The Next Generation Leadership: Amy Eliot
June 29, 2022
“It was evident even then that Amy embodied the entire package: design ability, curiosity, smarts, purpose, and commitment.”
This is last in a series of five blogs written by John Webre about the leadership transition of the firm.
As I approach the end of my career with Dreyfuss + Blackford, I reflect on the new direction that we are setting for the firm. Amy Eliot, who is the design principal in our San Francisco office, has helped bring us clarity to this future. She is uniquely qualified to see the throughlines that root us to our past. She also has a keen sense of trends in the design industry that will define our future. She has the native people skills required also to put a mirror to the firm to be able to help us see ourselves as we truly are and who we want to be. I am enormously grateful that she has joined us at this important moment in our firm’s 70-year history and as we pivot to our future.
I first met Amy 33 years ago when she was working for Polshek & Partners in New York City. We worked together on the renovation of the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium when she was on the design team with a freshly-minted degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. It was evident even then that Amy embodied the entire package: design ability, curiosity, smarts, purpose, and commitment. When Jim Polshek was unable to make it to address the Sacramento City Council on the design of the project, Amy stepped in with grace. She understood that we believed in her. Her career flourished because of all that she brought to her work.
Amy went on to move to California and work on many significant projects on the West Coast. She worked with several major firms and became a named principal with two firms in San Francisco. Her passion for learning drew her to also become an architectural educator, predominantly at the California College of the Arts, as an adjunct professor and department chair in Interior Architecture.
Amy’s skills in design are only matched by her ability to understand people. It is her skill in relating to individuals that allows her to engage in and help lead the challenging and generative conversations that result in break– through moments. Her empathetic nature for understanding what motivates and inspires people and unflinching focus on how clients and communities see the value of the design are a potent combination of traits that contribute to her ability to arrive at clarifying vision. It is this unique chemistry that makes up Amy’s influence as a leader. Whether tackling difficult subjects such as Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) or how to build a practice culture that is grounded in a broad and deep definition of the value of design thinking, she is able to advance the conversation because she understands the motivation of the individuals in the room as well as the ultimate outcome desired.
Amy has helped elevate the profession through her work as a mentor and a leader. She has participated in local and statewide AIA committees, sitting on the board of directors of the AIA San Francisco in the mid-1990’s, its design committee and various juries, and on the AIACA Monterey Design Conference committee as its chair in 2001. MDC’s theme that year was, “Design Currency,” and was focused on defining the value of design beyond the design community. It was also the initiation of “Emerging Talent,” which provides a platform to a diverse group of younger designers to have a voice; a program that is now over 20 years old.
Amy’s advocacy for design remains both local and at the state level today, in her collaboration with the AIASF’s board and the new Center for Architecture and Design’s capital campaign, and through her work on the Design Awards Committee for AIACA. She has also continued her advocacy for broadening the pipeline as well for emerging professionals, through her teaching on professional practice and participation in panel discussions focused on addressing how the design community supports students and young professionals’ diverse perspectives, and commitment to architects’ responsibility for leading climate and societal change.
Throughout her career, Amy’s work has always been driven by her values and principles. As a result, she is the first to help us state clearly what we stand for. It is through identifying our core principles that we can define where we are going. She understands that these principles are what make us who we are and will connect us with clients who share and support those principles. Amy is helping us take a good look at ourselves, define who we are, and chart a path to the future that has deep integrity and is truly sustainable. For Amy’s influence on the future of our firm, I am truly grateful.