Harms, first female Iowan to win national architect award

Posted March 14, 2012 at 10:15 am


By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

Monticello native and Monticello High School graduate Katie Harms has found herself at the top of her game. Harms recently received the 2012 AIA (American Institute of Architects) Young Architects Award. Harms is the first woman from Iowa to receive this honor and just the third Iowan as well.

“I screamed and jumped up and down when I first found out about the award,” stated Harms. She called her parents, John and Kathy Harms of Monticello, to relay the news right away.

“It is such an honor to be among such great talent in our profession and be recognized for it,” she said.

In May, Harms will travel to Washington, D.C., to receive the award at the National AIA Convention.

Harms has always felt she was called to the architecture field, even as a child.

“I think my Dad’s construction savvy knowledge also inspired me to become an architect,” Harms said.

She recalled as a child always drawing house plans, scouring magazines for design ideas.

“I love design in general (exterior, interior, fashion, product). I always had a love for architecture.”

After graduating from MHS in 1998, Harms attended Iowa State University in Ames.

“My parents told me that was the only school I was allowed to go to, as they are both ISU alumni,” she joked.

The Bachelor of Architecture program at ISU is a five-year-long program, but Harms vouches for how strong of a program it is. She said it was ranked seventh in the country at the time she attended ISU.

After earning her degree she interviewed at a few architectural firms, including OPN Architects in Cedar Rapids, where she is today.

“I have been given so many great opportunities at OPN and enjoy the people that I work with and love what I do,” boasted Harms.

Before landing the perfect job, however, Harms also traveled to Phoenix for an interview.

“I didn’t relate to the people (in Phoenix) as well as I did at OPN,” she said. It also didn’t help that while in her hotel in Arizona over a weekend, there was a shooting that took place. “I knew that was not the city for me!”

As a licensed architect with OPN, Harms has had her mark on quite a few projects over the years. To name some of the major projects: Cedar Rapids Federal Courthouse, Carnegie Stout Public Library, Kirkwood Community College Academic Addition, ISU Coover Hall Addition, Rockwell Collins Fitness Remodel, and, more recently, the Jones County Youth Development Center in Monticello. This facility will house the county ISU Extension offices as well as the Great Jones County Fair offices and 4-H meetings. Projects have ranged from $600,000 to $180 million.

“I play many roles from producing a construction set, designing, managing projects, working with clients and coordinating with consultants,” explained Harms. “Every day is different and exciting, whether I’m out on the job site or in the office working with a team.”

In offering his comments and praise of Harms, Dan Thies, principal of OPN Architects, had this to say: “Katie brings a lot to the table and is an amazing talent. Her dedication, drive and creativity are immeasurable components of her professional character. Over and above her visible talents, Katie consistently looks for ways to improve her profession and mentor young architects.”

Aside from her busy job, Harms is a dedicated supporter of her community. She founded the CSR (Central States Region) Emerging Professionals committee and the CSR Emerging Professionals Summit! As Harms explained it, this group is made up of non-licensed and licensed architects from each state of the region (Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma).

“The committee was something that was needed to help nurture our emerging professionals in architecture,” she said.

In obtaining one’s architecture license, Harms explained it could take 12 years from the time one graduates from college to receiving the license.

“That is longer than becoming a doctor!” said Harms.

The committee she started mentors and educates those moving along in the process to become licensed.

“We share ideas and activities that each state is doing, outlooks for the future and what we can do to make things better, and what we need to be advocating for with emerging professionals,” she said.

For Harms, being a part of community groups and organizations is something she prides herself on doing. Her participation not only helps others, but allows her to grow personally and professionally as well. Harms said after the 2008 Flood in Cedar Rapids, “community outreach is more important than ever.”

As a professional in her career and a leader in her field and community, Harms encourages those still in school to “follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you (that) you can’t do something.” Harms said she had people tell her that she shouldn’t become an architect and that “it would be a very difficult profession for a woman to be in, and I should look for another career. Well, I guess I showed them!”

PHOTO: Katie Harms, formerly of Monticello, was recently honored with the 2012 AIA Young Architects Award. (Photo submitted)