This month we are joined by Architect Leah Wolkovich-Quartey, AIA, LEED AP BD+C for the April Staff Spotlight. Since joining Finegold Alexander in 2019, Leah has undoubtedly made her impact on the industry with her involvement in a range of project types including K-12 design--a particular area of passion--and ongoing development projects as well as work in the civic sector, including the LEED-certified Lowell Justice Center. Leah may take the cake for having worked on one of the most unique projects outside of the firm, having designed the Gorilla Forest exhibit for Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, the largest all-mesh gorilla enclosure in North America! In the spirit of curiosity, we sat down with Leah to ask her some questions.
Q: What inspired you to become an architect?
L: I’ve always loved math and art. Architecture seemed like the perfect way to merge both for a career. I also grew up helping my dad with projects around the house and felt fulfilled seeing how spaces could evolve.
Q: What have been some of your career highlights/proudest achievements so far?
L: I’d say that a highlight for me is to get to see people learning or working in a building that I helped bring from the computer screen to our physical built environment. I have been lucky to work on a number of institutional projects so far in my life (from gorilla habitats, to schools, to court houses) and it always makes me smile to know that I have positively impacted someone and their experience of an environment.
Q: Do you have any guiding principles in your design process?
L: The space has to feel good for its users. There are so many factors we have to consider all the time but if a space isn’t comfortable or exciting to be in, then why do it?
Q: Do you have a favorite city to visit for architecture?
L: I have been to a lot of amazing places but I think that Santorini in Greece was one of the most architecturally impactful. There is a vernacular that is instantly recognizable and it is truly incredible to see how buildings are stacked on top of each other and into the landscape, rather than on top of.
Q: Do you have a favorite building or perhaps a favorite architect?
L: Mies van der Rohe is an architect I have always admired. When you design simply you have to do it with great intention and every element must be carefully thought through. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Great Mosque in Cordoba, Spain. It has been converted several times by various religious groups and it is really cool to see which components were changed, covered, or adopted from one version to the next. The building over time tells a story in and of itself.
Q: if you could give advice to a young designer what would you say?
L: My advice is to be curious and ask questions. This goes not just for mentors or colleagues in architecture but related fields too. Understanding why contractors or engineers make certain decisions is key to being a good designer.