Andrew Knox Named to AIA College of Fellows

Knox_AndrewEach 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.

Interest, Involvement, and Inclusion at Career Day

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Madiba Prep’s welcoming blew us away! We toasted sparkling cider to the students’ success.

Madiba Prep Middle School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, rolled out the red carpet for ESKW/A and many other professionals on Career Day, May 16. We got breakfast, lunch, certificates, gift bags, and student performances. We even earned prime real estate on the career fair floor right by the gymnasium door.

“I was overwhelmed by our welcome,” said Amanda Sengstacken, one of our architectural designers. “The school was so gracious and appreciative. I really found it very moving, because as flattering as all the attention they gave us was, their enthusiasm underlined how important it is to the school to present their students with a wide variety of options for their future.”

We only hope that our efforts made the students feel just as welcome to the world of architecture. While the industry is improving, architecture has long faced a diversity problem. People of color, women, and other groups outside the status quo are still underrepresented in the field, and it’s up to us the change that. The AIA formed a Diversity Council in 2011 and ratified Resolution 15:1, “Equity in Architecture,” at its 2015 convention, and locally, groups like the New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NYCOBA|NOMA) and AIANY’s Women in Architecture (WIA) are continually working toward change.

So just as the school was grateful to have ESKW/A and other occupations share their work, goals, and career paths, we were grateful to be there to inspire the next generation of architects and to make this industry more inclusive. Since our inception in the 60s, that’s been part of our work. Our co-founder Judith Edelman was a pioneer in the field both as a woman and a designer of affordable housing. It would be great to have some of the kids consider architecture as a career, but even if we just piqued their interest in the built environment around them, we’ve done our job.

Principal Anne Marie Malcolm began the day by saying that when she came here from the islands, she thought she only had three paths to success: doctor, lawyer, or educator. And while she loves her job, she’s curious if she would have taken a different path had she known what was available to her. After today, the kids at Madiba Prep should know there are several paths they can take: architect, urban planner, firefighter, musician, fashion designer, and occupational or physical therapist, among others.

“I want the students to know that there is a plethora of options in store for their future,” added Kristina Crowell, guidance counselor at Madiba Prep. “I want them to know that they can be as creative, as ambitious, and as determined as they need to be in order to reach their goals. I appreciate you all for coming out and shedding some light on your passion and inspiring our youth in the process!”

At our table, students engaged with a floor plan, colored pencils, 3D model of the Rockaways Retail and Community Development, and finishes board from 233 Landing Road/Reaching New Heights Residence. We also connected over great conversations. Their initial questions were probably suggested by teachers: What made you choose to be an architect? Do you have to take a lot of school? And we admit ours were basic to get the discussion flowing: So, what do you want to be when you grow up? (Good luck to the youngster who wants to become a professional YouTuber!) How’d you become a hall ambassador? What’s your favorite building in New York? Do you like art, history, math and science?

“We did our best to make a convincing pitch for architecture,” said Sengstacken. “I also tried to convey how varied the options are even within that category.”

But as the kids became more involved and interested, so did their questions: How do you put little fake people into a rendering? Who decides how the drawing looks: you or someone else? How hard is it to work with a budget? We like to think those questions were the sparks of inspiration being ignited. Hopefully we didn’t extinguish any aspirations by saying a budget of $100 might only buy a new exit sign.

Thank you to the Madiba Prep faculty for hosting us, and to the kids for engaging and entertaining us.