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Women lead fulfilling careers as architects and engineers

Peter Caulfield
Women lead fulfilling careers as architects and engineers
Tanya Luthi, structural engineer

The following article describes three women who are immersed in the construction industry through their careers as engineers and architects. The profiles describe why they decided to embark on their careers and the fulfilment they get out of their jobs.

Jana Foit, architect

Born in Brno, Czech Republic, Jana Foit left Europe and moved to Canada when she was six.

Foit, who is the higher education practice leader in the Vancouver office of Perkins + Will, has been designing buildings since she was a young girl.

"I used to draw complete building floor plans with all the details, including door knobs," said Foit.

Today she specializes in post-secondary education institutions, such as the UBC Earth Sciences Building, a five-storey structure that is the largest panelized wood building in North America.

"I design buildings for functionality, in addition to esthetics," said Foit.

"Because post-secondary education buildings are no longer used for just individual study, they need to be flexible."

Foit enjoys the collaborative process of designing a building,

"When I’m working on a project, one of the ways I do my research is to talk to my colleagues at Perkins + Will and find out what approaches they have used on other projects," she said.

Foit likes the old stone buildings that are common in the south of France as well as contemporary Scandinavian architecture, with its simplicity and natural materials.

"They’re beautiful, and because they’re in tune with their environment and climate, they make their occupants feel comfortable and at home," she said.

Foit seeks to apply the same principles of design to the modern post-secondary education institutions in Canada that she works on.

Tanya Luthi, structural engineer

Tanya Luthi grew up in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York.

"After I did a degree in political science at Princeton, I went to work for a non-profit foundation that’s involved in public education reform," said Luthi.

Wanting to try another line of work, she took some aptitude tests and decided to study engineering.

After graduating from the University of Texas with a master’s degree in civil engineering, Luthi went to work for a New York engineering company.

"I really liked my job, but after five years there, I wanted to see something different and expose myself to new ideas before I became too settled," she said.

Luthi pulled up stakes, travelled across the continent and went to work for Vancouver structural engineers Fast + Epp.

Luthi was the project lead on the 100,000-square-foot Mountain Equipment Co-op head office building, one of the largest contemporary timber buildings in Canada.

As much as she enjoyed Vancouver, Luthi missed New York more than she thought she would.

"It’s always been home and I’m super-happy to be back," she said.

Luthi manages Fast + Epp’s recently-established New York office, where she has been building up the company’s market presence on the East Coast.

Luthi said Fast + Epp offers New York something it lacks — expertise in mass timber construction.

"There are many structural engineers in New York, but there isn’t much competition in mass timber construction," she said. "And there is a growing appetite for wood in the U.S."

Rebecca Peterniak,

civil engineer

When she was a young girl growing up in Winnipeg, Rebecca Peterniak wanted to be an astronaut.

"My Grade 12 physics teacher arranged for me to meet Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar when she happened to be in Winnipeg," said Peterniak. "With her encouragement, I decided to study mechanical engineering in university first and then become an astronaut."

Because the University of Manitoba is at one end of Winnipeg and Peterniak’s home is at the other end, she had two hours every school day to observe and contemplate the flow of traffic and discuss it with her commuting partners.

"I remember thinking how better traffic signal sequencing would speed the flow of vehicles," she said.

With her interest in transportation piqued, Peterniak switched from mechanical to civil engineering and from travel in space to its earth-bound equivalent.

"After a course in transportation engineering, I saw that I could apply my different interests to road safety," she said.

Following her undergraduate degree, Peterniak went on and did a master’s degree, her thesis for which was pedestrian safety in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Today Peterniak is a transportation infrastructure specialist with Fireseeds North Infrastructure, a Winnipeg transportation engineering firm that works in Canada, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa.

"Most of our work is auditing the safety performance of transportation facilities," said Peterniak.

"We look at a road project exclusively from the point of view of safety performance. After studying such things as road geometry, alignment and cross-section, traffic signals and signage, we’ll make our evidence-based recommendations."

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