meet modus: suzana annable

May 23, 2018

Suzana Annable has managed the transition from top-of-her-class international student to working mother of (almost) two, like a boss. Suz was modus’ first female designer who became both mom and architect while working at modus. As we all know moms wear many hats, and in Suz’s case, part of the time she wears a hard hat. In one hand she wields a power tool and in the other, a breast pump. And while a breast pump is certainly no power tool, I wonder if people realize that it is often the most important machine in your life for an entire year when you are a working mom. She’s tough, funny, talented, and hands down the best dancer on our staff.

How did you get to the States?

I’m from Curitiba, Brazil and as a teenager I always wanted to experience the United States. I was very sold by teenage American movies, marketing, and Hollywood so I decided to be an exchange student and ended up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, which *laughs out loud* to me was a lot like the movies actually.

So how did you end up staying?

I actually went back to Brazil after my exchange program and worked for a year and a half to save money to return. When I came back to America, I joined a community college and slowly worked my way into a university with an accredited architecture program. You see, international student fees are so expensive that I had to first go to a community college and earn a high GPA so I could apply for in-state tuition at the University of Arkansas. So after a long three and a half years between high school and community college, I was finally able to start architecture school here in Fayetteville (U. of A. Architecture program with in-state tuition is cheaper than international student fees at a community college in Dallas, by the way.)

When did you know you wanted to be an architect?

When I was very young, probably 13 or 14 years old.

Was that a typical area to study as a young Brazilian girl?

Uh, no. No, I was just around it and I loved it. I loved design, construction, art...I was just always into it all. I had model building classes all throughout high school in which I learned to read plans from all sorts of architecture magazines and built models from them. I’d stay after school for many afternoons (yes, we got out at noon) and flip through magazines, pick my favorite houses, and then build models of them. That really helped me to start understanding and visualizing spaces in three dimensions.

How was studying architecture in a second language?

I knew English when I started school, but there was still a lot to learn about the language, the culture and their subtleties. As a young “all-over-the-place” Brazilian I felt very intimidated by my own “foreignerness”. Honestly, I didn’t expect to start architecture school in a room full of mostly white men. It was the first time I had thought about being in the minority and that was kind of scary, you know? There were only five women in my graduating class, so I had to get a little tougher and rougher. But the broken English and cultural differences never stopped me. I did really well in school, to my own surprise.

And so what year did you graduate?

2012, and I started working at modus studio less than two weeks after that.

What is the hardest modus project that you’ve worked on?

I would have to say Garvan Woodland Gardens Childrens Educational Treehouse. It was a very demanding schematic process, and demanding as far as construction documents because everything is curved and nothing aligns, so anything that you could possibly imagine is a custom detail. It is under construction and supposed to be done mid-June. It’s funny to me that I started this project before I ever dreamed of being a mom, and I am pretty sure I will take both my sons to the grand opening!

What’s your favorite modus project that you’ve worked on?

It’s also at the same garden as the treehouse -- the Klipsch Amphitheater. It was a very fun and artistic design process with a team I really enjoyed working with.

How is being an architect with a small child at home and one on the way?

It’s hella challenging and demanding. I always carry a sense of insufficiency around like a backpack. I want to be my very best as a professional, but then be there for my toddler, and then again focus on my health during pregnancy. I should exercise, right? But seriously, I should cook healthy meals. And I should go on that work trip. I should go to my kids’ school events. I should deep clean my house before baby arrives. I should be tougher at the jobsite. I should work on that design after my kid is asleep. Wait I’m pregnant, I should sleep too ... If only there was an off switch for my brain, but it doesn’t work like that. I am a woman.

What’s an architect’s nightmare?

I dream a lot about my work. One of my recurring and scariest nightmares so far is children falling off our treehouse project. Other silly nightmares I have are clients covering my projects in pink paint, building partitions in the middle of the rooms, etc.

Biggest pet peeve?

I love people and their differences, but the second I sense any manipulation, I am done. Don’t even.

Hidden talent?

I guess dancing is not much of hidden talent is it? I can opera sing? *laughs out loud* That one will remain hidden.

Who is your favorite architect?

Tom Kundig out of Seattle. I love his work even though his design style is different than mine. He was a visiting professor when I was in school and he really struck me as not only a great architect but a down to earth, humble person. The combination of great talent and humility seems so rare, especially in the world of architecture, that it really stuck with me.

How is it being married to an architect?

I can’t imagine otherwise. We nerd out so bad on all sorts of details, furniture design, woodshop and design projects. When Sam and I go on a date, can we go the whole time without talking about architecture? Nope. We’ve tried. And it seems like that at least a little whining about construction gets blurted out... He was also one of my best friends throughout college. We worked together on everything. I was the wild one, and he was the tame one. I graduated number two in my class and he, number three (Sam, let us not forget that!) -- We’re different, but huge nerds together.