President, U.S. operations for Steffian Bradley Architects
Highest education: Master's
of architecture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1999.
Trust and respect are vital. "If you have a respect back and forth between somebody, you're going to gain the trust and … the end product, what you gain from that, is going to be absolutely amazing."
Kirsten Waltz's father was an orthopedic surgeon and her sister is a pediatrician — no wonder the architect has a passion for designing healthcare buildings.
Waltz works in the Enfield office of Boston-based Steffian Bradley Architects and became SBA's president of U.S. operations Jan. 1. She was involved in one of SBA's more visible healthcare projects locally, the new John Dempsey Hospital tower at UConn Health in Farmington, which SBA designed in a joint venture with HKS Inc.
Other healthcare projects she's had a role in: the new Hartford Healthcare Cancer Institute at The Hospital of Central Connecticut in New Britain; and, the Baystate Health Children's Specialty Center in Springfield, Mass.
The cancer center, with its warm design — from its colors to its atrium and stone fireplace to healing gardens — incorporates experiential elements important to Waltz, 42.
"It's a very successful project and to be honest, that's why I went into health care … because I know I'm going to be there some day and it's making the experience right for the family and the patients and the staff," she said.
Healthcare design and master planning are among SBA's focuses. Others are senior housing, academic, life sciences, corporate and innovation centers.
SBA, which plans to expand to other U.S. cities, also has offices in London, Canada and China. It has about 20 staff in Enfield, which could double within five years, about 75 to 80 in Boston and 70 to 80 internationally.
Waltz fondly recalls the process of designing Baystate children's facility, including being invited to work with Disney "imagineers" in a design charette for the facility.
It was amazing working and sketching with them, she said, pointing to an early drawing of the facility's more whimsical concepts.
Waltz has spent her entire 17-year career with SBA — starting in Boston in 1999 before moving to London for three years. London exposed her to different design elements and ways of operating hospital projects; for example, including contractors, financiers, nurses and others in the project from start to finish to ensure the best outcome.
She returned stateside to open and lead the Connecticut office in 2007.
Her husband, Chris Waltz, also is an architect in the office, working as operations officer. In Boston, he worked for Shepley Bulfinch, but joined SBA when Kirsten went to London.
"We moved to Boston specifically because it's one of the largest cities that has the most architectural firms, and we said we were never going to work for the same architecture firm," she said laughing.
The two, along with head of design, Derek Noble, opened the Connecticut office.
It's not awkward working with her husband, she said, praising the firm's culture.
"I respect what he can bring to the table, so there's no controversy over that; I enjoy having him here because I know that he'll challenge me," she said, an attribute she likes in staff.
"I try to hire people that aren't like me because if I hire somebody like me, they're just going to say, 'Yes, that's great,' " she said. "I want people that are going to … say, 'Have you ever looked at it this way? Let's consider this.' "
That office culture includes giving people scheduling flexibility for personal issues as long as work gets done. Being a mother of two girls, 9 and 12, Waltz knows the work-life challenges people face and believes she's helped create an environment to overcome them.
Trust and respect are foremost in her leadership, she said. She enjoys mentoring and believes in delegating, training people to take over her work and make it better, and grooming the next leaders. She also believes in confronting problems head-on.
While she works in a world where many contractors, engineers, facility directors and others are men, Waltz said her gender's never been a barrier. Many people in health care for whom SBA does projects are women leaders who have become her mentors.
Waltz enjoys spending quality time with her family, at home, on the ski slopes or tennis courts. She played tennis competitively in college, but focuses now on serving up winners in architecture.