On January 1, Jessica Hester assumed the new roles of CEO and Principle Architect of versatile Rogers-based architecture and design studio Rede. The company’s portfolio has expanded over the last 26 years to include projects spanning visual design and branding, and all manner of architecture, as well as public, architecturally integrated artworks. Rede boasts satisfied architectural clients in sectors including healthcare, retail, commercial, hospitality, residential, multi-family, institutional, and performance architecture.
The Story Behind Jessica’s Career
Jessica, a native of Northwest Arkansas, grew up amidst the day-to-day operations of Downtown Rogers anchor merchant Golden’s Designer Jewelry, her parents’ small business, which sparked an early interest in entrepreneurship.
As she reflects on what influenced her career, Jessica’s eyes light up and she recalls her fascination with the tools and drafting table that belonged to her grandfather. She also cites her general love for the arts (cultivated through years of playing violin, artmaking, and ballet dancing) and her fascination with the gradual transformation of Northwest Arkansas farmland into a city.
Her specific goal to become an architect began in a high school home economics class during her junior year, when she was prompted to design a home floor plan. After hours of work (exceeding the teacher’s expectations) the thrilling experience of the assignment brought a career ambition into focus and shaped her educational trajectory.
Jessica enrolled at the University of Oklahoma following high school, receiving her Bachelor of Architecture before moving on to graduate research in urban planning, where she received her Master of Design Research from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.
Following graduate school, she co-founded CEVIAN Design Lab in Rome, Georgia. The firm’s boutique approach led to successful projects in healthcare, higher education, recreational facilities, theater facilities, animal laboratories, and more. “We did everything but prisons,” she quips. CEVIAN’s deliberate integration of research, analysis, design, and technical expertise would help shape the vision of her own future firm.
Selling her stake in CEVIAN to her partner, Jessica returned to Northwest Arkansas. She briefly worked for the University of Arkansas Community Design Center before founding architecture firm Verdant Studio in 2015. In 2019 she finalized the purchase of Resource Design, a Rogers-based, multi-capabilities design firm founded by Ron Hudnall in 1994.
Achieving Her Vision Through Creative Entrepreneurship
After rebranding Resource Design as Rede in 2020, her vision for an architecture and design firm grounded in research and representing a wide range of expertise led to the hires of artist Dayton Castleman, as Director of Visual Thinking, and architect Thomas B. Merritt as Director of Design, joining ReDe’s stable of architects and designers.
But her vision for the firm would soon be met with significant challenges shared around the globe. And she responded. Jessica’s leadership was tested as the nation began to grapple with the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and she responded with the rapid mobilization of a community-focused project to provide specialized protective barriers for healthcare workers (aerosol boxes) practicing emergency care for patients. Within a month of the shutdown, working directly with hospitals and healthcare providers on design variations, the project was able to fabricate and deliver 85 barriers to hospitals across Arkansas, and to the EMT units of the Rogers Fire Department, at no cost to the recipients.
Her ability to keep her new business soluble and support her employees and clients through the changes brought on by the pandemic are a testament to Jessica’s creative approach to problem-solving and team building.
Jessica’s vision for Rede has been influenced by renowned architect Arthur Gensler’s “Constellation of Stars” approach, a strategy involving the assembly of a horizontal network of professionals with diverse creative expertise, embracing a broad practice area of overlapping disciplines, and facilitating the sharing of creative ideas across project categories.
This model is especially effective as Rede’s slate of currently active projects include city planning, affordable housing, commercial multi-use development, healthcare design, retail, hospitality, and residential architecture. The company has generated continued growth through the recent hires of three new architecture team members.
Predicting the future of architecture is a stark focus for Jessica moving forward. As communities adapt to new realities, architecture will play an essential role in shaping and facilitating how humans interact. Her entrepreneurial vision and team approach for Rede is engineered to thrive by creatively contributing to how the firm’s neighbors near and far will love the spaces where they live, work, eat, and play.
Learn more about this Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce member at www.redearchitecture.com.