Leilani O'Brien Taylor

Leilani Taylor

Associate in Science, Pre-engineering major, Enterprise State Junior College, Alabama (1971)
Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, UNC Charlotte (1978)

When Leilani O'Brien Taylor’s father, a U.S. Army pilot, discovered her affinity for both math and drawing, he encouraged her to study engineering. So she enrolled in the engineering drawing class in her high school in Aurora, Colorado - the only girl in the class. When she came to UNC Charlotte several years later to study architecture, she was still a trailblazer, as one of just a handful of female students. 

Before coming to UNC Charlotte, Leilani graduated with an Associate in Science degree, Pre-engineering major, from Enterprise State Junior College in Alabama in 1971. 

“I moved to Charlotte and began working in the accounting field at Aetna Casualty and Insurance, while taking surveying and commercial art classes at Central Piedmont Community College,” she says. “I worked weekends professionally hanging wallpaper in apartment complexes. It was there, seeing the construction from the ground up in person, that sparked my interest in architecture. I was encouraged by my Aetna Insurance Accounting Dept. manager to apply to the College of Architecture at UNC Charlotte.”

Leilani was accepted to the architecture program in the summer of 1976. Five additional women were students in the architecture program at that time: Nancy Beal, Lucy Adams, Lynn Stiles, Rashmi Pandey, and Brenda Poole Torri (pictured with Leilani, below).

Leilani Taylor and Brenda Poole at graduation in 1978.“My experience as one of the few women in the program was great,” she says. “I had finally landed and loved it. The instructors were fantastic and excitingly different. Carl Hauser, Linda Searl, and Michael Gallis were our first year instructors. Lois Langhorst, the Architectural History professor, used to have impromptu happy hours for us working women.” 

Leilani graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture on May 6, 1978.

“Barbara Walters gave the keynote address at the ceremony held at the Charlotte Coliseum. As CoA+A graduates, we were sitting in the first row, and she was talking directly to us with her encouraging message about the future of women in the workplace.”

Her experiences at UNC Charlotte launched Leilani into a varied career.

“We had quite a few visiting renowned architect instructors. My final studio project was to design the Myrtle Beach Hilton. Crutcher Ross, AIA, was our instructor for my final semester (and also designed the Myrtle Beach Hilton).”

Taylor's drawings for hotel project

The year before graduation, she began an internship at Omniarchitecture, a local firm at the time. “I am proud of the work I did at UNC Charlotte and the work while apprenticing with the firm Omniarchitecture. While working full time there, I learned how to multitask. I was a secretary, receptionist, bookkeeper, interior-decorator, presentations, and draftswoman apprentice, in that order of need.”

Leilani met her husband Vestal (Pat) C.Taylor III at UNC Charlotte 1977 (see photo) and they married in 1980. Pat was in publishing and sales in the newspaper business, and over the years, Leilani him at each of the five papers where he worked.  “At all of these papers I was employed full/part time Office Administration, photography, darkroom, typesetting, layout and redesign of the interior spaces of the smaller papers,” she says. 

Among her favorite projects was a design for the town of West Jefferson, NC, to “renovate the Main Street shops and create Old Railroad Back Street Park with trees, benches, lighting, and diagonal parking when we lived there in the 1980’s. My design exists there today.”

drawings for new area of West Jefferson, NC

Leilani has also done design projects for a chiropractic clinic, restaurants, an empty shopping center/grocery store, and has designed and built custom homes.

“Next to graduating from UNC Charlotte, my NC General Contractor’s License was my proudest accomplishment, to date. Knowing the codes and laws that protect us from unsafe construction, I was confident and able to renovate our home in Winston-Salem, NC, and to help both of our children and purchase and renovate their first homes.”

She’s now happily retired and lives in Whispering Pines, where she enjoys her husband, two children, and grandchildren. 

Leilani Taylor with her large family