Not many people can say they set their sights on a career path as a child and followed through on it — especially when they were destined to be a minority in their chosen field.
But this is exactly what Sara Markt has accomplished, thanks to inspiration that came when her family moved into a historic home at 30th and Jules streets in St. Joseph when she was 8 years old. Markt was fascinated by the renovation process her parents undertook, which gave her clear direction on what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I went from ballerina and cowgirl to architect,” she said, adding that around the same time, she had a teacher who loved architecture and assigned her students a project involving St. Joseph’s historic Downtown buildings. Thus, with this exposure to architecture Markt received both at home and at school, “I just got hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do and always had that as my intention.”
And she didn’t wait until adulthood to begin honing her architecture skills. Stealing her brother’s drafting table, she began drawing floor plans for homes she saw on sitcoms. Television also provided her with the one and only role model she ever encountered in terms of a female architect: Elyse Keaton on the 1980s show “Family Ties.”
“I saw her as an architect and thought, ‘I could do that,’” Markt said.
She also noted that — although her greatest architectural role model may have been fictional — she did have an abundance of real-life support from her parents, who always encouraged her dream and provided her with plenty of drafting board, paper and house plan magazines.
After graduating from Central High School in 1994, Markt began an intense five years of study at the University of Kansas for her architecture degree. Also during that time, she began working for River Bluff Architects in St. Joseph when she was home on summer and Christmas breaks.
She accepted a full-time job with the firm after graduating in 1999 and worked there just months shy of 20 years — until this past March, when she decided the time was right to open her own firm.
Thus was born SMart Architecture and Design, located at 619 Francis St. It holds the status as St. Joseph’s first female-owned architecture firm, and Markt remains the city’s only licensed architect who is female.
Setting up shop Downtown was an easy decision for Markt, with her interest in historic preservation and her appreciation for St. Joseph’s rich collection of historic buildings. But although she hopes to hone in on some historic preservation jobs, her work encompasses a variety of projects in both the commercial and residential realms.
Currently on her to-do list are renovations of a pharmacy and a restaurant, as well as plans for several new homes and for additions or renovations to existing homes. She also works with contractors in creating plans they can use to secure building permits. (Anyone interested in contacting her about a project can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
While building her career over the past two decades, Markt also has dedicated time to presenting architecture as a career possibility to the next generation of St Joseph students. In addition to speaking at schools and offering job-shadowing opportunities, she’s also acted as a mentor for area Girl Scouts who were tasked with designing and building a structure out of cookie boxes.
“It’s definitely different than when I was a Girl Scout,” she said, adding that Girl Scouts as well as the education system as a whole offer much more in the way of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programming than she had access to while growing up.
Markt recommended that all students interested in architecture or another STEAM-related career field take as many pertinent classes as they can before college, both as a way of exploring the field and of preparing for more advanced education in it.
And for any girls, especially, who envision doing something out-of-the-norm, she is glad to report that the career she claimed for herself at an early age is just as fulfilling as she’d always hoped.
“I continually find it amazing to come up with a host of ideas of how a building might work, then to see it come off of that page in the form of an actual building,” she said. “I look at buildings as being like sculptures, and I want to make buildings that make people feel better and that improve our community by being beautiful.”