By: Bethani Bell

In a recent interview, Near West Side Partners’ Commercial Corridor Coordinator Ann Marie Gunn had the opportunity to talk with Quorum Architects’ Brynn DeBrabant and Emily Neal. In this conversation, we get a chance to learn about both associates and the work they have done and supported in the Near West Side as well as many communities around Milwaukee.  

Emily Neal has worked for Quorum Architects for seven years after graduating from the University of Milwaukee (UWM) in 2015. In her role, she works with Building Information Modeling (BIM), which deals with 3D modeling, contractors, etc. Emily is the Assisting Ability Lead and manages a lot of the projects in the community. One of those is Concordia 27, which has been a major accomplishment in the Near West Side.   

Brynn DeBrabant just graduated from UWM in 2021. She has been working for Quorum for a little over a year but has done a lot in that time. Her role as project assistant is to provide support for the design teams. She is also involved in many phases of architecture, starting with pre-design to construction documents. Soon some of Brynn’s projects will be under construction.  

Both women have done a great service in Quorum not only in the office but in the community. They both discuss the importance and impact the smallest to the largest projects have on the residents. Emily points out that “architecture is always there from pocket parks to the way a building may touch the street. That’s architecture.” She specifically points out that even in the NWS bringing back store front properties, working, and designing community venues are fitting examples of the mantra “live, work, and play.” Architecture can play a vital role in making sure that distinctive areas thrive. Brynn notes that you must “learn from the people.” It is essential to note that no work can be done without the residents because they make the neighborhood. Quorum does this by utilizing community outreach and actively seeking information from the public. Simultaneously building relationships and learning any current information that will benefit the neighborhoods and create a successful project.  

Speaking of projects, Brynn and Emily have worked on numerous proposals involving the Near West Side. One of those is Concordia 27. Brynn notes the enthusiasm surrounding it has made it one of her favorite plans to work on. Brynn exclaims that “we are working day in and day out on this project, but it does not feel like work, it feels like a project I’m passionate about.” Emily echoes that same enthusiasm, noting that many of the projects and upcoming aims are done in the Near West Side and each of those designs brings an uplifting spirit to the NWS.   

There are many positives when creating and interacting with new designs, but sometimes there are challenges along the way. One important feature Emily pointed out is that when working with older historic buildings, it can be a challenge to incorporate current ideas into older buildings. She describes there are many issues that must be addressed while considering what can and cannot be done when adding new pieces to a building. Brynn notes that one of the challenges she has faced involved a small housing project for the Near West Side, but she is still working and pushing through every conflict. Aside from the architectural and design process of a project, they both indicate that there can be challenges being a woman in a male-dominated field. On occasion in meetings and/or discussions suggestions are not received, or they have felt overlooked because they are young. In that case, they are forced to be more authoritative but then that leaves a negative impact causing them to have to find a balance. It makes it a unique experience, but both women have not let objections stop them from accomplishing their goals.  

Both women express the difficulties they have had with different projects and society but that does not stop them from doing the best that they can. They take each experience as a chance to learn and be better than what they thought they were. With the support of their boss, Allyson Nemec, who has been a major push in their lives to keep reaching beyond their potential. With the backing of family, friends, and professors they have gotten a better understanding of their passions and what they can do for others in their community. They share that the value of time, learning, community engagement, and networking has helped them along the way. Emily would like to voice to go out and explore your interests, especially if about design. Look at internships and learn about different fields and different schools. There is not one direct path to go, go whatever way makes sense to you.   

If you would like to watch the full interview please click the link below!

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