Rebecca Berry knew from a young age that she wanted to be an architect. Summer trips to rebuild houses in Appalachia with her family’s church first sparked her interest in architecture, and a design discovery summer at the National Building Museum in the nation’s capitol cemented it.
Today, at just 40 years old, Berry is a senior associate and shareholder at Finegold Alexander, where she serves as director of sustainability, runs the worship and housing practices and heads the firm’s higher education projects. She has a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and she has two small children at home.
“You know, at the end of the day, there’s something about a physical manifestation of what you’ve done. I can drive down streets in Roxbury and Dorchester, and I can say, I helped build those houses, I know the woman who’s living there with her kids, and I know she’s having a better life now,” Berry said.
Julia Corbett Tanen, managing partner at Riot PR, met Berry through work she does for Finegold Alexander + Assoc. Inc., and when she heard about the Women of FIRE Awards, she knew Berry would be a perfect fit for the honor.
“She’s not just a rising star – she’s a star, and she’s on her way to making a lot of inroads into an industry that has been difficult for women,” Tanen said.
On top of her career accomplishments, Berry also gives back to her community. Service got her into architecture, after all, and she gleaned valuable experience and life lessons doing work for Habitat for Humanity and AmeriCorps. Presently, in her role on the Boston Society of Architects’ Civic Policy Committee, she advocates for affordable housing for working people in Boston.
Hers would be an impressive resume even if architecture was not a notoriously male-dominated profession. Interestingly, Berry said, architecture schools tend to be female-dominated, but many women drop out of the profession mid-career, when they start to have children, but she’s hopeful for the future.
“I think discussions around work, life and how we all shouldn’t have to work 80 or 90 hours a week, are being lead by the next generation. I think there’s a dialogue that’s happening at the moment in the profession, how to do things differently to make it better for everybody, but certainly in a way that I hope will increase the number of women in the profession today,” she said.
Berry herself leads some of those discussions. She and another colleague at Finegold Alexander began a mentoring group to pay it forward and coach other women in the field of architecture.
“I tell people you have to give up on the concept of balance,” Berry said. “You have to run headlong at it and just take it as it comes. To a certain extent, you have to feed a little bit off the craziness; you have to embrace it. You have to know there are going to be some really tough moments and power your way through them. You have to say yes, but you also have to know when to say no.”