Jah-Ras Hodge, a Baltimore District architect with the Military Design Branch, Architecture Section, was named the 2020 Engineering and Construction Community of Practice Architect of the Year. To those who have worked with Hodge throughout her 12-year career with the Army Corps, this comes as no surprise. She often earns accolades from colleagues and customers alike for her innovation and devotion to design excellence. As the lead architect on several projects, Hodge has worked closely to meet and exceed her customers' complex and diverse requirements while strategically managing their needs and expectations, ensuring issues are resolved within scope, budget and schedule.
A trailblazer and strong supporter of the Army’s sustainability goals, Hodge completed the documentation necessary to register and obtain LEED Silver Certification on the Joint-Bio Admin project, the first Baltimore District in-house project to apply for the certification.
Outside of work, Hodge is actively involved with mentoring local high school students interested in architecture, construction and engineering. She also networks with Building Industry professionals from other firms and agencies, building lasting working relationships not only within the Corps, but in the larger Building Industry community.
How did you become interested in architecture?
I grew fond of architecture while living with my grandfather in St. Thomas, USVI. We lived in a house built into the side of the tallest mountain, and he bragged about designing and building it all the time. He was a Master Builder by trade, and I found it very intriguing. I began taking drafting courses in high school and the rest is history.
Who were your role models as a young architect?
As a young African-American female in architecture, there were not many female role models for me to look up to. Zaha Hadid was perhaps my only female role model. She was a British-Iraqi architect and the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. I admired her designs; they were always bold and unconventional yet always graceful. In my mind, she embodied “Sexy Architecture.”
What are you working on now?
Currently I am working on several renovations of historic buildings for use as administrative spaces. But perhaps the most interesting thing I am working on right now is the renovation of Joint Base Myer- Henderson Hall's Building 404, a 35,000 sq. ft. dining facility that is being renovated and upgraded to increase patron usage. I am also notably working on the Building 60 Renovation, which is considered the second-most prominent building on Ft. McNair. This project was a late acceptance, so it poses a great deal of issues to work through in an expedited schedule.
What skill has served you best throughout your architect career?
There are so many skills that serve you well in this profession: creativity, innovativeness, persistence, patience, meticulousness, organizational skills and the list goes on. But perhaps the most important is being an effective team lead. The architect serves to lead the integrative design process and promote interdisciplinary coordination.
How do you balance function with aesthetic appeal?
Form follows function, which is an old architecture anecdote meaning: often the aesthetics are matched to the function of the building. This still holds true today. It takes careful design and consideration to achieve optimal functionality and aesthetic appeal within budget.
How have you evolved and continued to develop throughout your career?
I was always a very technically advanced individual, and I've continued to hone and develop these technical skills through the years. I've focused mainly on the architectural design and details of my projects with an eagle eye. However, through my experiences as a mentor later in my career, I've started to understand the importance of technical leadership amongst the design team in order to achieve the overall mission and goals prior to the technical effort.
What are your plans for the future?
I am currently dual-hatting as a design manager and architect, which makes it a bit challenging to meet the technical architectural requirements on projects while also managing the overall design team and process. However, I like the challenges of this new role and will continue it into the near future. I also plan on finishing up my Architect Registration Examination and closing that loop in my career.
What do you do in your free time?
What free time? Just kidding! I love dancing, baking sweet treats, and doing crafts and science experiments with the kids in my free time.
What advice would you give young women who aspire to walk in your footsteps one day?
We [Black women] represent less than 1 percent of architects, so in this field you have to really know your craft, be confident and have thick skin. You cannot be afraid to bend the rules and break the mold as it pertains to not only designs but societal perception of gender roles.