Then & Now: Architect Lisa Skiles finds value in thoughtful design

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in the Jan. 8 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s  Forty Under 40 class.


Lisa Knemeyer Skiles’ career began in retail and then marketing in the late 1980s. But in the year 2002 she heeded a desire within to pursue more creatively fulfilling work and set out on a completely new path.

Her appreciation for the architecture world slowly developed during her tenure as marketing director of the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville, where she worked since 1989, including when she was featured by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal as one of its Forty Under 40 honorees in 2000.

“It speaks to us emotionally, personally. It can enhance our lives, our community and create wonder and awe,” Skiles said.

She met a number of design professionals through the mall. She worked closely with a Texas-based firm on a redesign of the shopping center in 1995, and before that she made connections when architects were often hired by the mall’s merchants to redesign their stores.

One such architect was Albert Skiles, whom she married in 1998. Once the two began traveling together to urban environments in New York City, San Francisco and throughout Europe, Lisa Skiles’ appreciation for architecture deepened.

As a layman at the time, she had a different experience walking through the Barcelona Pavilion in Spain — deemed a keystone in modern architecture — or the Pantheon in Rome.

“You don’t know how to analyze it. You just know it makes you feel good,” Skiles said. Traveling with a trained professional, her husband Albert, he helped her understand why these structures are so special and important.

Over time, Skiles learned to value how even the most grand building also would be refined and “thought through to the smallest detail.”

“You realize somebody really thought about this, and it makes sense and comes together in a nice, artful execution,” she said. “I just thought it’s a really great way to approach life.”

Skiles’ husband encouraged her to go back to school, and in 2005 she earned her bachelor’s degree from the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas.

From there, she interned at Robert Sharp Architect and then Kohler Design Office, before joining her husband as co-owner of their Fayetteville practice, Skiles Architect, PA, in 2007.

She describes the firm’s style as “warm contemporary,” featuring open spaces and natural laminated beams, although she said it’s hard to categorize because each is specific to the site and the client’s needs.

“The work focuses on the experiential qualities of spaces,” she added, and she enjoys “creating light as a material to use as you would traditional building materials.”

The projects of which she is most proud so far include an Energy Star 5+ certified two-bedroom house completed in 2010, shortly after she became a licensed architect, and a project titled B House, home to Brian and Ashley Bailey, owners of the store The Mustache Goods & Wears, both in Fayetteville.

B House, completed in 2014, won a 2016 Award of Merit from the Arkansas American Institute of Architects. “The owners wanted something modern and striking.”

In terms of what drives her, she said: “The pursuit of good design. That makes me happy and makes our clients happy.”

Skiles is on the state board for AIA and is involved with the diversity and legislative committees, in addition to serving as a former chair of the NWA chapter.

She is involved with the U.S. Green Building Council and serves on the Goshen Planning Commission, though she said the committee is not very active in the rural town.

Skiles has two step-children, Marina Skiles, an architect in Aspen, Colo., and Duncan Skiles, a filmmaker in Brooklyn.

In her free time, she likes gardening, painting with watercolors, hanging out with her Jack Russell Terrier named Pete or riding the trails in Fayetteville on her Trek bicycle.

She also likes to read. She is a member of a book club that just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and she and her husband designed a Little Free Library near North Street.

The Skileses live and work on a 14-acre farm in Goshen.