Kelly Hayes McAlonie, AIA, LEED AP, is interim associate vice provost of the University of Buffalo’s Capital Planning Group and immediate past president of AIA New York State. Hayes McAlonie co-curated an exhibit about Bethune’s life and prolific career that opened in 2011 at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. She and colleague Despina Stratigakos collaborated with Mattel on the design and launch of Barbie I Can Be…Architect.
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?
I wanted to be an architect for as long as I can remember. My father is an engineer in an architecture firm and, therefore, I was exposed to the process from a very early age. My mother encouraged my interest from the start as well. However, despite my interest I was quite ill-prepared for architectural education when I was admitted to the program. I did not understand the design process and felt out of my depth during the first year. I eventually caught up and I give thanks every day for my architectural education.
That initial feeling of inadequacy and lack of design acumen had a direct impact on the thrust of my career. I wanted to use my newly acquired skills to teach the public about the importance of design and architecture. I started out with an interest in the design of children’s environments, which was followed by educational design in primary and secondary education and finally, higher education. The focus of my volunteer work has been encouraging design literacy to the general public. In 1999, I founded the Architecture+Education program in Buffalo, which brings architects into the classroom to teach grade school children design principles. That program still continues under new leadership, Linsey Graff, Vice President of the Buffalo Architecture Foundation, which makes me very proud. When I served on the AIA New York State Board of Directors, I initiated a few programs including the Every Building Has An Architect postcard campaign and the Excelsior Design Awards, promoting design excellence in New York State funded architecture. Additionally, my work on the Architect Barbie project and research on Louise Blanchard Bethune are, at their core, an attempt to bring the work of architects to the public.
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 don’t see architecture as having a separate culture. I feel that architecture is a fundamental aspect of our 21st-century culture. Karl Lagerfeld once wrote that architecture is the most important art form of this century and I agree. As such, I encourage architects to not see themselves as separate from our culture but as fundamental contributors to society. My hope is that the general public will gain a great understanding of the importance of design in the built environment and that architects will play a more significant role in shaping the building environment of the future. This would go beyond architecture design and into urban planning and legislative issues that shape our environment.
Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?
Learn your architectural history and learn to draw. It is a skill you go back to time and time again. Also, I faithfully cling to the naive notion that architecture can change the world. I organized the symposium “Building Talent: Women, Patronage, and Mentoring” in Buffalo for the University at Buffalo Gender Institute in October 2013. At that symposium, guest speaker Beverly Willis lamented that architects today do not have aspirations to do something big. I’m thrilled to be in the same company as Beverly in this regard.
Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?
I have two favorite places and they are polar opposites. The first is my hometown of Brigus, Newfoundland, Canada. It is the most perfect village I know. It is nestled on the coast and flanked by protective hills. The winding 400-year old streets are defined by stonewalls and vernacular saltbox houses. The American painter Rockwell Kent lived in Brigus during World War I. Brigus is my place.
My other favorite place is Rome. I don’t know why but whenever I travel in the back of my mind I am always thinking, I could be in Rome right now.