Geneviéve Walker on Real Estate Development as Sustainable Practice

Alumna Geneviéve Walker ’07 has spent over a decade working in construction and real estate development. With a depth of experience coordinating with architects, contractors, suppliers, and developers, she’s worked on projects throughout California, Nevada, Montana, New York, Alberta and British Columbia. Geneviéve holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Woodbury, as well as several professional certificates and a Masters in Real Estate from NYU. Today, she is working with Amazon on their Global Real Estate team.  We recently caught up with Geneviéve to discuss real estate development and construction across the United States and Canada, as well as new trends in sustainable practice.

Interview with Geneviéve Walker

Q: Why did you choose to study architecture and real estate?

I loved driving by construction sites as a young girl and I used to play with the model size pieces of the furniture that my parents had in their furniture store, then loved drawing them out in elevation and plan, to later have them put in my room. I later worked full-time as a kitchen designer for my first few years of college and fell in love with solving design challenges and helping others make their dreams a reality. During that time, I switched to majoring in Architecture. My interest in real estate development came later while working in a design/build relationship between Architect/Builder for master-planned communities.

Q: You have a diverse background in construction and real estate, and you’ve worked on projects across the United States and Canada. You’ve also studied around the world. How does this global context shape your work?

When you can see how different countries approach real estate, urban planning, and design problems, you can then use that global knowledge moving forward om new projects. Also, my experience abroad during college made it easier for me to have the courage to move to new cities by myself and apply for positions, or work on projects, in new markets.

Q: You work for Amazon’s Global Real Estate team, and you’ve directed design and construction projects. How do you see construction and real estate evolving over the coming years?

Projects in the future will have more of a focus on sustainable design, be more environmentally conscious and geared towards Smart Cities, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will drastically impact how our cities are built and how we work moving forward.

Q: Architects often face questions of narrowing project scopes. With changes to climate, technologies, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?

There is still a significant knowledge gap between the various architecture firms, as it pertains to: technology, construction techniques, and sustainability. I think that firms that fail to be forward-looking, fail to incorporate BIM, fail to have competent LEED train professionals on staff, or fall out of touch with the various new computer programs will be pushed out. CRETech and FinTech are huge; companies who are failing to take note of what companies in those spaces are up to will fall behind. It has become more common for architecture firms to try to charge the same fee as before while outsourcing so many components of the historical practice of architecture and then will charge the client more for those additional services, i.e., using sustainability, building envelope, energy and code consultants. I don’t feel that doing less, while trying to command a more significant fee, will work to their benefit.

Q: What type of projects have you enjoyed working on most?

• I worked on a new 21 story boutique-style hotel next to a large lake in the interior of British Columbia. I loved learning about how that jurisdiction controlled sustainability, urban mobility, and implemented design guidelines. I loved working with the consultant team and how thoughtful everyone on the team was about delivering a hotel on the water’s edge that seemed appropriate for the built environment that surrounded it.

• A 1,000 unit single-family modular home community in Canada. I enjoyed learning about the various modular home manufacturers and the barriers to entry for that type of construction.

• The Neufield Landing project for Habitat for Humanity Edmonton. I had the ability to work in one of the largest Habitat for Humanity pre-fab shops in the world and later, installed the wall and floor systems from the prefab shop on-site. I enjoyed seeing how they standardized processes to make them more efficient and how quickly we could then install pre-manufactured floor and wall systems to then turn them over to future Habitat for Humanity home-owners.

Q: What advice would you give to students and young designers who aspire to follow a similar career path?

Become a member of U.L.I., N.A.I.O.P., CREW, CoreNet, and I.C.S.C. Apply for scholarships through each of those professional organizations. If you cannot find a job at an architecture firm to do an internship, then apply for a job as a: Project Coordinator, Development Coordinator or Assistant Project Manager working for Real Estate Developers, Owner’s Rep Companies or General Contractor/Construction Management Companies. Several of the larger construction management or large real estate brokerage companies have summer, winter, fall, and spring internships. Spend every extra weekday or weekend that you can volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and truly learning how the buildings go together – doing that in itself, will do wonders to help build your confidence and set you apart from others.

When you go to networking events, file the business cards you receive in the order that you met each person, then when you have a chance to write how you met them and when. Follow up with them soon after via email and add them on LinkedIn. Your contacts will become invaluable resources to you, as they or you, move around, or up, in the various companies. Don’t be afraid to contact business owners or prior alumni on LinkedIn to ask them for an informational interview/coffee, then keep in touch with them. Lastly, for the women in the group, become a member of CREW and/or attend the ULI Women’s Initiative events.

Q: What three words would you use to describe Woodbury?

Progressive. Innovative. Thought-Provoking.


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