met some remarkable women architects in the last ten years– I would say I have several role models there.
What do you feel is important considering yourself as a female role model and leader in this industry?
It’s the urge to share that, “you can do this.” I think, you know that Martin Luther King quote, that he hoped children would be based on the content of character not just the color of their skin, I would hope that we could all be judged by the content of our character and not our gender or the color of our skin– I’d add to that. And I really feel strongly that it’s important to mentor young people of both genders and I try to do that a lot.
We had an event, here with the Girl Scouts and Whitney and I just explained to them what we do– What do architects do? It’s very mysterious, right? I explained to them what we do and I got two letters from the young women– one of them said, “I never realized I could be an architect. I never knew what they did but now I think I am going to be an architect.” Just having an opportunity to share what we do– it’s the right choice for a lot of people. You need a role model, or you don’t think it’s possible. That’s true in any profession, I think.
Do you have a song or movie that describes you?
Yeah, actually I do. It’s “If I Could Change the World.” because I want to… I try to. I’ve done a lot of service, thanks to the firm supporting me– in terms of architecture for education nationally and I’ve tried to share what we do here and I think I’ve influenced a lot of architects to improve the schools. I’ve also done a lot with the licensing board and helping with intern development on a national scale– you know, it takes a long time to become an architect and we’ve tried to say, “What can we do to make it a better experience? What can we do to make it a shorter experience?” Also, I go to schools and do accreditation visits to make sure the students in this country are getting a good education in terms of architecture. So to me, it’s about how we can change the world. You know the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt a small group of committed people can change the world,” and in fact, it’s the only way that can happen, essentially. I like to think that a little girl who grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah; in the middle of nowhere– could go out and maybe make a difference to at least some people in this world.