Press Releases 05.03.2022

Leadership Changes in Two Perkins&Will Studios Reenergize the Firm, Lay Groundwork for Future Growth

New leadership appointments in the Midwest and Southeast U.S. reflect the firm’s talent development succession strategy and responsiveness to evolving client expectations

MINNESOTA and NORTH CAROLINA—Architecture and design firm Perkins&Will today announced four new leadership transitions in support of future growth and changing market demands.

“Our firm is nimble and adaptable, evolving with and for our clients and communities. Leadership succession is a natural part of that evolution. It keeps our ideas fresh, our work innovative, and our teams energized,” says Perkins&Will CEO Phil Harrison. “With these very positive changes, we’re poised and ready for an exciting future ahead.”

The leadership appointments are as follows:

Zena Howard | Chair, Cultural and Civic Practice

Zena Howard has been appointed chair of the firm’s global Cultural and Civic practice, a role she helped create after five years as managing director of the Charlotte and Durham studios. For more than two decades, Howard’s passion for community engagement, cultural and civic identity, and storytelling at the intersection of art, history, and architecture has made her a sought-after leader in the design of culturally significant places like museums, libraries, and civic memorials. She leads Perkins&Will’s trademarked process of Remembrance Design—an architectural expression of the collective memory of a people bound together by experience, time, place, culture, and heritage. Remembrance Design uses architecture as a form of community healing.

Zena Howard recalls her work on the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C., not far from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to illustrate the positive impact of design on community.

Howard joined Perkins&Will in 2014 as part of the firm’s merger with The Freelon Group, founded by late architect and former Perkins&Will design director Phil Freelon. She served as senior project manager on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2016, and was promoted to managing director of Perkins&Will’s Charlotte and Durham studios in 2017. She is currently playing a key leadership role on North Carolina Freedom Park in Raleigh; Destination Crenshaw in Los Angeles; and the Motown Museum expansion in Detroit.

“The seat of community is our libraries and museums, courthouses and administrative buildings. These places anchor us and support our everyday life,” she says. “While North Carolina will always be my home and have my heart, my new role allows me to help Perkins&Will respond to escalating global demand for social cohesion through design. Community is the cornerstone of our work.”

Laura Gwyn | Managing Director, Charlotte and Durham

Laura Gwyn has been appointed managing director of Perkins&Will’s Charlotte and Durham studios, succeeding Zena Howard in the role. Previously, she spent four years as operations director of the two studios. With experience as an architect, a construction manager, and an owner’s representative, Gwyn brings to the firm’s North Carolina practice a clear understanding of the business of design from multiple angles. She has played a leading role in such notable projects as Duke Health Central Bed Tower and Duke Regional Behavioral Health, both in Durham, and Atrium Health Union West Hospital in Stallings.

“When I joined Perkins&Will in 2015, it became clear that this was where I could grow into my dream of running a practice one day,” she says. “Since then I have been part of shaping the vision of the North Carolina practice. Now I am ready and excited to seek new opportunities to lead our industry and our clients forward.

Atrium Health Union West Hospital
Stallings, North Carolina
Laura Gwyn (left) and Zena Howard (right)

Jennifer Christiaansen | Managing Director, Minneapolis

Christiaansen has stepped into the role of managing director of the firm’s Minneapolis studio after serving as operations director for the last five years. She started her career as a designer in Perkins&Will’s Chicago studio in 1997 and, after acquiring a decade of experience with other practices both nationally and internationally, she returned to the firm’s Minneapolis studio in 2016. Today, Christiaansen is a recognized champion of justice, equity, engagement, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.)—a passion that helped her earn an AIA Minnesota Young Architect Award in 2020.

“As a woman, a deeply curious architect, and an empathetic and nurturing leader, I believe this transition aligns with the current transformational needs of society and our studio,” she says. “The past three years, in particular, have given us all a new perspective on what is truly important. Today, we have an opportunity to listen, to take what has worked in the past and present, and to rebuild it into something new for future generations.”

Confidential Global Consulting Firm
Confidential Global Software Firm

Tony Layne | Design Director, Minneapolis

Tony Layne has been appointed design director of Perkins&Will’s Minneapolis studio after six years as its managing director. He joined Perkins&Will 22 years ago. Layne is a graduate of the firm’s first Leadership Institute, an annual program that provides hands-on training and professional development support to emerging leaders of the firm—many of whom, like Layne, move into executive management roles. Passionate about socially and environmentally responsible design, in the early aughts he helped spearhead Perkins&Will’s “Sustainable Design Initiative, the firm’s first concerted global focus on sustainability. He is now a prominent voice and champion of Living Design, and helped lead the Minneapolis studio to win an AIA Minnesota Firm Award in 2019.

“I’m so proud of what Jen and I have built over the last half decade, and excited for our continued partnership. I’m also looking forward to revamping our Minneapolis studio’s creative process and further elevating our work. We’ll do this through innovation and our commitment to designing for the greater good.”

Land O'Lakes
Arden Hills, Minnesota
IDS Crystal Court
Minneapolis, Minnesota