Angela O’Byrne, FAIA, LEED-AP BD+C is President of Perez, APC, an architecture, engineering and construction firm headquartered in New Orleans; and Past President of AIA New Orleans for 2005. After Hurricane Katrina, she founded CityWorks, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, that is dedicated to transforming New Orleans into a model city for the nation. Ms. O’Byrne was elevated to FAIA in 2013 in the category of ‘Service to Society.’
Beginnings – What attracted you to architecture and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience, or mentor, that helped steer you toward this field?
As a child, I admired my uncle, who was an architect in Cali, Colombia. I enjoyed going to his office and seeing his work. I also loved to draw and paint, and took art classes on Saturdays, in addition to art in school. My best friend’s mother was a commercially successful fine artist, and she chose the classes for us. My best friend from my childhood also became an architect, and I was 2 years behind him at the same architecture school—Tulane University. He works for Peter Marino in the Philadelphia office. Architecture seemed like a natural fit, because design is a creative and artistic process. I also studied fashion design in high school, and during the summers, I would design and make all of my clothing; some of my 3 sisters’ & mother’s clothing; and later my children’s clothing, including costumes for school plays, Halloween, and Mardi Gras.
What does “architecture culture” signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to, and/or changing, this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?
I think that architects are in a unique position to influence the built environment for the better, especially as communities evolve, and the buildings we design affect urban design and urban planning. My hopes and dreams are that architects will lead the world in achieving net-zero, carbon neutral status for all of our communities; addressing climate change, energy needs, and making our communities more sustainable and resilient, more disaster-proof and recession-proof. I think that architecture and city planning influence economic development, and vice versa.
Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?
Although architecture can be a very difficult field, it is wonderful. Only do it if you love it, and know that you can’t be happy doing anything else. Sometimes I feel like the architect is the last person that clients listen to, because the whole world is so focused on quick short-term rewards. However, we have a responsibility to keep fighting for the right thing, which is smart growth, and higher density on higher ground.
Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?
I have so many favorites, I am not sure I can choose just one. I have enjoyed my travels throughout Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, and many countries in Europe, North and South America. But right now, I am in love with New Orleans, and all the possibilities that are manifesting here, because of the dozen hurricanes in the last 10 years, the changes in the economy, the many young people coming to make a difference here, and the authenticity of the local culture, which is so rich. Possibly, my favorite place in New Orleans is Jackson Square, a beautiful urban space surrounded by St. Louis Cathedral, the Pontalba Apartment Buildings, and the Mississippi River—the place of New Orleans’ founding—historic, beautiful, high ground, and full of life. The architecture and the open space invite life to the Square.