Each year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) elevates selected candidates to its prestigious College of Fellows. ESKW/Architects’ Partner Andrew Knox was among the 116 members honored for 2020.
The Fellowship program was developed to elevate architects who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession and have made a significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level. Advancement is granted for achievement in design, preservation, education, literature, and service.
Eighteen members from AIA New York were selected, and we sat down with our very own Andrew Knox to discuss the honor.
ESKW/Architects: How long has Fellowship been a goal and why is it something you wanted to pursue?
Andrew Knox: I have to be honest: when I went to school, the AIA wasn’t considered very edgy, and so as a self-important student, it was not really an important goal for me. But then I moved to the city (almost 30 years ago) and started working in the field of housing. I started attending the AIA Housing Committee meetings and met some AIA Fellows. Their knowledge and commitment to architecture for housing was intense. They had been doing that kind of work for years and were a fabulous resource. I learned all sorts of specifics like zoning strategies and contract negotiation maneuvers. I realized that the people who were Fellows were exemplars and mentors in the practice. So then on top of that, when I started to see some of my graduate school classmates becoming Fellows, I realized, “Hey, I want to be in that group as well!”
ESKW/A: What did the submission process entail? How challenging was it?
AK: It’s certainly a process. It really started with taking what were effectively the more accurate “we” statements from our marketing and turning them into “I” statements. That was the hard part, because our work is so collaborative—not only between the partners and junior staff, but also among the clients, individual tenants, and end users of our spaces, all of whom teach us what works and what doesn’t.
Working together with input from so many, it’s rare that I can look at a completed project and say what part came from whom. And yet the format of the Fellowship application requires that the work be identified as if it were a single person’s efforts. So I had to get over that self-aggrandizing resistance, as our work has always been deeply collaborative.
ESKW/A: In that light, what does this achievement mean to you and your career, but also to the firm? This was your second year applying for Fellowship, correct?
AK: It was interesting not getting it the first time for “Design” and instead getting it the second time for “Service to Society” because it’s actually a more accurate assessment of what I feel I, and we as the office, have done to advance the profession. We feel we’ve done lots of great design work, but it’s very much hand-in-glove with serving these groups of clients, and sometimes it’s hard to read that strictly on an aesthetic, formal, or inventive basis. But you can definitely see it in terms of how the client groups react to the spaces we design.
Recently I was out at our St. Vincent’s Chait Residence in Staten Island, and a couple residents were out front. One man relaxing in his pajamas asked what I was doing there. I told him we were the architects of the building, and we were checking out how the building had aged the past few years. He became very animated and said, “Oh man, this is greatest place ever. I’m so incredibly happy living here: I’m safe at night, I can get my medicine here, there’s a clinic that I can work with, I have a safe bed to stay in. This place is just the greatest.”
Through interactions with people who actually live in our buildings, you realize that our work is a service, and what we make is the right thing to do. It is an honor to have our work in this field recognized as a standard of excellence.
ESKW/A: What’s next for you and the firm?
AK: We hope to continue to make deeply innovative, humane spaces for those who need them the most. I personally am looking forward to mentoring our staff to achieve that. As the office is getting bigger, I find myself more and more in the position of teaching and showing other people how to think of the problems and how to approach the work. So it’s sort of like becoming a professor at this point. I feel like I need to further that side of my personal growth and figure out how to pass it on to others in the office.
I am proud of helping develop a firm that is able to focus on serving the needs of the underserved in our community, and I am happy to do so while expanding what is achievable in the quality and experience of those spaces. Becoming a Fellow of the AIA feels like a validation of that growth.
For more on Andrew, see him as this month’s Featured Member on AIANY’s website.