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Naama Blonder: Architect, Urban Planner, & Entrepreneur

"I love every aspect of my work. I think architects share this. If you're not obsessed with it, it may be hard to survive in it."

In my conversation with Naama Blonder, Architect, Urban Planner, & Entrepreneur, I could feel her passion for her work and profession, but even more, for being an entrepreneur.

Educated in Israel and now a business owner in Toronto, Canada, here is Naama's bio:

Naama Blonder | Architect, Urban Designer, Urban Planner | B.Arch, OAA, RPP, MCIP

"Naama has a bold vision: to change what good development can and should look like; with that in mind, she co-founded Smart Density.

Naama’s professional work spans across planning and architecture, and by marrying the two disciplines, she brings a deeper and more realistic understanding of how municipal policies take physical shape.

Before starting Smart Density, Naama gained technical and management experience in planning at Urban Strategies and in architecture at Hariri-Pontarini Architects, where she learned firsthand how these disciplines operate and where the gaps between them lie.

Naama is a board member of Kehilla, an Affordable Housing provider, co-authored the Housing Affordability Report of the Ontario Association of Architect, and served at the Design Review Panel of the City of Burlington, where she provided Urban Design advice for development applications.

Naama practices what she preaches, and lives with her husband and child in a multi-family building in a transit-accessible area of Toronto, where the park is their back yard."

Some highlights from our conversation:

Naama highly recommends architecture students to travel the world, and try to take part of formal educational programs in other cities or countries. She explains, "across the ocean (and border), things look different. See other cities."

She also urges architecture students to prioritize getting their license. It's a long process but it's worth it to get the professional designation.

Finding work in Canada after arriving seven years ago wasn't hard, she believes because an architect's portfolio speaks for itself. It's easy to transform your skill set from one place to another because you have a portfolio of your work - even if you don't have a strong command of the language (in her case, English).

Three years ago, Naama started her own firm, Smart Density. She wanted her own studio, her own business. It was a great decision for her and she wished she had started it earlier.

On being an entrepreneur:

  • it's a journey.

  • her work is less about the technical aspects of being an architect and more about marketing and promoting the firm.

  • her life is busy now with a young baby, but she can make her family life work around her business.

  • she really loves the mixed aspects of her week and day-to-day: marketing, meeting people, promoting the business, getting new clients, making designs in accordance to the brand.

  • she has a partner to manage projects.

  • her work is definitely not the 9am-6pm hours that some professions, and some architects may have.

  • but the work/life balance she achieves is because she sets her own rules.

  • she admits she works seven days a week, but if she needs to take a break for personal reasons, she can.

  • she feels the 9am-5pm work culture is dead, and that work will become more and more results-oriented than having to be at a desk all day.

Skills needed today for architecture hopefuls?

- "Passion is the #1 skill. They say creativity or the practical knowledge. But I don't think that's the case. You have to love it."

- Be curious. Go a little deeper. Investigate yourself. Are you detail-oriented or big picture-oriented? Identify and develop the skill set that you're naturally good at and don't try to be someone you're not.

Final bit of advice?

"Don't be afraid to walk away. It's hard to make decisions because you're afraid of the consequences. I believe we already know the answers."

This conversation was interesting and I could feel the passion Naama has for her work, and lifestyle (even over Zoom!)

Thank you Naama for sharing your stories and ideas with our audience!

This interview was taped during the COVID19 pandemic, in June 2020.


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