Dossier: AIA Pittsburgh 2020 Board President, R. Joseph Chaffin, AIA

By Posted on February 11, 2020

Name: Ronald Joseph Chaffin, AIA
Firm: Michael Baker International
Family: Wife, Victoria + Sons, Pierce (21) & Noah (18), both Computer Science majors at Penn State University
Years in practice: 30 years
Education: University of Cincinnati + Ecole d’Art Americaines, Ecole des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau, France

Your first job: Significantly influencing my decision to attend architecture school, I was fortunate to have a summer job with Zando, Martin, & Milstead (ZMM) Architects/Engineers in Charleston, WV. Although the “job,” not internship, primarily consisted of running blue line prints, errands, and even weeding the parking lot, I was able to experience some hand-drafting and drawing skills. While still in high school, my relationship with ZMM was developed through a Boy Scouts of America Explorers Club that met weekly at their offices and introduced me to Architecture as a profession.

Project you’re proudest of: The Hudson Residence on Mt. Adams in Cincinnati, OH where I had the opportunity to design and meticulously detail the modern interior architecture of this house on an urban infill site overlooking the Ohio River valley below. The concept reinterpreted the row house plan type that comprises the neighborhood. Owing to its limited views rather than looking outward, this home chose to be inwardly focused.

What’s the most annoying thing architects do? They choose to not listen and perpetuate a form of aloofness and arrogance that plagues our profession.

Favorite tool (can be digital, drafting, physical,…): Don’t ever take my wood-handled drafting brush away. I still use it to dust my keyboard.

Favorite outdoor space: Phipps Conservatory, specifically the Japanese Courtyard Garden that evokes peaceful “found space” shaped by the metal and glass building forms.

Architect you’d like to have a conversation withCarlo Scarpa, a unique and under-appreciated 2oth century modernist who chose not to reject the past, but to re-interpret and transform it through sculptural form, space, and light with meticulous attention to detail and materiality. 

If you hadn’t become an architect, what would you have been? An Archaeologist. I’ve always been fascinated with history, culture, and the physical artifacts that continue to inform our present… or perhaps it was the G.I. Joe Land Adventurer “Archaeologist” toy set I received as a gift in the 1970’s, with “life-like hair and beard”.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where? Vienna, Austria

What’s on your iPhone/Apple Music? Five Finger Death Punch, plus my guilty “emo” pleasure, My Chemical Romance.

The secret to my success: Humility and balance… Never become so complacent to believe you’ve achieved success, always learn and challenge capabilities. Architecture, as well as life, is about balance. In balancing creative, organizational, and technical strengths, my professional experience has evolved into a broad practice of architecture from residential through complex institutional projects.

Advice to young architects: Architecture is a business. Admit your mistakes, learn from them and grow.

Architectural quote to practice by: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Comment Policy

3 Responses to Dossier: AIA Pittsburgh 2020 Board President, R. Joseph Chaffin, AIA

  1. Joe,

    Excellent review and responses. I am also a FFDP fan. We must get together and share notes on their latest concert.

    Keep up the good work at AIA.

  2. Did not know about Five Finger Death Punch. Of course, I really don’t know that much about Socrates, Luther, Emerson either.
    I do know about GI Joe. So, there’s that.
    The point is, I held you in high esteem before this profile and even more so afterwards. You command my respect, sir, and it is an honor to remain your colleague. (Do I sound aloof?)

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