Esther Sperber: A Principal Architect Creating Space for Inspiration

Recognition news

The Jewish Link
By Channa Fischer

Architect Esther Sperber has a vision: to create places where people can live their lives to the fullest. As the founder of Studio ST Architects in Manhattan and its principal architect, Sperber is executing her vision on a daily basis, creating both residential and institutional spaces for an array of clients across the tri-state region. The Upper West Side mother of two boasts over 20 years of architectural and design experience—with a unique perspective that is quite literally changing the landscape of our neighborhoods.

Sperber grew up with English-speaking parents in Jerusalem, and knew from a young age that she wanted to do something creative. “I never really met an architect growing up,” she shared with The Jewish Link. “I didn’t think of it as a profession, but I knew I loved art and drawing, as well as math and science.” When it came time to choose a degree program, Sperber came to the realization that architecture encompassed her passions well, enrolling in a program at the Technion Institute in Haifa.

“I really fell in love with architecture,” Sperber said. “It was kind of the perfect thing for me. It was an opportunity to be really creative, and also really practical. It involves so many different types of thinking—there’s the humanistic side, where you work with people, and there’s also the technical side, where you deal with materials and spreadsheets—and you can be a problem solver. But what I fell in love with the most was the chance to work in a profession where you can invent ways for people to live life in a fuller way.”

With intent to get her master’s in architecture and get a taste of the industry in the United States, Sperber arrived at Columbia University in the late 90s, not knowing that she was embarking on an exciting career outside of Israel’s borders. “It was a really fascinating time to return to school,” she recalled about her time in Columbia, explaining that architecture was just beginning to incorporate the use of computers in a creative context. “It was intense and wonderful, and I decided to stay for a year or two to gain some experience before returning to Israel.”

As fate would have it, Sperber landed a job working with legendary architect I.M. Pei, absorbing everything she could in the five years she spent at Pei Architects. “Twenty five years later, here I am. Life takes you in different directions.”

Sperber reconnected with two friends from Columbia, and began entering international architecture competitions as well as taking on her own projects. When her friends moved away, Sperber decided it was time to open her own company: and so, in 2003, Studio ST Architects was born.

“One of the things I committed to doing at the beginning was to start acting as if we were already a large firm,” she shared. “That involved having set standards like an organized filing system, accounting system and a professional appearance. When I started hiring our first staff members, I was able to communicate how we operate, and it was all very seamless.” For Sperber, learning on the job was really about business savvy, and the rest fell into place. “I love the variety of work that goes into having my own firm, from the bookkeeping to the client negotiations, and there’s never a dull moment. There’s always something around the corner.”

In her day to day, Sperber enjoys the combination of residential and institutional projects that are undertaken by Studio ST. “Having that balance creates stability for us, as well as a diversity in our architectural knowledge,” Sperber explained, adding that there are some differences between the two types of projects that many are not aware of. For example, institutional work typically has a smaller budget, which involves more creativity; residential work has more flexibility, and often involves more intricate details. “No matter the project, we’re always excited to be selected; we love giving clients great experiences.”

Sperber shared that as an Orthodox architect who is very involved in her community, she would love to take on more synagogue projects and bring her unique expertise to clients. And while Studio ST has done a variety of synagogue renovations, Sperber would also love to build a synagogue from the ground up. “It would be so meaningful to create a space that feels spiritual and transcendent, in addition to being useful for all types of people.”

One other ambition for Sperber is to close the gender gap of architecture—she’s made it a point to mentor and hire female architects, shaping the next generation of the field. “There are far more male-owned architecture firms than female-owned,” she shared. “I’ve always wanted to guide other women who are interested in this industry, and expose them to architecture as a career option. I want to share with them why I love it, and ultimately, inspire them.”

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