Lilla Smith tells Building about the New York property industry, loving Lego and the challenges of apartment design

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What has been your biggest career challenge to date?

From a design perspective, working on a large multiple dwelling project such as One Wall Street is always a challenge because you are designing a variety of apartments for someone you haven’t met. To address that, I draw upon my experiences gained from working with clients on private residences and treat each unit as if it is a one-off home.

If you could change one thing about the industry?

To not be the only female or only one of two in a construction meeting.

Why did you choose architecture as a career?

Playing with Lego, starting 50-plus years ago, instilled a love of building and design. I would spend many hours creating endless possibilities and combinations with those interlocking pieces. In high school art studio classes, I enjoyed drawing and model making. I knew then that this passion for craft and problem solving combined with an artistic element was the right calling for me.


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What have you worked on that you’re most proud of?

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to play a small role in 432 Park Avenue, an iconic residential tower in Manhattan (pictured) and now taking on a more hands-on role in the repurposing of One Wall Street, the former Irving Trust Company building and art deco landmark, into 566 apartments in  Manhattan.

Collaborating with Harry Macklowe on the design of the residences and amenity spaces and working with an incredibly talented team of professionals at Macklowe Properties is a once in a lifetime experience.

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Source: Shutterstock

Most helpful advice you were given?

Don’t repeat, be curious and try something new on every project.

What’s your favourite building in the world?

Lenox Hill hospital is an unassuming building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but it’s where my twin girls were born so it makes my list of favourites.

Who do you most admire in the architectural industry?

American architect, interior designer, furniture designer, and entrepreneur Florence Knoll who designed timeless classics and brought a modernist approach to the design of offices and furniture. For an architect, designing a chair is arguably more challenging than designing a skyscraper.

Which famous building do you most dislike?

Penn station, in New York, which replaced the original McKim Mead and White beaux-arts masterpiece, has to be one of, if not the ugliest building in New York City.

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Source: Shutterstock

What feature do you most dislike about yourself? 

I dislike my extra narrow quadruple-A sized feet which makes shoe shopping a real challenge.