Michele McMinn MFA ’06

Architect. Bridge-builder. Conservationist.

Michele McMinn focuses on environmentally and culturally conscious designs in her job as an interior architect.

“I can’t think of a better place, honestly, to go to architecture school than Chicago,” says Michele McMinn. Today, McMinn works as an interior architect, carefully crafting the spaces where people live, work and play.

Easy Being Green

When McMinn studied at Columbia, green design was just becoming a buzzword. She gained hands-on experience alongside professors immersed in the design world. “The fact that my professors worked in the field was critical for me,” she says. “And because the professors were practitioners, it led to a deep network.”

As a senior interior designer at Nashville’s Gresham, Smith and Partners, McMinn specializes in environmentally sensitive and resource-efficient spaces. She incorporates sustainable technology like LED light fixtures that automatically dim according to the amount of natural light in a room. Her designs use regional woods and other materials sourced locally, recycled content in furnishings, and low-flow water fixtures.

International Architecture

At global design firm Perkins & Will’s Chicago office, McMinn helped design a women’s university in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “I did research to understand [cultural aspects of] design there,” she says, “like the importance of patterns and the numbers they’re based on, which are very symbolic.” She also honed her eco-conscious design skills, and that commitment to sustainability has become second nature to McMinn, who says it’s about “being conscientious of your responsibility [to the environment] as a person.”

Today, at Gresham, Smith and Partners, she works on civic projects with the state of Tennessee. “It’s interesting to get a glimpse into how government works and how complex it is,” she says. Life in Nashville is good for McMinn, her husband and their daughter. “We still work hard, but there’s a little more work-life balance,” she says. “Family is very much central to people here.”

Building a Bridge

McMinn says she has been fortunate to work with a variety of design venues. “Some people enjoy one market more than others, but I gather strength in not doing that,” she says. “Different project types allow me to think about things differently.” She draws inspiration in the dynamic world of design itself: “Design is constantly evolving,” she says. “It’s about designing space that is at once functional, inspiring and culturally relevant. Design allows people to be open to cultures other than their own. It’s a real bridge.”

Adapted from DEMO magazine, issue 21