Meet Natalie Thurman, AIA

Meet Natalie Thurman, AIA, senior architect at Shepley Bulfinch. Growing up, Natalie was surrounded by creativity with her dad’s artistic craft working for a sign and awning company and her mom’s love for home design magazines. Natalie continuously fostered her enjoyment for expressiveness through her home life and art classes in school, going on to study architecture was a natural path that combined her love for both art and buildings. With more than 15 years of design experience, Natalie has worked on a wide range of healthcare, research, and higher education projects. She thrives in collaborative environments, guiding teams to create innovative, sustainable, personal, and purposeful design.  

What projects are you currently working on and how do you think they’ll impact spaces and people? 

I’m working on several projects that all support the development of a sense of community and identity through design. We’re designing a new Montrose Library for the City of Houston, which will create a new community gathering space for the neighborhood. It’s a place for community events and for the residents to come together for research, working on school projects, or just an afternoon of reading.  

We also recently reached substantial completion on the new John M. O’Quinn Law Building for the University of Houston Law Center. It’s a beautiful modern space for students, faculty, and the community to learn and come together, while redefining that corner of campus. There are beautiful views of the Houston skyline beyond, directly connecting their work and studies to the community of Houston.  

Who or what have been the strongest influences in your career? 

It’s been the people along the way. I see my career as a series of steps, where you can’t take one without the step before, and it’s the people who enable you to take those steps. My mom and my AP art teacher pushed me to apply to college programs. Then after graduating, I’ve had mentors that gave me the chance to push my career forward. During my first internship, I had a designer take me out to lunch and tell me that I could be a designer. It really stuck with me – if he believed in me, I should believe in myself.  

When I came to Shepley, it was the first time I worked with a woman in design leadership. It has been an incredible learning experience to see different approaches to design and that ego can be taken out of it. 

What are you most passionate about? 

I want to design places that people enjoy being in. I strive to marry the beautiful and the functional. When a space satisfies the needs of the people, that’s what makes it successful. That’s why I love being a designer—I have my hands in everything, and when it all comes together, it’s really beautiful.  

Outside of my day-to-day, I’ve been involved in a couple of communities, including the AIA/Houston Committee for Architecture in Health (CAH) and Committee on the Environment (COTE), which are focused on the impact design has on people.  

What do you do in your spare time? 

I love native gardening. When I lived in Los Angeles, we bought a house that had a dirt hillside. I started selecting plants at a local native nursery, and after five years, I had this beautiful native lot. We moved to Houston, and I slowly started doing the same thing here. There was an established garden of non-native plants, so I’ve been slowly introducing natives that can survive the Houston weather.  

I’ve also been slowly renovating my house, balancing home projects with my twins’ activities. It’s a balancing act, but I’ve learned how to prioritize what’s important.

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