Ali Horwitz AIA, NOMA
BA, Occidental College; March, Northeastern University
Professional or personal website:
Community-driven design, education design
When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?
I didn’t consider architecture as a career until halfway through undergrad, but it is a perfect intersection of my love for art and problem solving.
Who or what deserves credit for your success?
I am fortunate and privileged to have had many opportunities and supporters in my life. I come from a family that values higher education but was never prescriptive in the path I needed to take. Going to a liberal arts college without a set career in mind allowed me to have a true joy for learning and keep an open mind as I later entered the field of architecture.
Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
My career took me to the unexpected position of president of the Boston chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (BosNOMA) from 2021 to 2022. It was not a position I would’ve expected to find myself in a few years prior, but the experience was incredibly rewarding. The past few years have been challenging for most of us, and BosNOMA was, and continues to be, one of the things that kept me moving forward and gave me hope. I am proud of the momentum our chapter has built through the uncertainty of the pandemic and how our members continue to work toward a more equitable future.
Which one of your current projects excites you the most?
A few recent projects are very exciting to me. I was part of the design team for Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology’s new building as the company moves to Roxbury’s Nubian Square. The building itself was a fun and inspiring challenge, but more exciting to me is the community asset the school has the potential to become. Franklin Cummings Tech offers affordable education in technical fields. The new building will provide the space to truly support the school’s program, while the new location will improve visibility and access for the school.
I am also currently working on a renovation project for African Community Education (ACE), a nonprofit in Worcester that provides a range of support services to African immigrants and refugees. It is a challenging project due to many constraints, but I enjoy the puzzle of giving a complicated building a new life. It is exciting to participate in a project that will facilitate the work of an organization that contributes so much to its community.
What do you hope to contribute from your work?
In any work that I do, I hope to create a positive impact. As I move forward in my career, I do so with the intention of making the way easier for all who come after me. When doors are open to me and I’m given the opportunity to be in certain spaces that are not accessible to all, it is my responsibility to hold those doors open.
Architecture has the potential to build a better future if it is community focused. I hope that the projects I design will benefit the communities in which they are built. Ultimately, I believe architects are translators. It is our role to understand the needs of a community and translate those needs into spaces that help them be successful.
What do you see as the largest barrier to equity in your profession?
Unfortunately, there are many barriers to equity in our profession. It is hard to point to one as the largest, but representation and visibility as well as time and financial burdens continuously stifle the profession for women and people of color.
Tell us about your path to architecture and how it has impacted your career.
My path to architecture was not linear. In undergrad, I majored in Chinese and Japanese language and minored in critical theory and social justice. After graduating, I spent a year living abroad in Taiwan. When I returned, I spent several years working as a server, bartender, and caterer and even worked in an accounting firm for a few tax seasons before going back to school to get my Master of Architecture. Having this amount of time to explore and travel broadened my way of thinking and gave me a new perspective on how I fit into different spaces. I aim to use this perspective and privilege to challenge systems in our profession and make space for others with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
What do you see as the largest barrier to a zero-waste building, city, and world?
Inertia. There is a wealth of technology and knowledge available to move us toward a zero-waste future if we collectively recognize the necessity of change.
What is the greatest potential for architecture to shape a neighborhood community?
Architecture has the potential to shape a neighborhood community in a positive way if the existing context and community are considered throughout the design. So often we see buildings demolished and people displaced for projects that remake the fabric of a community rather than enriching what is already there.
What would you like to see change about Boston’s built environment?
Housing. I would like to see more affordable housing in a city that is becoming increasingly inaccessible. As we continue to see news of office buildings remaining vacant in the city, I would like to see more of an effort to adapt these buildings to housing and community uses rather than the push for workers to return to the office.