Growing up in a small suburb in Texas where women got married young and a conversative upbringing was the norm, Sam Anderson felt somewhat stifled as far as cultural diversity was concerned. So pushing the boundaries is nothing new to her. It’s something she’s done throughout her career, as she strives to bring a voice to the under-represented female presence in both architecture and gaming.
Sam’s interest in architecture began while still in grade school. On a fifth-grade time-capsule worksheet, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Sam wrote, “Person who builds houses.” Her teacher crossed out her answer and replaced it with “Architect.”
In high school, she realized that by choosing architecture as a profession, she could combine her growing love of both math and art. After completing internships at HKS in Dallas and JAJA Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark, and working as a designer at Workshop/APD in New York, in 2015, Sam was hired by SHoP Architects, also based in New York, to do in-house renderings.
In that role, she developed a keen interest in how the visuals could be used to further inform the design process. That’s when she discovered Unreal Engine. “I was fascinated by the game engine and really wanted to learn more,” she says. “I was really inspired by some of the work I was seeing, and talking to different industries and seeing how they were using the game engine. The world was opened for discovery.”
Without a game development background, Sam initially found the transition to using the technology difficult, as she struggled with a lack of female representation in the field and with the gender bias she often encountered. “I remember going to my first conference and speaking to someone about some questions I had, and I had a male colleague next to me and that person responded to the male colleague instead of me,” she says. “It was difficult to kind of get over that hump, in a way, to decide that this is something I want to fight for, that this is something that I want to continue to explore and work towards.”
While there are more women in architecture than in previous years, Sam feels that it’s still not where it should be, citing a lack of female “starchitects”. She feels fortunate to have female partners at SHoP, and that they are constantly embracing new technology.
“We are using headsets, VR, AR, mixed reality in order to convey the ideas behind the architectural design,” says Sam. “Using game engines within architecture really makes the design accessible to the community, to people who are not familiar with architecture; it's been really wonderful to learn more and to push the boundaries of architectural visualization.”
SHoP Architects has partnered with Young New Yorkers, an organization that gives a young person who has been arrested the option to go through an arts-based diversion program rather than a jail sentence. Usually, the program culminates in an exhibition of the participants’ artwork. Because of COVID-19, Sam is now helping them mount a virtual exhibition using Unreal Engine.
Image courtesy of ShoP Architects
“They develop their own self-portrait that they can then take to the prosecutors and say, ‘This is actually who I am. I am not this jail sentence or this criminal. I am a human being,’ ” she explains. “It gives them a voice. And I am so happy to help in any way I can. It's been an incredible experience thus far.”
Helping other people is something Sam is keen to do more of, especially inspiring other young women to believe they can succeed in the industry. “I want to be a role model for anyone who wants to understand whether or not they can pursue a career in this,” she says. “Diversity is so important for our lives. I would argue that diversity can really make our product better.”
Editor’s note: At the time of shooting, Sam was working at SHoP Architects. We’re delighted that she’s now joined the team at Epic.
Interested in finding out more about real-time 3D?
If you’re inspired by Sam’s journey, you can find out more about using Unreal Engine in real-time archviz on our Architecture hub, and follow the latest trends in interactive 3D on The Pulse, our thought-provoking video series.