Skip to content


May 05, 2022

Nathalie Beauvais AIA

Nathalie Beauvais icon

Planning Resiliency Lead, HDR

Professional interests:

Climate change, achieving net zero, equity, and biodiversity

When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?

As a kid, I played with wood blocks to create cities. I integrated pieces from Meccano for bridges, Tonka trucks, and Playmobile people to make them complete. This was the beginning of the integrated planning that I am doing now. I did not think of architecture as a career, as I didn’t know anyone related to the profession. In high school, I did an orientation test, and the counselor told me that my profile was leading to a profession between aesthetic and technical expertise. The closest match was plastic surgery, but as I did not have the grades, I was advised to consider architecture and to try arts class! I registered for drafting classes at the Quebec Arts Museum, discovered that I had an affinity for it, applied to architecture school, and started my career.

How do (or how did) you explain to your parents what you do for a living?

When I first started my career as an architect, it was easy to explain I was designing buildings. After I got my master’s in urban design, I started doing roads. Now, since most of my work is focusing on climate change, I just tell them I am saving the world.

If you could give the you of 10 years ago advice, what would it be?

To be more entrepreneurial and have more confidence in myself. I wish I had started my own firm, but I was afraid of taking that risk. I have great admiration for the many women architects and designers who have started their own firm and are using the platform for transformative approaches to the profession.  

Who do you think is the most underappreciated architect and why?

I think that architects’ collaborative work is most underappreciated. In architecture, there is a cult of the architect as the ultimate designer. However, the reality is that it takes a whole group for a project to happen. Working on the BSA initiative for refugee children, we design playgrounds as a collaborative. Our group won a National AIA award for collaborative design, but on the form, you needed to name one individual. This is not unique to our small group, and Francis Kéré said it well when he received the Pritzker prize: “This is not just a prize for myself. Without having the courage to go back home, and to get my people to join me on the journey to build the school that (launched) my career, this would never have been possible.”

What is your favorite Boston-area building or structure?

Copley Place is one of my favorite places, as it is a void or a pause in the urban fabric framed by Boston’s unique mix of architectural history including Richardson Trinity Church, the McKim, Mead & White Public Library and the Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners John Hancock Tower.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

Absolutely. I worked on road design, sustainability master plans, and am now working on flooding and heat resiliency planning and design. The required wealth of knowledge is getting broader, while our metrics for success are getting smaller.

GDIRC Lesvos 2

GDIRC, Mavrovouni Camp, Lesbos, Greece

GDIRC collaborated with Movement on the Ground (MOTG) - an Amsterdam-based NGO with a fixed presence in Lesvos, Greece - to build playgrounds in the Mavrovouni Camp. MOTG has built the first play structure, which is a great achievement but unfortunately not enough for the large number of children (1,000 underage of 12) currently living in the camp.

Photo courtesy MOTG

What has been your most proud moment as an architect/designer?

Winning the AIA National Collaborative Achievement Award for the BSA/BSLA Global Design Initiative for Refugee Children in 2020. The Initiative was created in 2016 under the umbrella of the BSA to facilitate the design and construction of spaces for play in refugee camps. Since its creation, it has contributed to the design and construction of six playgrounds in five countries and three continents.

What does equity mean to you?

Equity is equal access to all. However, it is getting more complicated to implement in design projects. One of my previous firms worked on a university building in the Middle East, and all classrooms were duplicated to allow for gender separation, with professors’ offices in the center to be accessible from both sides. The project was equitable, allowing women and men equal access to education, but not truly equitable from a North American perspective. This is just an example of how ultimately, choices need to be made.

What is the most effective step you’ve taken in your work toward a more sustainable built environment?

I am changing the way I live to test if I can implement what I am recommending in my work. I moved to smaller quarters closer to work and services in order to only use public transportation or walk everywhere.

Which policy from another city sets an example you think Boston could successfully follow?

I think that rather than following examples of policies from other cities, it is most important to truly implement adopted policies. For example, the city should meet energy requirements as presented in design review and maintain performance requirements through the building life cycle. I must say, however, that there are great efforts into making all of us more accountable and raising the bar to net-zero buildings.

What do you see as the largest barrier to a zero-waste building, city, and world?

Plastic. It is, to this day, nearly impossible to avoid plastic in so many aspects of our lives.

Who do you most enjoy partnering with on a project?

I like the diversity of the team required for addressing climate change projects—encompassing climate change scientists, engineers, economists, public health experts, communication specialists, lawyers, and others as needed. This is what it takes to make cities and infrastructure resilient and address climate change as one of the key defining issues of our time.

Resilent Cambridge

Super Resilient Block for Resilient Cambridge, City of Cambridge, June 2021

The urban block presents an opportunity for innovative projects in the neighborhood to demonstrate how maximum resiliency efforts for buildings, drainage and energy systems, and ecosystems can reduce flooding and the data urban heat island effect and increase energy resiliency in one defined area. The idea for change pushes resiliency strategies to the maximum implementation possible to explore how efforts in strategic locations could benefit the resiliency of the neighborhood.

Image courtesy Kleinfelder for the City of Cambridge

Which architectural buzzword would you kill?

Nowadays, turnover is so quick that I do not need to pick one—they die of short lives!

Where do you find inspiration?

In everything: books, discussions, travel, and walks in my neighborhood.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished reading Now Comes Good Sailing, in which 20+ leading writers reflect on how Thoreau has influenced and inspired them. I find the stories relevant during a pandemic. Literally taking a walk in the woods with an author lets us reflect on nature, equity, climate change, and urbanization, incorporating perspectives across genders, races, and nationalities.

What was your least favorite college class?

Building code and regulations—but I now understand their criticality.

If you could redesign anything, what would it be?

My historic high school in Quebec City, which was a beautiful wood frame convent that burned and was rebuilt as a concrete bunker. To this day, this project exemplifies missed opportunities to me.

What would you like to see change about Boston’s built environment?

The roads. Not only are the roads dangerous in terms of public safety, they also occupy way too much real estate dedicated to single vehicular transportation.

Have you had a memorable experience while working on a BSA initiative that you would like to share?

The BSA Women Principals group has been the most rewarding professional association of designers, advocates, and inspiring people I’ve met over the past several years.

Whom would you like the BSA to interview next?

Kathleen Theoharides, who is stepping down as environmental affairs secretary, to get her thoughts on the role of architects in addressing climate change.