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Profile: Philip Chen AIA

Name: Philip Chen AIA
Job title and company: Principal, Ann Beha Architects
Degree(s): BED (Bachelor of Environmental Design), Texas A&M University; MArch, Harvard Graduate School of Design

What are you working on now?
I have some academic projects on the East Coast and in the Midwest and two projects in Washington, DC. Ann Beha Architects (ABA) is about to open a new 250-bed student residence and campus retail and mail center at Bates College, and construction is beginning for a Student Learning Center at Springfield Technical Community College that will transform an incredible 767-foot-long by 55-foot-wide Civil War-era building. One of my DC projects is actually located in Athens, Greece: the rehabilitation of Athens Chancery by Walter Gropius and expansion of the US Embassy for the Department of State.

How do (or how did you) you explain to your mom what you do for a living?
My mom doesn’t really grasp what I do for a living, but she’s certain I should get more sleep.

What architectural buzzword would you kill?
Two words: open plan.


Above: Philip Chen is working with the Smithsonian Institution on a Master Plan for the National Museum of American History.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?
If your work is going to be about ideas and creativity, then it’s the exchange and synthesis of perspectives, concepts, and opinions that result in great solutions. I’ve often thought that the best part about working on teams is that I don’t always get what I want.

What are you reading?
Mostly my phone.

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?
Both—I sketch by hand when I’m trying out ideas, and I go to the computer when I want to see how the ideas might look (but I still use my hands).

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
Growing up in Texas, I never expected to set up my career in Boston. But being here has given me the chance to work for top clients around the world.


Above: University of Chicago, Saieh Hall for Economics

Where is the field of architecture headed?
We’ve all seen a great deal of consolidation in the industry, with mergers and acquisitions creating large, multidiscipline and multilocation firms; but there is still plenty of opportunity for small and medium-sized firms to innovate and be entrepreneurial.

Can design save the world?
Design has the power to shape the environment and world, even at the scale of the individual. So if we believe that every individual’s environment is important, then every project we do has the chance to positively impact—and maybe even save—someone’s world.

What do you hope to contribute from your work?
I think many people become architects to make a positive contribution to the world that is bigger than us and outlives us. For me, that contribution could be a building, a relationship between people, or an idea.


Above: New Student Learning Center at Springfield Technical Community College

Who or what deserves credit for your success?
One of my biggest successes is having the chance to work on such exciting projects with such talented colleagues and clients, so they get the credit and my gratitude. And I thank my wife for enabling me to do everything I do.

Your least favorite college class?
Doing poorly in my mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems class has given me so much respect for the talented consultants I get to work with!

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?
In 10 years, you’ll be too slow and sleepy to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Do it now!


Above: ABA is designing the rehabilitation and expansion of the Embassy of the United States in Athens for the US Department of State.

Your favorite Boston-area structure?
Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.

Who would you like the BSA to interview next?
Brian P. Golden, director of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), or David Ortiz.

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?
“Stay tuned: following Philip Chen, David ‘Big Papi’ Ortiz!”

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Don’t mess with Texas.

Headshot courtesy of Peter Vanderwarker.