Architects Talking to Architects: Catherine Callaway, AIA

Catherine Callaway, AIA, is an associate with BNIM currently working on the renovation of the Sunset Coffee Building on Buffalo Bayou, the new Knoll showroom in Houston, and strengthening the firm’s capabilities in human-purposed, high-performance, integrated design across the country. She works from home and manages the strained relationship between her office mates, Buffalo (the dog) and Mabel (the cat). Catherine’s years of involvement with AIA Houston and The Rice Design Alliance has led to exciting leadership opportunities and fruitful relationships. On the weekend, look for Catherine building a recycled cardboard castle with her daughter and son, leading a walking tour of The University of Houston’s art and architecture through the ArCH tours program, or watching horses in the pasture at her in-laws house in Fayetteville.

Selfie on the site of the new Knoll Houston showroom – photo courtesy Catherine Callaway

Where did you grow up?

Born and raised in Houston, my understanding of the city was defined by the Spring Branch/Memorial area where I grew up. Downtown Houston was unapproachable, other than going to see a performance or doing research at the Julia Ideson Library. Beyond the occasional visit to a museum and Rice Village, I knew very little about what existed within Loop 610. I escaped to North Carolina for college, worked for Habitat for Humanity, and never wanted to move back to Houston, until my dad helped convince me that going to UH for my Masters in Architecture would be a great idea. Indeed it was, and I have enjoyed getting to know more of Houston and taking part in its transformation into an attractive, diverse, kick-ass city. Shameless plug: I highly recommend the walking tours provided by the Architecture Center Houston for anyone wanting to learn more about the city!

A cardboard Castle creation by my daughter and son – photo by Catherine Callaway

If you were not an architect, what other profession would you have pursued?

I would employ my undergrad degree of chemistry and work in fabric development for Patagonia. That would hit all my passions — design, fabrics, chemistry, travel, enjoying the wonders of this planet, and making better use and reuse of its resources.

Beer, wine or cocktail — what is your drink of choice?

#yeswayrosé

Where do you find inspiration?

In my children’s eyes… it’s so cliché, but so TRUE! Their shorter legs force me to slow my pace and pause to see what they see. 

Whether we are playing in the pasture or exploring the city of Houston, seeing things through my children’s eyes always gets me thinking about the world a little differently – photo courtesy Catherine Callaway

One of our top local spots is Sheldon Lake State Park. Only a 15-minute drive from our home, it feels like a world away. There is something new to discover every time we visit. We watch an alligator float in the pond as he waits for something tasty to swim near the fisherman’s hook. We stomp on the crazy ants (at the permission of the park ranger!) and talk about what an invasive species means. We scoop up tadpoles and compare them to the bright green frog sitting on the lily pad — thinking about growth and transformation. We climb to the top of the viewing tower to see downtown Houston — the refineries along the ship channel, the star on the San Jacinto Monument, the adjacent lake dotted with cyprus trees and egrets — and consider our place in this blend of natural habitats and man-made interventions.

Hanging out at Sheldon Lake State Park with my boys: my husband Clayton, our dog Buffalo, and our son Jesse – photo by Catherine Callaway

Do you listen to music when designing? What kind?

Lately, the mix has been a tick-tock sound with Juana Molina on a Pandora station overlay. I recently discovered Flat Tomato – a well-designed Pomodoro app that plays a ticking sound for 25 minutes, then switches to bird chirping for a 5-minute break. I work from home, so the app helps me stay focused when I need to work on a tedious task like reviewing shop drawings or pay applications. It’s like a race against the clock! I look forward to fall, when the windows are open and the sounds of my neighborhood become the backdrop.

What type of advice would you offer to young professionals?

Eat lunch with new people. You need time away from your desk to refresh your brain and build relationships beyond the people you encounter daily. Reach out to a consultant from your project team, someone you know on Facebook but never see in real life, a senior leader at your firm, anyone on the board of your local AIA chapter… Everyone loves to eat and to tell their story. You will be inspired in ways you never imagined.

Delight is a piece I made out of coat hangers wrapped in yarn as a reminder to seek joy and have fun – photo by Catherine Callaway

"Architects Talking to Architects" is a series on the Texas Society of Architects blog that spotlights members from across the state at different points of development in their career. All participants are given the same set of questions, with instructions to answer any six, giving them the opportunity to highlight the items they feel are most interesting. Is there someone you'd like to see featured in "Architects Talking to Architects"? Email communications@texasarchitects.org to let us know.​