By age 10, Sharon Robinson already knew her career path. After discovering her mother’s Good Housekeeping magazines, she decided to design houses. She grew up in Akron, Ohio, earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural history from Syracuse University and later, her master’s in architecture from the University of Wisconsin. In 1991, after a friend told her about an opening at the architecture firm Zervas Group, Robinson applied and was hired. At 56, she is one of three principals at the firm.
Robinson is an architect with a strong humanitarian sensibility. She advocates for affordable housing and other social justice concerns. She’s not sure where that comes from, just mentions having a sense of fairness and justice like her former boss and mentor, Jim Zervas, who passed away in 2010 after more than a half-century as an influential Northwest architect and planner.
Robinson had moved to Bellingham in 1987 because of friends who studied at Western Washington University. “I planned to relocate to Seattle, but it was too hard to get a foot in the door. And it was so much easier and more laid back in Bellingham. I thought I’d start out here then go to Seattle but that never happened. I started to love it here and I lost an interest in the big city,” said Robinson.
Similar to Zervas, Robinson’s passion has been community, especially around affordable housing. She has sat on numerous boards and committees, including the City of Bellingham’s Planning Commission Community Development Advisory Board. She also co-founded the Kulshan Community Land Trust.
A LEED Accredited Professional and Certified Building Advisor, Robinson has designed affordable housing communities throughout the state. In Bellingham, she partnered with Kulshan Community Land Trust on Matthei Place, a co-housing community located in Fairhaven. And she is currently designing renovations for an old hotel and other buildings in the Birchwood neighborhood for Lydia House and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, which will house women escaping domestic violence.
She also values sustainable design. She accredits this value to her surroundings. “The strong appreciation that people here have for the outdoors has motivated my interest in sustainable design. When you live in a beautiful place you want to contribute to keeping it that way,” said Robinson.
Robinson said a welcome change in culture has made sustainability integral to much development these days.
“Building net-zero energy homes has gone from a fringe idea to the mainstream over the past decades. As materials and systems become more common they become more affordable,” Robinson said, pointing out solar panels popping up on so many buildings in Bellingham.
With the availability of sustainable design options, Sharon mentions the tiny house movement and Japanese idea of pod-living as examples of affordable housing solutions.
Robinson brings a can-do passion to solving the affordable housing problem. “As an architect I tend to envision solutions in built forms but I also realized there is a health and social services component which is much more challenging to solve than the architectural puzzle. I would love to find a way to be part of the solution.”