Wednesday, March 4, 2020 - 1:07pm

City of Madison Engineering will be sharing one profile a day as it celebrates National Women in Construction Week, March 1-7, 2020.

“I might have to tell you a story to get my point across,” Engineering Architect Amy Scanlon said as the interview began.

“So, George Washington has a hatchet. It has a metal blade, a wood handle and it’s lashed together at the connection point with some leather. The hatchet blade is a little dull. So he as a boy, sharpens it up, and then cuts down his father’s cherry tree … He passes the hatchet down to his son. It needs a new handle, so the son replaces the handle, re-lashes it with some leather and plays with it. Then, the hatchet is passed down to his son. Who finally decides the blade is rusted and needs to be replaced, and he replaces the blade, lashes it together. Is that hatchet any longer George Washington’s hatchet?” Scanlon said.

The interview paused for a few seconds.

“No part of it that George Washington touched exists. It is no longer integral or historic to George Washington. The physical object no longer has anything about George Washington attached to it. The same holds true for our historic buildings,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon has a way of explaining what she has specialized in for the last nearly quarter century from a perspective that makes you want to think twice about building new.

“If we want our historic buildings to speak to us, about history, then they have to have historic materials, fabric, otherwise it’s just another building that’s been misinterpreted or mistreated,” Scanlon said. “It loses its integrity.”
Born and raised in Missouri, Scanlon said her love for architecture started when she was a little girl.

“I’ve always known I was going to be an architect,” Scanlon said. “My Barbies were just scale figures for the models I would make … I went off to college knowing what I was going to be.”

Scanlon received her degree in architecture from Kansas State University and studied historic preservation in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. She practiced in an architecture firm, which specialized in historic preservation, in Philadelphia for about 15 years before moving to Madison. Scanlon worked as the preservation planner for the City of Madison Planning Division for about eight years before moving to Engineering in 2018. Scanlon’s storyline has always followed her love for historical preservation.

“Sometimes buildings reach the end of their life, which is a sad day for me, but it’s OK,” Scanlon said. “Not every building can be historic, not every building should be historic, but even those existing buildings were built for a reason and do tell a story.”

Scanlon’s story and journey consists of having a “good path” when it comes to her place in the construction industry as a woman.

“I have spent my career not wanting to be a girl, just want to be an architect. I don’t need to be treated like a girl on a job site,” Scanlon said.  

However, she does believe it’s important to share her experience and lead by example, even if she had second thoughts about stepping into the light as part of this profile series, something other women may relate to as others try to find equality in the industry or workplace as a whole.

“When I got the email [for this interview] and I thought ‘oh great, another way to label me as a girl,’ but then I remembered taking my daughter out of school last year, to attend the women’s rights celebration for the 19th amendment, and I thought about, that I have to be a girl sometimes, I have to be a mom, and I have to show my daughter that girls can do these things,” Scanlon said.

“Things” like a major renovation and preservation of the Madison Municipal Building in downtown Madison, preservation of Catlin Chapel, preservation of the Gates of Heaven and Garver Feed Mill, all projects Scanlon is proud to have helped preserve.

“It’s supposed to read as a historic building when you’re finished, and not read as an old building that you’ve slathered new materials all over,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon’s passion for preservation is reflected in her work, which insures the history of the City’s most precious buildings will be preserved.

“History gives us reason. It is that connection to the past that makes Madison, Madison,” Scanlon said.

Preservation reminds us of the history and the story, no matter if it’s a building, Scanlon’s journey or George Washington’s hatchet. Understanding the benefits of preserving our history and the materials we use may just be exactly what we need to keep buildings historic in the City for decades or even centuries to come.

City of Madison Engineering will be sharing one profile a day as it celebrates National Women in Construction Week, March 1-7, 2020.