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San Jose, CA—We’re pleased to introduce Kathleen Follis, Project Administrator in our San Jose Studio, as this month’s Studio W Spotlight team member. A former teacher, Kathleen brings 30 years of experience, including an expertise in art and architectural history, to her administration role, providing assistance and detailed documentation throughout each of her assigned projects, especially during construction administration. Kathleen has provided project administration to The Bayshore School, Natomas USD K-8 Conversions and Project Implementation for Huntington Beach City School District’s Bond Program, to name a few.

Kathleen is cultured in both the arts and in her culinary endeavors, and enjoys having her Maltese tag along on her weekend excursions. Learn more about Kathleen…


What is your hometown, or where do you live currently and what do you like about it?
I was born in Santa Monica, California. I have lived in California all my life in various cities, from Los Angeles to the Oregon border. However, my entire adult life has been spent in Silicon Valley. I went to San Jose State University for three degrees—a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, an MBA (which I did not complete as I had a baby instead) and a Master of Arts in Art History.

What is your favorite restaurant or food?
I love food from various cultures too much to have a favorite, including, but not limited to Asian, Ethiopian, Thai, Cambodian, Italian and Mexican. See what I mean? My favorite restaurant, however, is La Bicyclette, a little French bistro in Carmel, California. You can find me there every month with my little Maltese enjoying the special of the week.


What is your favorite song, movie or book?
Favorite Book—Since I am an art lover and taught art history, the book I consistently use the most is one about the Impressionists. Everybody loves the Impressionists. Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir come to mind for most people. What I love about this book is that it speaks to the relationships these artists had practicing their craft together, as well as how their personalities informed their style. For example, Monet was a solitary personality who preferred nature, and was the primary spokesperson for the Impressionists as a group. His paintings typically have shadow figures with no detail and low horizons to maximize the landscape. In contrast, Renoir, who painted frequently with Monet, was gregarious and very social. He would paint the same scene as Monet but with highly detailed figures engaged in conversation with each other. The horizon line would be high to provide enough visual space for the figures.

Favorite Song—I enjoy anything by Linda Ronstadt or Adele. I love Linda Ronstadt’s early works – “A Different Drum”, “Tracks of My Tears”, “Heat Wave”. I love a few songs from Adele’s first album such as “Rolling in the Deep”, and from her latest album, such as “Easy on Me”. And then there is Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster album.


Favorite Movie—That would be the 1962 version of Lawrence of Arabia with Peter O’ Toole. It is a movie that speaks to the start of the complex relationships between the Middle East and the West that endure to this day. It is a movie that has stood the test of time and influenced many directors, including Steven Spielberg.



Who is your hero or a person that inspires you?
My older brother is my hero and inspiration. He is the middle sibling out of three older brothers, and is blessed with extraordinary talents in math, fine arts, discourse and mechanics. He could have chosen from a variety of professions; he chose law. He chose to help people who could not help themselves. What truly inspires me is his ability to provide solid advice and support to his brothers and sisters. At the most critical times in my life he has been there with sound counsel and support. No matter what he is doing, he makes time. At a time in our society when most people feel isolated, he is accessible to friends and family. He is a great friend, a wonderful father/grandfather and a treasured older brother.

What is a typical weekend for you?
I try to walk or hike several miles each weekend. I love hiking in the parks from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Nisene-Marks State Park is one of my favorite places for a 5-10 mile hike. My other passions include gardening and baking. I try to give most of my baking away these days (for obvious reasons!). And, I am always up to see a new exhibit at a museum or take in an art show at Fort Mason.

When I am not hiking or baking, I am keeping my little seven-pound Maltese entertained. Or shall I say, he entertains me? Teddy goes nearly everywhere with me. He is a pint-sized family member who loves people and other animals equally.


How did you find a career in the architecture industry?
I fell into the architectural industry by way of looking for a job that could combine my love of art/architecture with my organizational skills. Studio W (then BCA Architects) seemed like a good fit. I like that Studio W is focused on building schools, as it appeals to my love of education and desire to see students able to learn in a physical environment conducive to study, creativity and collaboration.

What is a building and/or destination that inspires you and why?
There are several structures that I have seen that have filled me with a sense of wonder and speak to how architecture fills a true social purpose with form and function, even if we don’t completely understand what the social purpose might have been:

Funerary Temple of Pharaoh Hatshepsut—Built during the 18th Dynasty by one of the few female pharaohs of ancient Egypt, this is a massive complex with politically smart imagery to convey the right of a female to rule in an ancient and highly ritualized culture. The imagery tells the story of how a mere female, a mortal, was chosen by the gods to rule what was then one of the greatest countries in the world. Hatshepsut was the longest ruling female in ancient Egypt; politically astute and ambitious. She ruled for over 20 years. Her motives have been debated for decades – Was she power-hungry? Protecting her step-son? Fulfilling a dying wish from her late husband? It was not until the 1970s that archaeologists discovered Pharaoh Hatshepsut was female. Her funerary complex is unusually large, filled with scenes of her accomplishments, dozens of statues depicting herself in royal attire, usually as a man. It was all designed to convince the viewer of her legitimate right to rule.

The Great Pyramids of Giza—I had the opportunity to “crawl” down the interior of the Great Pyramid. Dark, narrow, filled with thin air and incredibly steep, I found myself in the funerary room far underground that was large, empty and dead silent. The sarcophagus was long gone, it never made it to England and the British Museum. It was lost at sea. I expected to see the walls filled with funerary scene. But to my amazement, the walls are bare. Stark bare. You suddenly realize you were way underground. Only one person at a time is allowed in this room. If you get claustrophobia, this is not the place for you. Needless to say, I felt like an intruder, and that somehow we had gotten it all wrong. Was this really a funerary chamber? Where are the funerary scenes? Where is the coffin…in a coffin, in a coffin?

To stand on the two-ton blocks of the Great Pyramid on the outside, then crawl down into the inside of such an ancient structure so simple and sleek in design rendered me speechless. I felt transported back in time and an intruder on sacred space. I could not keep myself from climbing the outside. But afterward, I wondered if I was being disrespectful. Visiting the Pyramid Complex outside Cairo had been on my “bucket list” since I was in 6th grade. How could I not pinch myself and stand in accomplishment of a personal goal (on the Pyramid itself)? I was struck by how long this structure has endured and how many secrets are still to be discovered.

The Parthenon in Greece—I wanted to see the work of Greek architects and sculptors first-hand instead of out of a book. I studied the Parthenon in college as a freshman, and again for my masters. I would later even teach first year students about Greek Classical art. I was not disappointed. I took the path to the Parthenon at high noon when it radiated heat from the marble walkway (I don’t advise the climb at that hour). When I reached the top of the path the entire complex stood white against a solid blue sky. Massive, stripped of its original paint, glistening. It stands in harmony with its surroundings, emits a sense of sacred space despite the otherworldly images of gods, beasts and battles that reminds me of sci-fi movies. The carefully planned proportions are designed to fit into its surroundings in a harmonious manner. To see the friezes that are an integral part of our college education first-hand as they are meant to be viewed gave me new understanding of the role architecture and decorative sculptures were meant to play in the lives of the ancient Greeks. And then I was reminded that the structure and statues were originally painted in bright colors. We see them today in pure white form, but they were painted originally to look real, to give a sense of gods truly acting on earth in the lives of ancient Greeks.

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao by Frank Gehry—This structure caught my notice due to the unusual use of titanium for the exterior and the soft curving lines that mimic a large ship as the building sits on the edge of port. I hope to see this building first-hand. The entrance surprisingly is from a narrow side street. That is not at all what I expected from this modern structure. It is playful and imposing, yet rooted in the city’s history as a fishing port.

What is your most memorable project and why?
I would have to say The Bayshore School is most memorable to me for several reasons. Our team camaraderie on this project was extraordinary. Due to weather, the project was behind schedule, but everyone pulled together in overtime to get the school open on time. Not only is it a beautiful campus, it is designed for high function on a very small piece of land. This project was my first experience with the construction phase and it taught me a lot about the industry and my role as a project administrator.


What is your favorite aspect of working at Studio W Architects?
I like the small company feel. I say “small” because most of my work experience has been with very large corporations, such as Seimens, IBM, Lucent/Avaya.