Senior project architect at BWBR

Erin McKiel, who received Minnesota's Young Architect Award for 2012, hadn't always planned to be an architect. In fact, she considered quite a different career path.

The 33-year-old St. Paul native ended up bypassing an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy -- where she planned to study aeronautical engineering -- to pursue a career in architecture at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. McKiel, who has been a licensed architect for five years, joined St. Paul-based BWBR in 2006 and specializes in health care design.

She also has served on several programs looking at quality of life issues and design in St. Paul, including design ideas for the Ford plant site and development of the city's Central Corridor neighborhoods. The AIA Minnesota Young Architect Award, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), is for architects who've been licensed for less than 10 years.

QWhy pursue architecture?

AI found it to be that perfect balance between creativity and the technical, the structuring, the detailing that engineering had.

QDo you find health care design satisfying?

AI find it to be super rewarding. It's working for a client profession that's giving back to people. The Park Nicollet Frauenshuh Cancer Center in St. Louis Park was one of my first projects.

QYou worked with cancer patients in designing the facility, correct?

AYes. Park Nicollet was on the cutting edge of that. We worked with staff and patients and heard patients' responses to how architecture can change the way they recover.

QHow was it designed to help patients in recovery?

AIn the way it's organized and how it provides services to patients. In contrast to what they were coming from, where a patient might have to go between multiple buildings to get treatment in a day, in this new facility, essentially all of the treatment is coming to the patient -- the lab draw, the chemotherapy, the scheduling. So everything works around the comfort of that patient.

QHow does it feel to see a project go from a sketch to completion?

AIt's like walking through your 3-D model. You can look back at a project and see where kernels of inspiration started.

QYou probably eat, live and breathe a project during the design process.

AYes. For some of these health care projects, it might be eight months or longer working on documents and another 18 months of construction. It's a long process.

Liz Wolf is an Eagan-based freelance writer. She can be reached at