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Denver Power Women: 5 Questions With Architect Nicole Nathan

This limited series profiles Power Women who have helped shape metro Denver's cities, neighborhoods, businesses and lifestyles. These women will be honored at Bisnow's Denver Power Women event on Dec. 5.

After 13 years with Johnson Nathan Strohe, Nicole Nathan was named a partner at the architecture firm in 2015. Over the course of her career, her thoughtful concepts have created some of the most eye-catching public spaces in many of Denver’s most high-profile hotels, including The Crawford Hotel at Denver Union Station, The Maven Hotel at Dairy Block and The Ramble Hotel in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood. A fourth-generation Colorado native, Nathan earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Colorado Boulder and a Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Johnson Nathan Strohe partner Nicole Nathan enjoys spending time hiking in the mountains.

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Nathan: I am an architect. I love saying that for two reasons. One is because, typically, people say, “Oh, that’s so cool!” and the conversation takes off from there. And the second is I am very proud of the title because if you are an architect or know the profession at all, it is a long road to the title with quite a bit of school, years of internship with required hours in varying categories before you sit for an arduous series of exams which, once you pass, you can finally say, I am an architect.

Bisnow: What is the biggest business problem you have faced and how did you solve it?

Nathan: During the recession, we went from a firm of 27 people to just six, and we were all part-time. The challenge during this time was not only to stay afloat but to understand where our business could go as we emerged from the crisis. As niche experts in housing and hospitality, we knew we wanted to remain focused in our area of expertise rather than attempt to chase work outside of our knowledge base. Instead we looked at the breadth of services we could provide and how we could further our influence and do more for our clients. We anticipated renovation work would be at the forefront of a hospitality industry in recovery, and we decided to add interior design to our services. We have always felt that there was a disconnect between the architectural work we produced and the interior design of other firms that was often at odds with the design intent. We felt we could add to our business while improving the experience we create with our projects. We wanted to emerge a stronger firm, so we made a concerted effort to use this time to raise the bar for ourselves. We focused on creating a culture of excellence, and delivering architecture and design solutions that were more comprehensive, beautiful and pragmatic.

Bisnow: What is one thing you think companies can do to address wage and gender inequality?

Nathan: The wage and gender gap does not exist at our firm. Women make up 70% of our firm, with an equally high rate of women in leadership positions. We believe it should go without saying, but we see each team member for what they can bring to the table and seek them out for their individual skills. For whatever reason, that has led many female candidates to our door, and we have found them to be a great fit. The most important factor in our success in retaining women when they have children is that we continue to value what they bring, and we continue to see them as important players in the firm. We do not assume they will not reach for the challenges they did prior to having children; we make room for some flexibility and support them as they return to work at whatever level they choose.

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Nathan: You must truly love architecture and design. This is exhaustive work with incredible rewards, but you have to dig in order to be truly successful. If you don't love what you do, this is the wrong profession for sure. You must own everything you touch on a project to make it the best it can be.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you're not working?

Nathan: When I’m not working, I’m outside, especially in the mountains. I love to ski, bike, hike with my family and friends, and my dog. My favorite thing to do is go to the barn with my daughter, to be around the horses. I love to watch her ride.

Meet Johnson Nathan Strohe partner Nicole Nathan at Bisnow's Denver Power Women event Dec. 5 at the Four Seasons Hotel Denver.