Kyle Barker AIA
Founder, Primary Projects
As the BSA gets ready to celebrate the 2021 BSA Design Award winners, we are featuring profiles on individuals who served on the 2021 Design Award juries. The awards recognize remarkable achievements in architecture that serve as inspiration for practitioners, and elevate the potential for the positive impact that architecture has on our quality of life.
Barker is the 2021 recipient of the Rotch Travelling Scholarship. Applications for the 2022 Scholarship are due on January 14. Learn more and apply on the Rotch website.
Tell us about your path to architecture and how it has impacted your career.
I'm the first architect in my family, but I always had an innate drive for it. My mom’s a psychiatrist, and after having so many architects as patients, she wouldn't let me apply to architecture school! During my junior year of high school I took a career aptitude test and scored high for architecture and she changed her mind.
What are you working on now?
I’m passionate about housing outliers: cohousing, multi-generational housing, accessory dwelling units, and everything in between. In the US, development prioritizes the single-family house, which drives up the cost of homeownership, taxes the environment, contributes to loneliness, and limits choice. I founded Primary Projects to pursue my passion for creating housing models that address these contemporary challenges.
This year I’m teaching a section of the Master’s thesis sequence at Northeastern on cohousing (a type of housing where multiple households share resources: spaces, objects, time, energy, etc). I see cohousing as a path to affordability that decreases loneliness & overconsumption.
What interested you in becoming an awards juror?
I was interested in being an awards juror because I love small firms, I love design, and I love having the opportunity to discuss design with peers whom I admire.
What expertise are you excited to bring to this role?
Over my career, I’ve intentionally avoided specializing in a specific program, region, or design methodology. I think this broad experience with project types helps me to empathize with the unique challenges of each submission. I've also tried to stay sharp by founding my own practice, working at design-oriented firms, and teaching.
What do you think is the most important aspect of a successful project?
Telling the project's story, and ensuring that the project supports that story.
What does “design excellence” mean to you?
"Design excellence" can mean so many things! Anything I will write will over-constrain it.
Why do Design Awards matter?
I think design awards matter because they send a strong message about what we value. This has impact both within and beyond the discipline, and gives us something to aspire to.
If you could create any Design Awards category—realistic or fantastic—what would it be?
I'd love to see an awards category on business plans. I know it sounds dry, but I love when designers bring design thinking to the process of working!
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 won this past year's Rotch Travelling Scholarship. (Fifth time’s a charm!) The brief asked the finalists to design a data center on an abandoned dry dock in Boston's Seaport. My design used the waste heat of the data center's servers to power a range of civic programs that typically couldn't exist in Boston: a tropical greenhouse, a desert, an artificial geyser, a year-round Olympic pool, thermal baths, and more. My hope is that architects partner with allied disciplines to realize projects that make better use of "waste" outputs, without losing sight of delight.
How has design improved your daily life?
I feel incredibly privileged to work as a designer and I find it very fulfilling, so I'd say that's how it "improves my daily life."
What is the most effective step you’ve taken in your work toward a more sustainable built environment?
The biggest step I’ve taken is removing foam insulation from wall assemblies and replacing it with carbon-sequestering materials like straw. Croft—an earth-friendly panelized prefab company out of Rockland, Maine, that I met while working on a competition entry (see “Straw House'')—has taught me a lot!
What do you see as the largest barrier to equity in the profession? What are some solutions you'd like to see?
I think the largest barrier to equity is the expectation that young people need to work long hours for low pay and poor benefits.
What is your favorite Boston-area building or structure?
Favorites are impossible to choose, but I love the East Cambridge Fire Station by HMFH.
If you could collaborate with anyone in the profession, who would it be and why?
My answer for "who would I want to collaborate with in the profession" changes daily based on needs, but I'd sleep better having Christine Williamson of "Building Science Fight Club" on speed dial.
What architectural buzzword would you kill?
"Disruptive" and "thought-leadership."