Patty Chen

Spring 2008

Stanley Tigerman

Patricia Chen
Holzman Moss Architects,
New York, NY

You can find Patricia Chen's public space projects throughout the United States. As a principal at New York-based Holzman Moss Architecture, Chen has worked with academic, governmental and community projects in Texas, New Mexico and Los Angeles.

Below are excerpts from a conversation with Patty Chen:

What inspires you?

The challenge of taking something that starts as a client's vision and turning it into something they haven't experienced before. We often go into a community, listen to its citizens and take their ideas to create something physical that inspires the imagination.

It's when we design a University museum, and since the museum's inception, the school gets profiled as one of the best arts programs in the country. Or a music program that starts with a new building and grows to national recognition.

To me, that's success - when the users of the building have participated in the process and can then make an impact bigger than the building itself. That's very rewarding.

You have extensive experience with higher education institutions. What trends are driving university architecture today?

About 70 percent of the work our firm does is linked to higher education, including libraries, student unions, performing arts and a general mix of projects. We're seeing students who are really putting pressure on university administrations to make change. They want sustainable buildings and buildings that promote student life.

It's no longer just about academics. Colleges and universities are attracting students with a complete experience and the kind of life they will have when they live on campus.

How do you approach a project?

Our approach is to start with what's around us, primarily the client and their goals. We value context, what's important to the region, what's important to the community. We are sensitive towards regional materials, familiar things, shared experiences and incorporating them into our design. It's a collaborative and interactive process, and it includes the client, the students, and the community.

What is your dream project?

It's really more of a dream situation, and we typically get nine out of ten components.

I enjoy working with a client who has vision, a consultant team that can achieve that vision, and an agreement among all parties to place sustainability at the forefront. The challenge is always having everyone on the same page when it comes to sustainability.

There's always more we can do and more collaboration to be had among the client, the consultants and the builders. We can use each other's fields to create a great project that is more sustainable than anything we've seen yet.

That's my dream project - the right team, the right budget and aligned priorities when it comes to sustainability.

What needs to happen to make sustainability more of a priority in the future?

At the most fundamental level, we need to change building codes. When the life safety codes changed, so did the industry. Budget will always drive priorities, but if it's law, all architects will do it.

Once you've established new building codes, it is then up to individual design teams to take the whole movement to the next level. We need to take stock of what we know and what's happening with technology and materials to be truly innovative.

For example, right now when we consider using fluorescent vs. incandescent lighting, we always consider fluorescent more sustainable. But there are even better technologies on the horizon that can convert heat off a bulb into energy, which would make incandescent lighting more efficient. There are a lot of lofty ideas out there, and a lot of opportunity to make change.