25 Years of SOA: Beginnings

“25 Years of SOA” is a blog series commemorating the 25th anniversary of Simon Oswald Architecture. The series opens with reflections from SOA’s founders, Shelley Simon and Kathy Walther.

In the following weeks, our five most senior “SOA-tions” will share their insights on SOA’s mission and its presence in our work every day. Click “Read More” for our entries. We are so excited and proud to be where we are after 25 years, and give our thanks and appreciation to everyone who has made it possible! We look forward to the years to come.

The story began for SIMON + WALTHER when two hard-working professional moms wanted to focus their energy on Architecture and Interior Design for private clients in Mid-Missouri and find some balance between work and family. Shelley Simon and Kathy Walther got a “sweetheart” lease deal in Columbia and opened their modest design firm in the fall of 1987 on Hitt Street.

I already knew the energetic Shelley Simon, AIA was a perfect partner because we had worked together at two firms, Chinn & Associates and The Architects Alliance, for nearly seven years. Shelley and I had a lot in common: each married local boys and had two kids- each a boy and a girl- and we enjoyed living in Columbia. We both had bum knees, but loved sports and loved watching our kids’/college teams even more. We also brought different strengths to the business. The time was right to blend our technical backgrounds, our different personalities and our shared commitment to the Owners of our projects and their business goals.
Some clients might have been attracted to the novelty of the women-owned architecture firm, but the dozens of repeat clients came to know our commitment to projects of enduring quality. Growing the firm of SIMON + WALTHER with other partners and a fantastic staff of 15 has made me even more passionate about our industry, our community and the people who have been a part of my professional career.
I am most thankful that the concept of Architecture and Interior Design- the premise for our 1987 business- has allowed me to focus on being an integral part of successful design teams since leaving the firm. Whether as a separate entity in Cherry Street Design, as a project and facility manager for Premier Bank or now as a design team leader with insidetheLINES, a commercial interiors firm, I can still focus on clients, find joy in my work and know that design matters.
Best Wishes to SOA for another 25 years of success in Architecture and Interior Design!

-Kathy Walther

On December 1, 1987, Kathy Walther and I opened the doors of Simon+Walther / Architecture and Interior Design at 15 Hitt Street. It was not only a passion for integrating architecture and interior design that led us to begin our partnership, it was the desire to create and grow something special from the ground up. Looking at our complementary strengths, understanding the power of diverse points of view, and remembering the warmth of our friendship, we embarked on a journey that led us to stand up for what we valued in both design and the business community in Columbia and central Missouri.

A quarter century later, it’s rewarding to reflect on the beginning and each decade of progress in the development of Simon Oswald Architecture: “SOA.” The first decade was a time of “laying the foundation” for a successful design business and partnership. Our first signature projects, including Orscheln Tech Center, Woodrail Centre, and Newman Center, accompanied a growth in numbers- staff, project size, and number of projects- marked by collaboration with partner firms to establish a niche and expertise while building a portfolio of loyal clients. Each project, regardless of size, carefully integrated the site, exterior, and interior design to reflect our holistic approach.

The second decade was one of “building a legacy”: It was also marked with accelerating growth, sharing ownership with others, and involvement in significant high-impact projects such as MFA Oil, MFA Inc., Miller’s Professional Imaging, Missouri State High School Activities Association Building, and Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance headquarters. We continued to leverage strategic partnerships to serve clients and build expertise. During this time, we began our relationship with Columbia College, working on its master plan and leading significant projects such as the Atkins-Holman Student Commons and the LEED Silver-certified Missouri Hall renovation.

Currently in its third decade, SOA has also entered its second generation of leadership. This great leadership is not only present at the top in Jennifer Hedrick, Bill Oswald, Amanda Norris, and Robbie Price, but in each employee of the firm, empowered to operate from his or her strengths to advance the mission of the firm while elevating the design experience of all clients. This decade is about making a difference: finding passions, aligning values, and keeping promises. It’s about being involved in our clients organizations and becoming a trusted partner on their paths to success.

I’m very proud of the firm’s performance since I left in 2010. Best of luck to all SOAtions in the coming year and beyond- keep making the world a better place for all of us!

-Shelley Simon

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