Kristen Padavic, B.S. Arch ’98, Draws Connections

Kristen Padavic’s fascination with architecture was evident from childhood.

“I would go to sleepovers, and I would be taking pictures of the house and drawing the house while everybody else was watching a movie,” she says. It’s a habit that hasn’t changed much in her adulthood.

“To this day, I sketch houses or apartment buildings every night. You get this feeling of comfort and safety in your home. When I draw homes, I test fit those feelings and experiences. I find comfort in trying to create those sensations and experiences for people. It’s been my passion since I was a little kid, so I’ve just gone for it.”

Now a successful practitioner with over 20 years of experience, Padavic strongly believes architects should be partners in shaping urban land use. Leading the architecture and interiors teams at StoryBuilt, a leading urban infill community developer, she puts that belief into practice regularly.

“What is unique about our company and has changed the way I think and feel about my whole career is that we collaborate with our development team from day one to figure out what we should do with an amazing piece of land. When we find a piece of land, our land acquisitions team will come to us architects and say, ‘The zoning is going to allow this. The neighborhood’s going to allow this. What should we put here?’”

Rather than go in with preconceived notions about what pre-built “widget” might fit the land, the team at StoryBuilt focuses on understanding each community’s story and designing a “widget” to fit. Through research and communication with members of the neighborhood they are building in, they strive to understand the types of people who will want to live in a space. People in different stages of their lives have varying needs, budgets, and preferences but often want to live in the same community.

“Our design team thinks about the highest and best use of that land, regardless of zoning codes. Often we will go for rezones or work with the city to get variances. Three hundred rental units of the same size may not be the best use for a specific neighborhood. Maybe we do a 100-unit rental building with underground parking, and then that area that would have been an above-ground parking garage, we make that a park and have townhomes off of that.”

“It’s about collaborating,” she says. “They’re experts in finding land and understanding land yields, and we’re experts in unlocking density and uses that often the development team hasn’t considered. By collaborating, we create much better projects in the end.”

Just as architects should be involved in the communities they create, Padavic understands there’s a part for alums to play in the Taubman College community. Coming up on her 25th reunion year, she has many fond memories of her time at the University of Michigan. She recalls faculty members who would come by studio and work with students on their drawings well into the evening as well as the spring break internship that helped her get her first job. Now a Taubman College Alumni Council member, she’s pleased to have the opportunity to give current students similar opportunities and support.

“I had gotten to the point in my career where I knew I wanted to give back,” says Padavic. “Then Taubman College reached out to me, and there were so many ways to get involved. What I love most about it is the mentoring opportunities, just talking to current students about things like what to say at a job interview.”

“I think back to how little I knew when I was their age, and I’m amazed at how much more in tune with the world students are today. They’re so engaged and excited. There’s a different world ready for them than there was 25 years ago. I love telling them they don’t have to do it the old way. There are all these other ways to do what we do; I didn’t think that when I graduated. For them, it’s not about just getting a job. It’s about ‘what do I want to do in the world?’ I love seeing that.”

Similar to considering what will work best on a parcel of land, Padavic thinks about the multiple ways alums can and want to give back and how all of them are an essential part of the Taubman College community.

“All alumni are in a different place. You have to meet people where they are. I’m hands-on; I want to go to the games, see my old classmates, and meet current students. But there are also ways for alumni to get involved that aren’t so hands-on. There’s financial support, mentoring, and many other ways that alumni can have an impact.”