Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2015

Doing Good Work for Good People

It only takes a few minutes with Architect Catherine Smith to realize how passionate she is about using her skills to help others. In addition to being a practicing architect, Smith serves as instructor of the Art of Architecture program at Greenville’s Fine Arts Center. Here, she teaches first-, second- and third-year artistically talented high school students about architectural styles and techniques, as well as giving them opportunities for hands-on projects. The program was made possible through a partnership with Clemson University’s School of Architecture and Greenville’s architecture community, and students have the opportunity to earn college credit from Clemson’s School of Architecture.

“I’ve tried to match our projects to the curriculum that is taught at Clemson. We have architects and landscape architects that come in, and I hope to have other professionals share possible career choices with my students,” she explained.

Smith is especially enthusiastic about teaching her third-year students in Design Studio. She envisions students designing a pop-up shelter for the homeless based on a project from the American Institute of Architects, and hopes they will present their project to the Greenville Homeless Coalition for consideration.

“My goal is to let them invest a little bit of themselves into each project. Because of the scale of the work, it’s perfect as a project for third-year students. They will decide if it is portable or not and they will have a $500 budget to complete the project. They will be introduced to construction materials and methods, so we will get into the woodshop and use the equipment to do the woodworking to show them how these things can or cannot go together,” she said.

After earning a master’s degree from Clemson University, Smith spent over seven years in New Orleans working with Waggonner & Ball Architects. There, her work experience was focused on educational, commercial and institutional projects, several of which won American Institute of Architects’ awards. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Smith was the project architect for the 1880s-era U.S. Custom House.

“That was a four-year-long project on a building with 325,000 square feet at a cost of over $60 million dollars. The roof failure was really catastrophic to the building. It failed because of the amount of water that landed on this roof of a building that occupied an entire city block,” she explained. “We were able to remove some outdated 1970s installations and mechanical systems. We were able to open up ends of corridors and bring daylight back to the hallways, as well as open up the entire fourth floor for occupancy and create some really magnificent spaces out of that preservation and restoration,” she said.

Most recently, Smith was the architect chosen to design additions to the historic Wilkins House, which last fall was moved a few blocks from its original site on Augusta Street to Mills Avenue in Greenville. The new owner along with the City of Greenville is working with the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation to restore the 1870s-era home to its original grandeur.

“The new owners knew that I had done work on historic projects so they asked me to help out,” said Smith. “Ultimately they were trying to figure out the foundation for the house and how the additions would impact the home’s historic integrity.” Smith suggested they try a different approach, and that’s how she ended up working on the project.

Smith hopes to instill in her students her own love for helping others. “I like to do good work for good people. I work with Homes of Hope and the Allen Temple Community Economic Development Corporation, two organizations that provide low income housing for families. That’s what I’m most proud of now. I love what I’m doing and I love who I’m working for. I’m improving someone’s life by what I do,” she said.


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