Dossier: AIA Pittsburgh Board Member Patricia Culley, AIA

"Intuition can generate very powerful architecture."

By Posted on January 8, 2020

Name: Patricia Culley, AIA
Firm: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Family: Husband Peter and three children
Years in practice: 15 years
Education: Carnegie Mellon University

Your first job: Muralist – during school I worked as a teaching assistant for CMU drawing professor and muralist Douglas Cooper. After graduation, I continued work with Cooper on a series of panoramic mural projects, including for the Seattle King County Courthouse and the University of Rome. Cooper’s work manipulates techniques of perspectival drawing to create visual stories from history and memory.

Project you’re proudest of: Eighth-grade classroom.  I am currently working on a small classroom project for the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh. Modest in its budget, yet ambitious in its performance requirements, this project will be one of the first to achieve the new CORE Certification through the International Living Future Institute. Through its siting, materiality, and design detailing, this project hopes to be a beacon for learning and growth within the Waldorf community.

Favorite tool (can be digital, drafting, physical,…): Intuition.  There is an interesting article by Michael Hendrix about designing with metaphors, asserting that intuition, built upon universal experiences and human truths, can be your best design tool. The article describes “embodied cognition: the theory that our societies, behaviors, and preferences are rooted in physical experience… that our five senses affect the way we understand and create our world”. Intuition can generate very powerful architecture.

Favorite outdoor space: McConnells Mill State Park – located an hour north of Pittsburgh, this park features a deep scenic gorge and meandering creek, with forested hiking and biking trails. It is very a unique natural setting for Western PA, and one that I enjoy visiting time and again through all the seasons.

Architect you’d like to have a conversation with: Shigeru Ban – Ban is well known for his work in Humanitarian Architecture, designing temporary dwellings of paper and cardboard for survivors of natural disasters. He has done this work in many countries including India, Nepal, China, and Japan. Humanitarian Architecture is a mechanism to achieve positive change for communities in need.

Best gift to give an architect: travel and communication – traveling around the world can provide incredible perspective, helping to shape the architect’s vision in creating spaces for people. However, that perspective cannot be achieved solely by looking at buildings of different cultures, it also needs to be achieved through talking and communicating with people of different cultures.

If you hadn’t become an architect, what would you have been? Architectural practice challenges your intellect, intuition, creativity, and tactile sensibility. I have wanted to become an architect from a very early age; how can one pass up such a medium for creativity. If pressed, I would consider food, on a micro-scale, as the alternative medium I regularly use to express and challenge my intellect, intuition, creativity, and tactile sensibility. Stop by for brunch and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s on your Pandora? Amy Winehouse and Willie Nelson.

The secret to my success: Balance – the practice of Architecture is notorious for being high-stress. I am very fortunate to have balance in my life, both within my physical environment and within my personal interactions. My rural home-life allows for a mental reprieve from the daily stresses of practice while providing endless opportunity for physical exertion. More so, however, my family provides an invaluable balance to my work and ambitions as a full-time practitioner.

Advice to young architects: Design opportunity is in everything that we do.

Architectural quote to practice by: “Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.” Frank Gehry.

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