Through our Then & Now Series in 2022, we’ve shared a lot about our firm’s iconic projects throughout our sixty years and a few of our prominent projects currently under design and construction. To wrap up our 60th Anniversary, we’re looking ahead to what the future of architecture might hold.
CambridgeSeven has always attracted the best and brightest and we wanted to hear from a few of them on what they envision for CambridgeSeven’s next 60 years. We gathered a group that represents both the newest team members and experienced, mid-career architects to gain insight on the ideas, inspiration and aspirations that could shape the future of the firm. The conversation also offered a great glimpse into just what makes our talent tick.
With an average staff tenure of over seven years, CambridgeSeven has a deep bench of seasoned designers to share their unique insights about how the industry has evolved and what they hope to see in our next 60 years. Below are Q&As with:
Alana Barnes – Designer
Exhibits; Mixed-use; Offices; Wayfinding
Jacob Bloom, LFA – Associate
Mixed-use; Exhibits; Hospitality; Sustainability
Sarah Caltabiano – Designer
Justin Crane, AIA – Associate Principal
Civic; Higher Education; Offices; Intensive renovations
Sumi Fasolo, AIA – Senior Associate
15 years at CambridgeSeven
Exhibits; Museums; Intensive renovations; Graphics
Anita Goharfar – Designer (seasonal intern)
Exhibits; Museums; Sustainability
Nicole Kleman, AIA – Associate
Exhibits; Digital media; Custom fabricated pieces
Kirsten Lawson, AIA – Senior Associate
Mixed-use; Interiors; Hospitality; Workplaces
Chris Muskopf, AIA – Associate Principal
Civic; Museums; Science and Lab spaces; Wayfinding
What do you think is CambridgeSeven’s strongest attribute going into the next 60 years?
- Nicole: Every organization, neighborhood and institution has a story that makes them uniquely wonderful. CambridgeSeven is founded on the idea that we bring our clients’ stories to life through design. By orchestrating the talents of architects, graphic designers, filmmakers, fabricators, lighting designers and more, we harness the power of everything from the scale of a glass facade to a sans serif font to convey stories with clarity and vitality. Our firm’s perpetual interest in new technologies, materials, and innovations will enable us to apply fresh ideas to future challenges, visions, and opportunities.
- Chris: Exercises in future prediction are always wrong, but still very fun. CambridgeSeven’s strongest attribute going for the future is the same as if we rewind the last 60 years. We like to gather different individuals inside the office and far-flung collaborators outside to act together around the pressing issues in the public realm with a goal of creating more generous, joyful spaces, so we can continue the process again. The dizzying mix of projects we have tackled (or been tackled by!) has given us a confidence that no problem is too far afield to consider or no story is too unique to tell. Combining generalist bravado with specialist technique is something that has made the office a place that can respond well to different projects, clients, and places.
- Sumi: CambridgeSeven’s multidisciplinary approach to architecture has been a strong attribute for the past 60 years. We have a unique mix of experts in architecture, technical details, sustainability, exhibits, graphics, aquariums and interiors. Maintaining and strengthening this blend of knowledge will continue to drive our success for the next 60 years!
Have you noticed a change in client expectations over the past few years? Or do you anticipate their values evolving as more people embrace flexibility, equity, the sharing economy, and environmental action?
- Justin: Client expectations have already evolved to embrace environmental responsibility and the goals of equity and diversity. My hope is that clients will take an increasingly broad perspective by asking about material origins and carbon footprints, and by choosing products with certifiably ethical supply chains.
- Jacob: We’ve definitely seen more clients looking to improve the environmental impact of their projects, and clients’ sustainability requirements are about to expand rapidly. The market is shifting; more than three quarters of consumers are now taking sustainability into account when making purchases. The incredible growth that’s occurred for electric vehicles over the past few years is going to transition into the built environment as people expect that same level of environmental commitment from the buildings in which they live, work, play and learn.
- Kirsten: With the breakdown of barriers, I think people, in general, have become more humanized, recognizing physical and mental health as a top priority and demonstrating more compassion towards each other. In client relationships specifically, the curtain has been pulled back, so to speak, affording them a glimpse into the inner workings of our profession, whereas before this may have been more of a mystery. Though I think expectations for quality of the end-product have remained largely intact, the path to get there has become more fluid and informed by shifting societal values.
Are there any innovations in the design and construction process that you think are changing how we deliver projects?
- Chris: The profession is blessed (and cursed) with so much information now that was difficult to obtain even a few years ago. A positive example of this is growing material transparency, supply chain awareness and better understanding the cost/benefit to the communities who produce, provide and live with the things we make in our process. In a surprising way, this greater awareness returns the role of designer back to a mediator between physical stuff and ephemeral ideas that has a profound impact on daily lives.
- Sumi: In exhibit design, we work with exhibit fabricators who use digital fabrication methods to print custom graphics, cut intricate shapes and form complex geometries out of a variety of materials. Not too long ago, a lot of these fabrication methods were on the cutting-edge and difficult to pull off efficiently. Today, there are more accessible technologies, software, and machinery that open up new creative design opportunities and efficiencies in production without breaking the budget. We can achieve more with less time and expense than we could a decade ago.
How do you imagine workplaces will change going forward regarding hybrid and remote work, travel, and collaboration among team members?
- Justin: To convince employees to go back to the office, workplaces will have to take inspiration from other project types such as hospitality and residential. They’ll need to provide informal meeting spaces – which were sorely missed during the pandemic – and amenities such as cafes, fitness studios, and outdoor space; and programming that will make them not only a place to do business but also a place where employees wantto be. Spaces will be fit out to allow for flexible, hybrid work – accommodating robust audio-visual systems for virtual meetings and presentations, mobile technology that travels with employees, acoustic privacy design elements, and flexible furniture arrangements. Finally, wellness will be at the center of all design decisions with an emphasis on daylight, fresh air, and natural materials.
- Nicole: I think hybrid work has allowed us to combine the best of both individual focus and collaborative conversations. When individuals can work independently to focus deeply on a problem and then come together to directly share thoughts and insights in a relatively egalitarian space (where everyone [metaphorically] holds a pen and trace paper), the process moves forward more efficiently. I think this rhythm of structured solo work and free-flowing group work that hybrid schedules afford us is almost like our designs breathing in and out. I hope we all continue to do it!
- Kirsten: For better or worse, the boundary between work life and personal life has been blurred due to the events of recent times. This means that workplaces have had to become far more nimble in terms of their ability to create policy that accommodates a broad range of lifestyles. I believe that companies are still in the process of assessing what their “new normal” looks like and suspect that many will never go back to a fully in-office expectation, but my hope for the future is that individuals continue to be supported in their endeavor to strike a better balance among all aspects of their lives.
What new trends or practices do you hope to see in the future of architecture?
- Jacob: I hope that as sustainability becomes more prevalent in architectural design, we’re able to keep sight of the big picture. There are so many issues to address – greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts, deforestation, unethical working conditions, and more – that it’s easy to get siloed into thinking about how to solve just one problem. To find truly sustainable solutions, we need to think about the whole system and how everything is interconnected. How can addressing one element benefit the entire system? Those are the solutions we need.
- Chris: Similar to understanding the lineage of materials, a more sensitive focus on how individual projects interact with regional economies and environments is a topic that presents a great upside. And this is more than “rooting for the home team” style localism but is an approach that gets at the unique assets, be they climate, community, materials, stories, histories and aspirations make a place completely special among other regional or global locations. I have always been struck by how people rally around and identify with these themes, whether it is hard-won oceangoing knowledge of coastal communities or the entrepreneurial convergence of talent for biomedical discovery or a love of a quirky statistic around the local sports team, everyone has a reason why place, purpose and project really matter.
- Sumi: Behind the grand architecture, exciting exhibits, and beautiful interiors are the people who collaborate in the design process. I think a design team’s values are reflected in its final product. So, I hope to see more diversity in the next generation of architects so that we can create more diverse and inclusive environments that benefit broader audiences.
What types of projects have you been able to work on at CambridgeSeven?
- Anita: I’ve had the opportunity to work on a plethora of projects at CambridgeSeven. My primary project has been a hall of fame where I’ve been part of a team of architects and AV designers working to bring our client’s vision of a joyful and engaging space to life. I have [also] worked on an outdoor shading structure that builds on the themes of aquatic and animal life in New Orleans, contributed to various exhibits at an insectarium, been a part of the competition team for an aquarium, and taken part in the design of a pavilion for COP27.
- Sarah: I have been able to work on a wide range of projects: sports exhibits, a large-scale academic project, a maritime museum, and a children’s S.T.E.M. space. From precedent images to laser cutting files for a physical model, and from concept design diagrams to construction administration documents, I have been able to experience many different phases of the design process.
- Alana: There have been several different project types in my career at CambridgeSeven so far: residential, civic, exhibits, hospitality; I’ve also been able to work on various project proposals, which involves a different set of tasks.
Is there anything that has surprised you about working in the field?
- Sarah: One of the things I have found the most compelling while at CambridgeSeven is the field of exhibit design within architecture. I did not realize its necessity and impact on aquarium, civic, and museum projects. It is a fascinating combination of interior architecture, fabrication, graphic design, and cultural influences. To be an informed architect, you need to have an eye for exhibit design, and to be a skilled exhibit designer, you need architecture skills.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while working so far?
- Anita: Coming from a previous experience of solely working on multi-family residential, my biggest challenge has been translating the very logical approach to housing into the more fluid and experiential quality of exhibits. I’ve tackled this by pushing the bounds of my design abilities, especially technical ones, to explore fluidity and formal expression. I have also embraced my passion for inclusive and accessible design, implementing these concepts into the immersivity of exhibits.
- Alana: The toughest part about my career thus far has been wrestling with the constant flux of my to-do list. Each day feels like a new experience and I regularly expect assignments that I don’t know how to address one-hundred percent of the time. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by incredible mentors at CambridgeSeven who have all been in my shoes and are always willing to help and answer questions I have.
- Sarah: The biggest challenge I have faced so far is the daily prioritization of tasks to meet goals, [unlike] in architecture school [where] each design studio focuses on one project at a time. When I entered the field, I quickly realized that the ability to decipher which tasks to prioritize daily allows me to meet deadlines and maintain my involvement in multiple projects. This was a skill that took practice and adjustment, but has served as an opportunity to gain new strengths as a designer.
Is there a part of architecture that you enjoy the most or are excited to learn more about in the future?
- Sarah: Architecture has always been gratifying to me when it is dynamic, collaborative, and makes lasting visual impact for clients. I love that CambridgeSeven encourages this. Every day I look forward to arranging components of a project while collaborating with coworkers and clients. Visually arranging objects has been a passion of mine since I was in elementary school!
What kinds of projects do you hope to work on in the future?
- Anita: I hope to continue expanding my experience with exhibit projects and delve deeper into spaces that celebrate and commemorate various sports, people, and experiences. I have also always been fascinated by temporal projects such as exhibitions, shows, and theater. Designing for performative and time-based events is something I would like to explore in the future.
- Alana: I hope to work on larger high-end residential and hospitality projects. I would love to be on a larger project during the construction phase – it is an invaluable experience to witness your project’s drawings come to life and to understand why we do things the way we do. It will also be interesting to see how these project types will continue to change in the face of new sustainability codes and health consciousness in a post-COVID era.
Is there a place in the world where you’d love to design a project?
- Anita: Last Spring, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Spain, where I was exposed to the various cultural and architectural influences of Europe and the Islamic world. As an Iranian American, I would love to draw from my own experiences of growing up in different cultures and reflect on my time spent exploring Spain to design projects in places where there is a rich confluence of people and customs.
- Alana: I would love to design a project in many locations, but I’m specifically interested in the built structures of extreme environments. Places like Chile, Hawaii, Japan, and India. For example, when I think about how deserts are becoming a more common site for large developments, it raises the thought that specializing in extreme conditions as architects will become invaluable for us to increase the resiliency of our built environments.
Sarah Caltabiano is our most recent hire who interned with us in 2019 and 2021. She graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2022 before starting full-time with us in August. Sarah is passionate about interior architecture and exhibit design, which she hopes to continue to pursue.
Anita Goharfar is originally from Iran and is currently completing her Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree at Northeastern University. She’s been a seasonal intern with our office for the past six months and is excited to finish her studies in the Spring.
Alana Barnes has been with CambridgeSeven for nearly four years now and just earned her Masters Degree at the BAC (Boston Architectural College) and will soon start her AREs (Architectural Registration Exams).