On a recent visit to the Southwest, we met up with architect Alison Rainey of Shepley Bulfinch , and chatted about sticking to your guns, studying abroad, and a cool new project on her horizon.
ID: What’s the latest project sitting on your desk right now?
AR: My newest project is a student housing high-rise in Arizona for a private developer that’s adjacent to a major university. We’re providing a mix of one-bedroom and studio apartments on up to five-bedroom apartments, so you can come in with your group of friends and rent an apartment together. The interesting thing is balancing the private spaces with the site’s amenities. Not only does it include a swimming pool, fitness center and spa, but study rooms and great new technology to help facilitate learning. Incorporating that is definitely a fun part. But all of this is definitely so different from when I was in college!
ID: What has been one of your favorite projects over the years?
AR: One of my favorites was the Hoover House. It’s the home of my colleague Chris Nieto, which we finished that in 2007. It was a great project. It’s this historic home that the family had outgrown. We added a beautiful, open addition onto the rear of the house and it made the family gathering space so much bigger and connected to the backyard. It had a giant living room and kitchen area and we really got to explore a lot of great materials in that project.
ID: When did you realize you wanted to go into design?
AR: I liked houses at a very early age. My family moved around quite a bit. We got to experience New England, the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. I got exposed to many different cultures and ways of living. I decided to go to architecture school when I was studying art history in Italy. I had a profound connection to some of the cathedrals I visited. That’s what made me say to myself, “Ok, I think I want to do this.”
ID: Can you name a designer or architect who inspires you? AR: Alvaro Siza Vieira . He’s a Portuguese architect and he uses a lot of wide-open space, lots of white and changes in materials and textures. It’s just beautiful the way he deals with open spaces versus closed, dark spaces. Plus, his transitioning between spaces is very eloquent.
ID: How would you describe your style?
AR: It certainly depends on the client, but I strive to make spaces and choose materials that are timeless and having a lasting effect. I want them to relate to context and location, as well as respond to client’s needs.
ID: Can you recall any great splurge items you’ve had in recent projects?
AR: My most recently completed project is up at Colorado College. It’s the student dining hall and commons building. I would say the biggest splurge there that I really had to work on keeping was tearing down a giant wall that made two spaces dark and separate from each other. To put in operable glass doors was huge a splurge, and it had a great impact on the space allowing for a lot of natural light.
ID: What does design mean to you?
AR: It’s a thoughtful way of organizing things—be that furniture or detailing how different parts of a building come together. It’s innovation and working with what’s already there; taking pieces apart and putting them back together. There are ideas everywhere, but how people choose to put them together is that design process.
ID: What are some things you do to relax?
AR: Sleep, hike, bake…I’ll bake anything and everything. I love trying new recipes.
ID: Any recent notable travels?
AR: Most recent big was to Puerto Rico. It was pretty awesome. I did half of the trip on the beach and half in Old San Juan. I got to hike in the rainforest and go boating and then the second half of the trip I spent within the old city walls of San Juan. It was so beautiful.
ID: Can you offer any word of wisdom for designers-to-be?
AR: Try to get experience in different types of firms, small and large. There will be a lot to learn and different opportunities at both. Find out what’s important to you and stick to your guns.