Justin Fuller Crane FAIA
AB, Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University
Civic architecture, urban design, community engagement, professional ethics
Stay involved, stay curious, and stay in touch. Much of the inspiration for my projects has come from those who are not architects—schoolteachers, performance artists, material scientists, or marine biologists. Staying curious about professions and interests other than my own has brought me fresh perspectives resulting in work that responds to others’ needs and hopes.
My family, my colleagues at CambridgeSeven, and those with whom I’ve volunteered at the AIA, BSA, and Common Boston have all been important. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Hubert Murray FAIA, who’s been a mentor at every step of my career—from his studio at MIT to my first job out of school at Hubert Murray Architect + Planner to his hosting some of the first Common Boston meetings in his studio to his guiding my application for Fellowship.
I think Samuel Mockbee FAIA deserves even more mention than he gets today. He’s not primarily known for his sketches, but they’re exquisite. And, probably more important, his Rural Studio at Auburn University familiarized a lot of students from my generation with doing work in places and for people who otherwise would have no access to architects.
I had the opportunity to visit some of his projects at Mason’s Bend, a small informal settlement in the Alabama countryside, following a trip that required our finding roads that were literally off the map, including a mud road through a Christmas-tree farm. When we arrived, we could feel the sense of community as well as its connection to students who were onsite building a new project—turning everyday, found materials into sublime and well-crafted spaces.
I just completed the Foundry Building for the City of Cambridge and Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. It’s a one-of-a-kind, publicly owned civic space for the arts, in which office spaces on the upper floors subsidize makerspaces, galleries, and performing arts spaces on the ground floor—all looking onto a community hall open to the public. Every time I visit the building, I see an unexpected mix of activities—marmalade-making classes, Chinese story time, hip-hop dance classes, deejaying tutorials, sewing classes, drumming demonstrations, and community-theater productions. We’re also completing the design of 26 Court Street for the City of Boston. The gut renovation will create new offices for City of Boston departments, as well as a new universally accessible front plaza, welcoming lobby, and ground-floor gallery that make the provision of public services easier, friendlier, and more equitable.
What I hope to contribute is work demonstrating that good art and design are fundamental to society; that well-crafted civic architecture can be both inspiring and transformative by welcoming people from a variety of backgrounds and by creating shared experiences of pride in place that in turn will help contribute to real change and generate equitable opportunities.
Have you won any award(s) from the BSA or another establishment? What elements from that project would you like to see shape the future of the profession?
I was recently awarded Fellowship in the AIA. I received it for contributions to the profession, including as chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. During my tenure on the National Ethics Council, we started educating ourselves on the emerging question of how the materials we specify are sourced. We also passed rules requiring that architects consider with their clients the environmental effects of their projects, as well as making it unethical to design places of execution and torture (think solitary confinement). We’re living in an age where we can design and build anything—the challenge now is to consider what and why we are building.
Equity means equal access to good design for everyone. This starts with design education through our public schools, affordable options for those pursuing professional architecture degrees, and programs that will educate communities and inspire advocacy for good design in all neighborhoods. It also means we should be putting our best effort into the public components of our buildings—façades, streetfronts, entrances, lobbies—to make the experience and quality of spaces the same for everyone; for example, the Foundry’s Community Hall provides a shared experience for both the neighbors who use the public art spaces as well as the tech-company tenants with offices on the upper levels.
Compensation is the largest barrier to equity. The profession is simply not as lucrative as others, but architects come out of undergraduate or graduate programs with loans just as burdensome as those of graduates entering better-paying careers. Until we can right the balance between the cost of education and the value that society places on our profession, it will remain a field for those born with some degree of financial comfort.
What are some changes that you have implemented in your firm (or for yourself) to address issues of equity in your profession?
I started and continue to be active in CambridgeSeven’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion Committee, through which we’ve spearheaded several initiatives. These have included companywide conversations, talks with special guests such as [architectural designer and researcher] Larry Sass, a partnership last summer with Digital Ready, and the receipt of our Just label. More recently, I’ve been advocating for more attention to specifying ethically sourced materials through the Design for Freedom Toolkit, product research, and the addition of labels within our material library for products made without forced labor.
What is the most effective step you’ve taken in your work toward a more sustainable built environment?
My recent work has focused on renovations—reusing materials, tracking embodied carbon, and restoring significant historical structures—including at the Foundry Building and 26 Court Street. At CambridgeSeven, we are taking the initiative to educate our clients about the benefits of increasing the environmental goals for our projects— resulting in two projects now pursuing Passive House certification.
At CambridgeSeven, we design a lot of aquariums, with renewed attention on the humanely designed habitats that accommodate the diversity of intelligence among marine life. We’re now also looking outside the building to how we create architecture that accommodates wildlife and existing ecosystems. Seattle’s new seawall, into which have been designed habitat enhancements that restore salmon migration and improve ecosystem productivity, is one source of inspiration for Boston as we rethink how our waterfront is designed for a changing climate and an environment that will be increasingly hostile to wildlife.
Architecture can and should be a point of pride for neighborhoods—and one of the most effective ways to make this happen is to provide neighbors with a transformative vision for a neglected property. The Foundry was formerly a factory, taxi barn, and spec office building, but its current iteration was developed together with the East Cambridge neighborhood and the city’s arts community, through engagement led by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority and the City of Cambridge. A service road became a pedestrian-friendly shared street; a decrepit façade was restored to its original symmetry and incorporates a new metal-origami entrance; and floors inserted in the 1980s were removed to create the publicly accessible Community Hall.
Experts who are pushing the boundaries of their own fields. Working with marine biologists at the New England Aquarium was especially eye-opening, as we were asking questions that hadn’t been answered before: How would a shark react to a small electric current used to prevent the corrosion of rebar in concrete? or What kind of coatings are safe for application around humans, birds, fishes, and mollusks?
I’m getting a little tired of architectural elements that dance—especially when they’re doing a delicate dance.
Rachel Carson’s Sea trilogy.
Asphalt—it’s ubiquitous, it’s ugly, it’s hot, and it’s noxious.
I’d like to see more inspired designs of “5 over 1” buildings. These buildings are defining early-21st-century development and should demonstrate the creativity, care, and distinct talent of Boston architects.