As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up Sophie Bidek, partner at Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture. Bidek specializes in the architectural design of mixed-use, adaptive-reuse and residential projects. Her portfolio of notable projects includes the 1.1-million-square-foot Harper Court redevelopment in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, the 27-story, upscale condo Superior 110 tower in River North and No. 9 Walton, an ultra-luxury condominium development in Streeterville.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in Southeast Virginia, near Colonial Williamsburg. I knew I wanted to live in major city and had the opportunity to move to Chicago, when I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago. At this point, I’ve been here longer than I was in Virginia and Chicago is home.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
There was a time that I wanted to be a physical therapist, but in the 10th grade that changed on a visit to Monticello. Walking through the home of Thomas Jefferson, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the space and the unique details. I decided then, that if a former president could be an architect, I certainly could as well.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I went to a magnet high school that paired students with professionals for 4 hours a week. There had never been an architecture pairing so I sought out the best firm in town and approached Carlton Abbott and Partners in Williamsburg Virginia with my proposal. It caught the eye of a research assistant and I was set to help work on a book they were producing. Two weeks in, their youngest architect had recruited me to help draft and I was in heaven. I worked there for two summers after that mentorship program. They were wonderful to me.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors along the way including here at Hartshorne Plunkard. Our founding partners work to cultivate an environment of growth and mentoring. The key is to be willing to ask for help and do the work. Come up with specific questions to ask people who have succeeded where you would like to. Now I am making sure to find ways I can help bring others along to pay it forward.
What does a day in the life of Sophie Bidek look like?
No day looks like the one before. If I can, I start with a pilates class before heading to HPA. From there, it’s anything from planning a large mixed-use development to discussing a window detail. Architecture is collaborative; I’m never toiling away by myself. There are always multiple people to talk to, learn from or teach, and every day it’s something new.
What do you like most about your job?
I love the puzzles and problem solving aspect of the job. Working through floor plans and programming how a building actually works never gets old for me. I’m also leading a team of architects at HPA. Managing projects as well as professional development is very rewarding.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I’m lucky to have some very interesting projects in the works and I look forward to seeing those built over the next 5 years. I’m also working with a very talented group of architects at my office and a member of a great partnership at HPA and I look forward to seeing us all advance. I’ve had some opportunities to advance the opportunities for women in the field and I’d like to do more of that as well.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
Three years ago I trained to become a pilates instructor. I’ve been teaching a reformer group class for the past two and a half and it has changed my life. If I’m not architecting, I’m teaching or trying to learn a little more about movement.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do hope to go next?
I love visiting New York City and next up for me is San Diego for the CREW Network National Convention which I’m very much looking forward to.
Who would you like to see answer these questions?
Megan Zack of HPA and Bridgett Mitchell of Bentall Kennedy