What Makes Your Heart Sing with Anne Torney

Anne Torney is a partner at Mithun | Solomon, and leads their San Francisco office. For more than 20 years, she has made affordable multi-family housing and transit-oriented urban infill the focus of her work. For Anne, architecture isn't just about the form or the icon, but the process of making and the narrative of a building, and sharing that with a community to help them envision change. She believes that the two biggest challenges of our time are income inequality and climate change, but design has the power to address both.

In this episode, Anne tells the story of her first community planning meeting, how Mithun has been able to successfully get affordable housing projects built in San Francisco, and shares why you should bring your values to your firm and push for change.


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SHOW RECAP:

  • How Anne's interest in architecture developed - "In a very backwards way"

  • The idea that buildings can be read like books, as critical cultural objects

  • Working at David Baker Architects was her first introduction to affordable housing projects

  • How attending her first community meeting and her first encounter with design guidelines led Anne to study Urbanism and City Planning at Berkeley

  • Wanting to study with Daniel Solomon in grad school, and the approach that architecture and city planning are one continuous discipline

  • On the eternal conflict between a city's design guidelines, what architects think is the best for the city, and what the public thinks is the best for the city

  • The disagreement between parties is often programmatic rather than design

  • Anne talks about the kinds of clients and non-profit developers she works with at Mithun that build affordable housing projects in San Francisco

  • Why it's important to have the same values and mission as your clients

  • How Anne became a Principal and Managing Partner at Mithun - "Having a nose for what I had a passion for"

  • Why Anne finds the firm management aspects of her job very gratifying

  • On changing an organization from within versus finding an organization that shares the same values as you - "I love it when people bring their values to work...and say this is what gives me passion, this is what I'm seeing the world needs, and shouldn't we as a firm be doing this?"

  • "Be really out there with what want, and the way you think the world should be."

  • What Anne loves most about being an Architect - for her it's not just about the form and the icon, but the process of making a building, and taking the narrative of a building and sharing it with a community to help them envision change.

  • On how the biggest challenges we currently face are climate change and income inequality, but design has the power to address both

LIGHTNING ROUND Q&A

WHAT IS ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE FOR SOMEONE JUST STARTING OUT IN THEIR CAREER?

Figure out what really makes you excited about what you're doing. Dig in deep to whatever you're doing, ask a ton of questions of everybody around you, have a nose for what it is you're excited about and pursue that relentlessly. Follow your nose, and always be a little less passive than would make you comfortable.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FEEL UNFOCUSED OR OVERWHELMED?

One is I make a to-do list. And the other is sit down and work on one really satisfying doable thing that touches on something really important in the practice, so I remember why I do what I do.

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU FIND REALLY INSPIRING?

One thing I find really inspiring right now is the level of debate around the housing crisis, especially the younger generation of folks getting involved, and saying "We want an equitable world, therefore we're going to get politically active, we're going to talk about how important housing is to us." And also folks being able to connect this to bigger issues - to planetary health, to the importance of alternate modes of transportation, to cultural diversity and social equity - that it's not just about "I want an apartment" but "This is important because we want a just world and great cities."

WHAT'S A FUNNY OR INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOURSELF?

I turned to my colleague who sits next to me and asked what she would say. And she looks at me and goes, "You say 'Fantastic!' a lot." We couldn't think of anything weirder than that.

MENTOR SHOUT OUT! WHO IS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN A GREAT MENTOR TO YOU?

There are so many people! I would say my longtime professional partner, Daniel Solomon. His conception of the city, and of design's role in the city for social equity - that's still a preoccupation of his, and he's been a huge influence on my thinking about the world. I'm also very inspired by my colleagues Rosa Sheng and Lilian Asperin who have been the instigators of the Equity by Design initiative with the SF AIA. I think the work that they're doing is really critical. And I'm also inspired by my clients who are so committed to the lives of the residents that they're building housing for, and I feel very lucky to have worked with them for so many years.