`My generation of architecture students and professionals didn’t really feel the effects," says Leslie Dowling, 40, when asked in a phone interview if she feels architecture is a difficult field in which to be a woman. In fact, Dowling says, women made up 50 percent of her class at the graduate school of architecture at Princeton, where she earned her masters in 1993. "I find that clients really seem to enjoy having a female architect. The strong characteristics that women have – attention to detail, organizational skills, communication skills – are big pluses."
Dowling says that as an architect she is "moving in the direction of doing modern green spec houses." She and Suzy DiMeglio of Gloria Nilson Realty are actively searching out ranch-type houses that can be "greened out," a term Dowling has coined to refer to a renovation that is undertaken according to environmentally sustainable practices. She and DiMeglio will then resell the renovated houses. While one might think this is a great time to launch this kind of enterprise, with the current buyers market in real estate, Dowling says that since "greening out" is quite expensive, "the challenge is to find the right property in the right neighborhood where the renovations won’t price the house out of the neighborhood."
Dowling was recently hired to fully develop the schematic design for the interior and exterior for the new green offices of Lasley Brahaney Architecture and Construction (see page 14). Dowling says she met Lasley through friends 12 years ago and she also knows Brahaney from Princeton, where he was one of the teaching assistants for a pottery class Dowling took while at the university.
When Lasley Brahaney held a preliminary design charrette with all its employees, Dowling participated as the only outsider. "It turned out that what I proposed was just what they were looking for. I immediately saw through the various additions (that had been made to the building) to see the original bones. I edited back from what had been added, and let the building just sort of `be.’
"The materials we selected for the exterior are sort of a play on a construction shed. We needed to wrap the concrete block building in something inexpensive and durable, so we chose corrugated metal siding that needs no painting and zero maintenance." She says the final addition of some wood screens around the exterior front corner around the conference area "will hopefully give it a more residential feel."
Dowling, who grew up in Atlantic Beach, Florida, the daughter of a residential builder and a nurse, attended the University of Florida School of Architecture, graduating in 1991. When she and her identical twin sister, Julie, both applied to graduate schools for architecture they thought this would finally allow them to go their separate ways but when both earned scholarships to Princeton, "that was too hard to pass up," says Dowling. Julie is now an architect in San Francisco and also works on green buildings.
After working with a Princeton University visiting professor, Juan Navarro Baldeweg, in Madrid for two years, Leslie Dowling worked in former professor Michael Graves’ Princeton and New York offices for four years.
"I think that Michael Graves is truly the most talented person I’ve ever met. He taught me how to look at space and plan buildings with a clarity I didn’t get from anyone else."
Dowling has worked on projects with husband and restaurateur Carlo Momo – co-founder of the Terra Momo Restaurant Group with his brother, Raoul Momo – specifically on two New Brunswick restaurants, Nova Terra and Teresa’s (which was destroyed in a fire).
Currently she is working on the renovation of a nearly 200-year-old building in Kingston the Momo Group has owned for about five years, the historic Union Line Hotel. Dowling is again using her modernist sensibilities to turn the ground floor into a retail space, possibly for her own modern furniture/home/lifestyle store or an art gallery and exhibit space. She expects the second and third floors to be marketed to architects for studios or to other arts-oriented professionals like photographers.
The biggest project on her plate right now is completing the last stages of a three-year renovation of her own home on Bayard Lane, where she lives with her husband and their four children – three from Momo’s previous marriage, ages 17, 14, and eight; and their daughter, age 4. A story on the house graced the cover of New Jersey Life magazine’s September design issue. Now she’s using her other "green" esthetic – her green thumb – to complete the home’s landscaping. – Jamie Saxon