June 7, 2011

Brought to you by the letter ‘A’

This spring, Scott Green’s 8th grade history and social science class at Hampshire Regional High School studied Islamic architecture and civil engineering. They produced plans and elevations for a mosque and built bridges and towers with straws, paper, and tape.

Mr. Green asked Kuhn Riddle’s Aelan Tierney to speak to his classes about becoming an architect. Thrilled to share her love of architecture with students, Aelan jumped at the opportunity. She shared the stages of her life that influenced her eventual pursuit of architecture, why architecture inspires her, what it takes to become an architect, and some of the exciting projects she has worked on.

I grew up in my father’s wood working design school, Leeds Design Workshops, in Easthampton, MA. Watching my father draw sculptural pieces of furniture and then turn them into reality inspired me to want to do something similar.

While in high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a program called SITE (Students Involved in Their Education) in which students could pursue internships with local businesses to gain experience in the real world. I knew I wanted to do something creative, so I opened the phone book (yes, this was pre-internet days) and, starting with “A”, did an internship in “Advertising.”  This was followed by an internship in “Architecture.” Fortunately, I wasn’t destined to become a Zoologist. 

Architecture stuck, and I choose to pursue my new-found passion at Carnegie Mellon University.  While in college, I had an opportunity to study abroad in Rome and then spent the summer traveling through Europe. This eye opening experience led me to want to travel and learn more about the world. 

Like many recent graduates in 1992, I found myself entering a job market in recession and without many prospects, a moment similar to today.  In order to put my architecture skills to work while also seeing the world, I entered the Peace Corps and worked in West Africa as a Health and Community Development Volunteer.

Through my Peace Corps involvement, I was able to put my architectural skills to work, providing drawings for renovations of several buildings into the Peace Corps Guinea Offices and Volunteer Housing; renovations of a storage building into a Lepi D’Mali Woman’s Cooperative, a school for girls and women teaching traditional indigo dying as well as tailoring; 10 public latrines for the Mali Public Market; and volunteer hut housing for Peace Corps volunteers.

Since returning to the United States in 1994, I have been fortunate to work on variety of projects, including residential, commercial and educational projects. As I told the students in Mr. Green’s class, I love my job because Architecture influences every aspect of our lives: where we live, where we learn, where we go to work, where we play. Every project is an opportunity to learn about people and how the spaces around them can enhance their lives.

Aelan Tierney