Port City Architecture’s Lita Anne Semrau on Appreciating the Design Process

“If you only want to make pretty little pictures, you’re not going to be happy,” says Lita Anne Semrau, a principal at Port City Architecture. The work of an architect is not a silo; it demands knowledge about how other people think and live. Semrau explains to Maine Home+Design why it’s important to enjoy the process of design and how “maker spaces” in colleges and universities can help prepare students for more fulfilling careers.

Q. What do you like about your work?

A. I really enjoy the process as well as the design. I spend a lot of time drawing up details and coordinating things. You come up with a great idea, and then you have to bring it to fruition. People think that architects are making pretty little pictures, and there’s a lot more to make those pretty little pictures come to life. If you don’t like working out the details as an architect, if you only want to make pretty little pictures, you’re not going to be happy.

Q. What is something that might surprise people about what you do as an architect?

A. A lot of projects in life are linear. You start at one place and end at the other, and it’s a relatively straightforward process. Architecture is a wacky spiral that’s all over the place. You have to know that there are going to be times that you’re going to try something, and it’s not going to work many times before you finally find the center, which is a place that feels right, that works.

Q. You’ve been working on “maker spaces” that integrate students of different majors in colleges and universities. Why are these spaces important?

A. For a long time people have been silos in their careers. They were expected to be experts in just one field. Now every job entails knowledge about a lot of different areas. For example, I should have taken business classes in college because that’s a lot of what I do now. I’m also working with a higher education client that is combining the art department and the computer science department in the same building so that the students interact with each other and learn skills from each other. Even if they never need those skills, at least they have the knowledge.

Q. Why is that knowledge so important?

A. In a lot of careers, there is no longer a boundary between the processes of making and doing; you have to design a website that looks great and works well. This is also true of making and learning. Teachers and students now need to do hands on things, including making posters, and universities and colleges are now recognizing that they need to give them the facilities to make these objects. When students have more resources for making and creating, they learn better.

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