Arts & Culture

Young architect wins a national award for her work on the Kauffman Center.

Amy Slattery’s children have a different name for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

They call it "Mommy’s building."

While the 32-year-old Kansas City architect didn’t design the center, she considers it the centerpiece of her career. Since 2004 she has worked on its concept, done detailed drawings and coordinated communication between the contractor and design architect Moshe Safdie.

It sure feels like her building.

And now a national professional organization has taken note. On May 12, the American Institute of Architects will present Slattery with a 2011 Young Architects Award at its national convention in New Orleans. It is one of only 11 such awards given nationwide.

What’s more, the company Slattery works for -- Kansas City’s BNIM (Berkebile, Nelson, Immenschuh, McDowell Architects) -- captured the 2011 AIA National Architecture Firm Award, the highest honor that group can bestow.

Slattery needed only two words to sum up those honors.

"Pretty exciting," she said.

The Kauffman Center’s grand opening is set for mid-September with a weekend of performances from famed tenor Placido Domingo, violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall.

In her nine years at BNIM, Slattery has worked mostly on the Kauffman Center and the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She’s also one of the founding members of Women in Design-Kansas City, which promotes and supports women in architecture. Since 2009 that group has received two national AIA diversity awards.

Being an architect is satisfying, Slattery said. But it’s not easy.

"It’s not the kind of profession for someone who is averse to hard work," she said. "You have to have passion for your community and for good design. And it is a tough profession in many ways (and) a volatile one that’s dependent on the economy. In recessions we’re the first to get hit."

And if you’re thinking architecture will make you rich overnight ...

Think again, Slattery said.

But if you long to leave your fingerprint on a city’s skyline, here’s what you need to know:

First, you’ll need to earn an accredited architecture degree. Slattery has a bachelor’s from the University of Kansas. Next, you’ll need to complete an internship development program. That could take another three to seven years. Then come the architect registration exams. You must pass seven tests before you can get your license and officially become an architect.

What kind of a person would be drawn to architecture?

More misconceptions.

"Instead of all the math and science people think we do, we do a lot more collaboration with clients and the community and our engineers," she said. "We kind of make sense of the puzzle. (We) put all the pieces together and make it beautiful."

Just as Slattery is doing now with the Kauffman Center.

"I think Kansas City is a great place to be an architect, because we have a good culture and design dialogue in the city," she said. "It’s the kind of place where you can be active in the design work early in your career, as opposed to the coasts where you may not have that opportunity."