Joining us all of the way from Kansas, this month we’re chatting with Finegold Alexander Architects Associate Erin K. Flaherty, AIA, NCARB! With over seven years at the firm, Erin has played an integral role in several school additions and renovations as well as in private development and civic projects. As a technically-driven designer, she enjoys the problem-solving challenges that come along with architecture and specifically with construction administration.
Q: What inspired you to become an architect?
E: We had to take art electives in high school and with the way my schedule worked out, I could either take drafting or theater. I was never going to get on a stage so drafting it was. It was just my luck though; I instantly feel in love with it. I proceeded to take drafting all four years and even joined the Drafting Club which traveled and competed. Like others, I played with Legos and built houses (floor plans and all) out of shoe boxes, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized I wanted to be an architect. Shout out to Ms. Striggow – she is one of those teachers who excites you about the work you’re doing and instills the confidence in you to chase your dreams.
Q: If you could give advice to a young designer what would you say?
E: There is room for you! If you like what you’re doing, or are interested in it, explore it. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be an amazing artist and you don’t have to be a math wizard. If you love it, there is a place for you. There are so many avenues to explore within our industry.
Q: Do you have any guiding design principles in your process?
E: Louis Sullivan said, ‘form follows function’ but Frank Lloyd Wright reinterpreted it to be ‘form and function are one,’ and I tend to agree with latter. There needs to be a harmony between the building’s intended use and the shape it takes. The smallest design elements, the building’s form, its primary use, and how it relates to its site all need to respond to one another. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is good example of this.
Q: How has moving to Kansas and working for the firm remotely changed your experience in architecture/in the industry? What are some differences or surprising similarities?
E: Since I moved here late in February 2020, I only had a couple of weeks as our only remote employee because COVID shut the US down in March. I feel like the whole firm went through working ‘remote’ along with me. In many ways, that helped me. Instead of experiencing things independently, we navigated it as a team. I think now that everyone is starting to go back to the office, I’ll really start to experience the ‘remote’ part of things.
One surprising realization, I miss my morning routine and commute. There is something that comes with getting dressed up and traveling into the office that made me feel more connected to society. I miss being around others.
Q: What have been some of your career highlights/proudest achievements so far?
E: Getting to work on the two Eliot Innovation schools, 585 Commercial Street and 173 Salem Street, was so fulfilling. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for 585 still gives me goosebumps when I think about it or see pictures from it. It was a community celebration! Watching the students get excited about their new space is something I carry with me. I hope those students feel that every day because they deserve to be excited about learning and their futures. We don’t design for ourselves, we do it for them and those moments validate our years of effort.
Q: Do you have a favorite city to visit for architecture?
E: Is it cheesy to say everywhere? It’s true though. New architecture is fun to see but old buildings are my favorite. When exploring them I can’t help but imagine what was going on in history when it was built, what the people were wearing, how they were living their daily lives, and what their struggles must have been. It’s the age-old saying, ‘if these walls could talk…’ My husband and I traveled around Ireland a few years ago and we got to climb on structures from 300 AD and it’s just mind boggling to me. I hear the date and I know what it means but my mind just can’t process it.
Q: Do you have a favorite building or perhaps a favorite architect?
E: A favorite firm – MVRDV. Their approach and design process is methodical and feels logical. Their diagramming is everything! I feel like I pull inspiration from them often.
Stay tuned for next month’s Staff Spotlight!