Feature: Heidi Blau, FAIA, Makes a Place

Heidi Blau, FAIA. Photo Credit: FXFOWLE

Heidi Blau, FAIA. Photo Credit: FXFOWLE

Heidi Blau, FAIA, LEED, is Partner at FXFOWLE, an architectural, interior design, planning, and urban design firm committed to design excellence, social responsibility, and sustainability. With over 25 years of experience, Ms. Blau provides insightful program development, project management, and attentive design direction for educational, cultural, and municipal projects as a leader of the Interiors/Cultural/Educational Studio. Ms. Blau was elevated to FAIA in 2013 in the category of ‘Practice.’

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?

What attracted me to architecture was the idea that it is a profession that stands at the intersection of art, science and human behavior.  These were all interests of mine when I was young, but no one discipline was my calling.  Together they create a world of possibilities and opportunities for me.  I have had many mentors throughout my career, the first one was a high school English teacher whose husband was an architect.  She was emphatic that I should go to a four-year liberal arts college before pursuing a professional degree in Architecture.  I am forever grateful to her for this sound advice.  Learning to think for oneself, question assumptions and reason through problems is a wonderful foundation for an architect.

Working in a 4-person office when I finished architecture school was another terrific opportunity to learn more about my chosen profession beyond design.  In addition to drawing alongside the two partners, I met with clients, read through contracts, learned about writing specifications and visited the construction site. It opened my eyes to the multi-faceted nature of the profession and the need for  a depth of knowledge of many things simultaneously.

My next stop was with a larger firm that focused on educational projects. The first time I worked on a school expansion project I was hooked.  The opportunity to create environments that allow people to expand their horizons, grow as individuals, challenge norms, and contribute to the civic society had such resonance for me that it has been the core of my practice for over 25 years.

Museum of the Built Environment lobby. Photo Credit: David Sundberg/ESTO.

Museum of the Built Environment lobby. Image: FXFOWLE.

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?

The architecture culture grows out of the school design studio, an environment that encourages exploration of ideas, requires high energy and is a place of open dialogue. I think there are a lot of benefits to the collaborative and competitive culture of the profession but at the same time I am a firm believer in the value of spending time with family and friends, enjoying the cultural and educational assets of New York City and having multiple outlets for one’s passions and creativity.  Yes there should be life outside the office!

I hope that in the future we find ways to develop buildings and cities without depleting our natural resources.  We have to create places and spaces that are humane, inspiring and healthful if we are going to evolve and remain viable on earth.

Central European University gathering space. Photo Credit: David Sundberg/ESTO.

Central European University gathering space. Image: FXFOWLE.

I also hope we find a way to create active communities, and not augmented realities.  Technology and global interconnectivity has allowed us to communicate across vast distances but it has eliminated our ability to understand the nuances of communication that come through direct interactions. I need to create environments where this kind of interpersonal communication can happen, and I believe we greatly benefit from this collective experience as individuals and as a society.

Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?

Brooklyn College Library media center. Photo Credit: David Sundberg/ESTO.

Brooklyn College Library media center. Photo Credit: David Sundberg/ESTO.

Architecture and the related fields are full of opportunities but it is not for those that need instant gratification.  Creating buildings and cities are long term investments that require an enduring commitment of energy and passion.  So my advice is to make sure you are passionate about the career path you choose; understand your strengths and shape your career to capitalize on them. There are many different facets to architecture and the related fields of product design, furniture design, industrial design, engineering, and construction.  Figure out what you truly enjoy and follow that path.  Learn from others, seek out those who are doing what you want to do and ask for their help in achieving your own goals. Architecture is a complex pursuit and there are always mentors along the way who can help you learn, grow and become the best you can be.

Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?

I love Barcelona, the food, the energy, the beach, the cohesion of the city fabric that allows historic, modern and contemporary architecture to work play off of and complement each other. Seeing Gaudi’s work in person was completely unexpected.  From all the photographs, I never understood that his work was about volumetric and spatial definition not surface treatment.

I also think the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA by Louis Kahn is a spectacular, inspiring place. The simplicity of natural and man-made materials, the relationship of exterior and interior spaces, the quality and modulation of light, the monumentality and the concern for the human scale, are forever etched in my mind.

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