Staff Spotlight: Pat Morss, AIA, LEED AP

Pat sat down with us to discuss his career in architecture including his monumental projects and achievements thus far.

October 18, 2021
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For our October Staff Spotlight, we sat down with Associate Principal Pat Morss, AIA, LEED AP (Sherman Morss Jr)! Having been with Finegold Alexander for over 48 years, Pat is a dedicated architect with a long-time advocacy and expertise in restoration and sustainable design. During his time at the firm, he has contributed to of some of Finegold Alexander’s most renowned projects from Ellis Island to Lowell Justice Center. We had the privilege of sitting down with Pat to discuss some of his career milestones, his advice for future designers, sources of inspiration and more!

Q: What inspired you to become an architect?

P: It was going to be science or architecture. Growing up I looked forward to conversations with my grandfather who always asked me what was new in space exploration or electronics. My father was an architect, so I was exposed to the profession from first memories at home. Architecture seemed like a broadening of science that encompassed the fine arts. My most enlightening course at college was ‘History of Art and Architecture 101’ which was nine months of experts bringing together thousands of years of art, geography, and political history around the world with interconnections I had never made.

Q: If you could give advice to a young designer what would you say?

P: Become well-rounded, which is required for your architectural registration. Don’t be afraid to ask your managers for assignments that broaden your knowledge in design, construction documents, construction administration, and office management; otherwise, you may be pigeon-holed where they see a specific talent. Finegold Alexander gave me those opportunities. Later, you will have flexibility to specialize in aspects of architecture that give you the most satisfaction. But remain open to new avenues – I worked for Lou Kahn after graduation (only new buildings), was recommended to Anderson Notter Associates when moving to Boston (national leader in adaptive use of existing buildings, now Finegold Alexander Architects), and presently I take pride in our diverse portfolio of clients and building types with a focus on sustainable design.

Q: Do you have any guiding design principles in your process?

P: During my career I have gravitated toward the early design phases of projects, but only after gaining perspective on the sequencing of all phases. Many design options are on the table during the study and schematic design phases. As you progress into design development and construction documents, previous decisions increasingly limit the ability to change course. The early phases are also when you establish working relationships and trust with your client and your consultants. So, think outside the box and have fun early on, before getting into the routine of project production (which can also be fun).

Q: What have been some of your career highlights/proudest achievements so far? 

P: Ellis Island was my favorite, eye-opening, all-encompassing project. As project manager for our role in the joint venture renovation (with Beyer Blinder Belle) of the 1900 Main Building, becoming New York’s Ellis Island Immigration Museum, I participated in the National Park Service’s largest building restoration to date. The multi-volume Historic Structures Report assessing the dozens of buildings on the island barely fits in a milk crate. Through most of the 1980s we navigated our way through reviews with the NPS (our client) and Lee Iacocca’s Statue of Liberty / Ellis Island Foundation (fundraiser) regarding restoration period, significance of spaces, research of historic materials, governmental approvals, and construction – all out on an island that straddled the New York – New Jersey border.

Immigrants’ first view of processing in the Registry Room

Q: Do you have a favorite place to visit for architecture?

P: I met my wife, Anne-Lise, in Norway and we have naturally returned many times. Like much of northern Europe, it has a lifestyle and approach to design and consensus government we would do well to emulate. There is great respect for nature, and urban designers have long concentrated the built environment in zones so as to preserve open space. Norway consistently rates as one of the “happiest” countries to live in. Oslo’s recent public buildings, like Snohetta’s Opera House, set standards for creative design throughout the country and internationally. And I love the government’s program of selecting top architects to disperse great design around the sparsely populated countryside through elegant tourist rest areas (with EV plug-in!).

Visitors are encouraged to walk all over the Oslo Opera house, by Snohetta.

Q: Do you have a favorite building or perhaps a favorite architect?

P: Louis I Kahn had an immense impact on my architectural growth. I received my undergraduate and Master of Architecture degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, but Lou’s Master’s program was a separate studio I missed out on. However, looking for a job after graduation, Lou asked me to come by his Philadelphia office at 9:00 pm. I showed him my portfolio and he was taken by my model-making ability. The office was in early design of the Yale Center for British Art, and Lou asked me:  “can you start now (meaning tonight)?”  We compromised on 8:00 in the morning. The office was mostly staffed by a cultural cornucopia of international graduate students who had attended his studio, and were allowed to remain and work for just one year. I didn’t have this limitation and was given responsibility for project management way beyond my experience level over the next couple of years. I cherished our breaks from work late in the evening for impromptu philosophical discussions. After the all-nighters, when Lou would catch a nap stretched out on his oak desk, we would put him in a cab with models and drawings at dawn to get to the airport for his flight to Bangladesh.

Yale Center for British Art model Pat worked on first day in Kahn’s office.