By Julia Gamolina
As Design Partner at Miller Hull, Ruth Baleiko devotes her expertise to spaces for teaching, learning, and discovery – creating environments that bring people together to share intellectual and cultural capital in unexpected ways. Ruth earned her master’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She currently co-chairs AIA Seattle’s Committee for Architecture of Educations, serves as board president of ARCADE Magazine and is a member of the AIA Seattle Fellows and Honors Committee.
In her conversation with Julia Gamolina, Ruth talks about her evolution in twenty-two years with the firm, advising those just starting their careers to look to your relationships in order to develop your voice.
JG: Ruth, how did you grow up? What did you do as a kid that planted the seeds for what you’re doing today?
RB: I’m pretty sure my parents spent a small fortune on Legos [laughs]. I grew up in the Midwest and spent a lot of time outdoors as well. My parents really raised us as well-rounded kids so that we would be both prepared and self-confident to go into any field that we had aptitudes in. I found architecture relatively early and quickly, and thoroughly enjoyed studying it.
In studying architecture, what did you learn both about the field and about yourself?
I got both my Bachelor and Masters degree at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and I learned a number of things there. I learned how to see and feel space on paper – this was before computers and renderings and all of the visualization programs that are so common now. I also learned about the arc of how architecture and design really works in tandem with whatever society is experiencing at the time. And also that many fields do this – art, writing, music, they are all a reflection of what we are collectively going through. And
I learned how to take critique, guidance, and encouragement from peers. The studio construct of architectural education is a studio environment, where you can go to your neighbor and ask, “What do you think?” That is such a valuable skill in the workforce, and in life. Finally, I also learned how to self-direct my own research and work, and to feel confident in it. That’s a life skill as well.
Have you been with Miller Hull since you graduated?
Almost – I was awarded a post-graduate research fellowship, so I took a year to complete that work and deliver my findings to the university. During that time I moved here to Seattle, looked for a job, found Miller Hull, and have been here ever since. That was in 1999.
So twenty-two years almost! That’s a long run. Why Miller Hull in those early days?
I interviewed at a lot of different places here in Seattle, and tried to get a feel for the different firms’ work and what their culture felt like based on the personalities of the people I got to meet. Through that process I met folks from Miller Hull, but they didn’t have a spot for me yet.
However, I persevered and called every three or four weeks or so, and within six months they were ready to offer me a job. I was lucky to be able to hold out for an office that I felt most comfortable in and that I was most excited about, also in terms of the type and quality of work.
Backtracking a little, why Seattle? Why did you choose the city first, and the firm after?
I was really interested in Seattle earlier – I had applied and had gotten into graduate school here, at the University of Washington, but I opted to stay at Illinois for my Masters Degree because I knew I would have a concurrent teaching position. That was something I knew I wasn’t going to be able to give up.
After grad school however, I had a moment of asking myself, “Where do I want to live? I didn’t want to move back to rural Michigan as there wasn’t a “there there” for the kind of work that I wanted to do. I loved Chicago, which is where my family is and where my college buddies went, but at the same time, I wanted to do something of my own. The idea of being in Seattle and being close to the water felt great – I knew that I could live in a small town in the woods and commute by boat while working and feeling the energy and culture of a metropolitan city. When you’re in your twenties, you don’t realize what you don’t know, so maybe some of that vision was more romanticized, but I’m so glad to be here.
So tell me about these past twenty-two years! What phases do you feel like you’ve gone through, both as an architect and as a leader?
Oh goodness. Well, I’ll first say that I’ve been super fortunate to work on a really broad sequence of projects that exposed me to different scales and typologies, as well as different geographies and client relationships. It has felt like a natural progression from day one, being really green, and having some wonderful mentors that taught me so much. Going from that, to getting into my thirties and feeling like I still had so much to learn, but that I could also do certain things on my own and feel really confident about them. Being able to see where I’ve been but where I’m still going was great. Now, I’m in a spot where I’m going out and helping win work for the office, which is really exciting. I’m thrilled to see talent that we’ve hired mature, which is always wonderful to see.
Also being able to work on projects that are really transformative to people’s lives is really fulfilling. You know, the life of the project really begins when we, as architects, are done. That’s when it takes life with all of the people who will be in it, and changes their lives. That’s the beginning of a project. I love going back and talking to the people who occupy the spaces we’ve designed, and hearing about ways that the design has enhanced their lives.
I love that. It makes me think of our job as the initial gestation period of the project, and its when it leaves the womb so-to-speak, that it all begins. Where do you feel like you’re in your career today?
Part of me still feels like that twenty-something right out of school, with so much to still get to know. But part of me feels like I’m halfway – twenty years in, and perhaps twenty years still to go. I don’t have clear or identified milestones that I want to achieve, as I’m a big believer that opportunities will come when you’re open. I’m just really excited to keep making a difference through our work at Miller Hull, and the family and colleagues that I’ve made there.
What have been the biggest challenges for you throughout it all?
One of the challenges that I’ve really had to sit with was realizing that growing up, and going through the first portion of my career, my role was to bring consensus and to develop other design voices’ work. There was a point where I needed to transition from being a consensus-builder and the developer of other people’s ideas, to being confident in calling the shots. And to not just defaulting to everyone at the table being happy, but to say, “I hear all of you, but this is the direction we’re going to go.” That’s a voice I had to grow into, and realize that that was my next step of my own development. Owning that.
At Miller Hull, we tend to work on projects that are very integrated with the client, the consultants, the contractors, so there are a lot more voices at day one than there are through traditional delivery methods. We as architects tend to work quietly on our own, and not really collaborate until we felt like we had furthered the idea. So having a lot of voices very early made it easy to get buffeted in the open sea, a little bit. Learning to trust my gut, and being confident in trusting my gut, took a little while.
Me too. Getting there. I’m glad to finally be in a place though where I can say, “No, no, I know that this is what’s right for me, and this is what I’m going to do.”
Who are you admiring right now?
I feel like I really pull bits of influence from so many sources, rather than saying that I admire a singular person in their entirety. Mentorship influences are everywhere, whether they’re positive or negative. I feel like I’m pulling little bits all the time, of what to do and what not to do.
What would you say your mission is? What’s the impact you’d like to have on the world, and on the profession?
From time to time in life, I’ve thought about what it means to have a footprint. My dad was a doctor in the small town, and he’d walk through our town and patients would come up to him to say hi all the time. I really saw what a footprint he was making with all the people he touched, which made me think, “So what’s my footprint?” I want to leave a footprint that is more profound than the literal footprint of architecture. It’s that. The built work that we leave on the planet, you want it to mean something architecturally and experientially for the people that are using it. Its investments in our built environment. At the same time, I hope that there’s a richer and deeper impression I’ve left, with either the people I’ve worked with in the office, or people I’ve worked with on projects. I hope those relationships will synthesize to something bigger – I’m not the one to say what that is, but I do think about footprint in this regard. Sometimes your footprint is for other people to say what it was.
Finally, what is the best piece of advice that you’ve gotten, and in turn, what advice do you have for those starting their careers in architecture? And, would that advice be any different for women?
Well first, for women, I would come back to what I said early – reach out to those interpersonal relationships that help you find your voice, whatever that voice is. It’s really the relationships you make where people teach you something or give you some critique, where you do that. I would say the same to people starting out in the field. Make sure that you’re looking at each person in your sphere and realizing what you can learn from them, overtly or not.
The other thing about advice though is that sometimes advice isn’t meaningful at the moment its given, its meaningful later. And later it dawns on you. My dad did a lot of that [laughs]. One thing he would say often though is, “Don’t sweat the small stuff, kiddo.” And of course then, none of it would be small stuff. It was all big.
All big. Of course.
But now I get it. I get it! That advice helps keep out the noise, it helps you be objective, especially when you have a lot of different personality types in the room that you have to work well with. It’s now that I’m finding all of the instances where I know now not to sweat the small stuff.
meet the team
We’re a band of women (and a dog named Evie) inspired by other women, design, innovation, technology, art, and the world around us. We live for the chance to create and disperse powerful, genuine messages that resonate.
Growing up in Seattle, Amy was always exploring the great outdoors but she found a particular thrill in traveling. During a visit to New York City at age 10, she knew that was where she wanted to live. After high school she left her home in the Pacific Northwest behind for the great unknown to attend Fordham University in the Bronx. Upon graduation, Amy received a phone call from CNN offering a job opportunity of a lifetime working in television ad sales at Manhattan's Time Warner Center. When a job opportunity in Los Angeles opened up a few years later, Amy couldn't say no to a new adventure back on the west coast. But Seattle eventually called her back home and Amy returned to pursue a Master's degree in Business Administration with the hopes of learning the skills she needed to feed her entrepreneurial spirit. Before graduating, Amy co-founded Paxson Fay with Tessa Andrews in 2015. Amy focuses on marketing strategy, public relations, social media, and partnerships.
Tessa graduated from Fordham University in New York with a dual bachelor's degree in Communications and Political Science. During her time at Fordham, she worked for an interior designer and at NBC News where she developed her love for both design and communications. After graduating, Tessa managed marketing at 3form, a pioneer in the sustainable building products industry. During her tenure, 3form was repeatedly named one of the most recognized manufacturers in the design industry among architects and designers, and the company won multiple awards for its innovative product launches. After 3form, Tessa consulted on marketing efforts with leading product manufacturers in architecture and design before starting Paxson Fay with Amy.
Claire Butwinick specializes in marketing and social media strategy, copywriting, and public relations. Formerly the Assistant Editor at GRAY Magazine, an international architecture and design publication based in Seattle, Claire brings to Paxson Fay her editorial background and a passion for all things design. In addition to her writing experience, Claire is a seasoned public speaker, moderating a number of panel discussions with IDS Vancouver and Be Original Americas, and hosting the 2019 GRAY Awards. Last year, she took her speaking skills virtual, conducting several Instagram Live interviews with designers amid the pandemic. A graduate from the University of Washington’s School of Communication: Journalism, Claire was honored with a Pioneer News Group Excellence Award for Visual Journalism, selected for the Communication department’s prestigious Career Exploration scholarship, and nominated for a Hearst National Journalism Award. Her work also appears in GRAY Magazine, Office Insight, SagaCity’s Jewish in Seattle Magazine, and more.
After graduating from Fordham University in New York City with a major in Communications and Media Studies and a handful of marketing and PR internships, Colby moved to Boston to manage marketing for a small, women-owned, creative consulting agency. While in that role, Colby managed public relations and marketing efforts for some of Boston's most prominent events and public art initiatives, including the Boston Pickle Fair and The Bulfinch Crossing Projections in downtown Boston. Colby gained experience crafting brand stories and identities through social media marketing and creative copywriting, seen through the successful launch of a premier Massachusetts adult-use dispensary and the revamp of her agency's own website. After two years, Colby decided it was time to figure out what the West Coast was all about. Looking to blend her marketing experience with her passion for design and architecture, Colby found Paxson Fay, where she focuses on social media strategy and management and public relations.
Chloe Edwards is a PNW native and recent Summa cum laude graduate from the University of Washington, where she studied Communication and Anthropology. While interning with the strategic communications firm Parsons + Co. Chloe developed skills in messaging and branding development, media outreach, and social media management. Chloe joined the Paxson Fay team as an intern in the fall of 2020. At Paxson Fay, Chloe creates social media content for a variety of client campaigns and profiles and leads engagement on several accounts, coordinates internal communications efforts, and assists with media outreach. As Paxson Fay's full-time Communications Assistant she uses her experience to achieve social media marketing, content strategy, and media relations success for clients and for the Paxson Fay brand.
what we do
We are a communications firm founded in our passion for good design. Our unique approach to marketing and public relations in the architecture and design community has elevated our clients work to the next level. We’re backed by a talented community of creatives. From copywriters to social media experts, we provide a complete package of customized services. We strive to create a personal experience with each client, integrating teams and tackling your biggest marketing and public relations challenges from a high level. Then we help execute those plans ensuring lots of reporting along the way, with lots of coffee breaks in between because we’re from Seattle and that’s what we do.
partnerships acquisition and management
media communications and outreach
awards: strategy, content development and submissions
platform strategy and management
results + reporting
budget strategy + negotiation
website and e-mail marketing
video: sourcing, storyboarding and scheduling
photography acquisition + curation
sponsorships + partnerships
Here is a little taste of who we love to work with and what we love to do.