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Profile

Apr 11, 2016

Philippe Saad AIA

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Name: Philippe Saad AIA
Job title and company: Senior associate, DiMella Shaffer
Degree(s): BArch, American University Beirut; SMArchS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

What are you working on now?
Multiple senior living and specialized housing projects–some in the masterplanning phase, some in design, and some being built. The one that stands out for me is Harmon Apartments, an affordable housing development in my neighborhood of Dorchester for people with neurological disabilities. It will exceed ADA accessibility guidelines and have custom features including assistive technology to allow people to remain as independent as possible in their homes.

How do (or how did you) you explain to your mom what you do for a living?
I never had to explain to her what I do; in fact, I attribute becoming an architect to my mom. She is the one who always said that I would become one based on the hours I spent playing with LEGO® and building houses. In fact, I am not sure which came first: the architect playing LEGO®, or the LEGO® that formed the architect!

Above: Fire Fighting Academy Massachusetts. Stow, MA

What inspired you today?
I usually get my inspiration in lonely moments. I sometimes go on long, aimless walks around the city–my neighborhood in Dorchester–that allow me to think broadly. On a more regular basis, I find inspiration in the stillness of the mornings. I wake up 30 minutes before my partner does, look out the window to my back yard, coffee in hand, and I plan my day.

What architectural buzzword would you kill?
I am not a fan of architecture jargon. There was one graduate course during my two years at MIT that I consider the most formative. It was a course in English for professionals, geared toward architects and designers. Patricia Brenneke, the teacher, taught us how to write for everybody—not for ourselves or our fellow architects. She used to make us read parts of our essays, and asked us to explain what we meant. It was a very good exercise in shedding all buzzwords and simplifying sentences loaded with technical, interrelated words.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?
Architecture is a twofold creative process, which requires some alone time, but also is a very social profession that could not be successful without discussions and exchange of ideas. I very much value collective conversations in the office but also discussions with the people for whom we design.

What are you reading?
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.

Above: Institute of Health Professions, Massachusetts General Hospital. Charleston, MA

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?
Both. I represent a generation that is proficient in both. Each serves me differently.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
Absolutely! I never planned much of my life or professional career but rode the waves of certain moments. Enrolling at MIT for graduate studies, I was ready to make a career in academia. After I graduated, I decided to take a temporary job at DiMella Shaffer. It has been 11 years!

Where is the field of architecture headed?
It is a hard question to answer. It can be perceived as a profession in constant evolution that reflects and adapts to its time, which is true in part because for the most part it is a stable profession that remains anchored in the human being.

Above: Continuing Care Retirement Community, Orchard Cove. Canton, MA

Can design save the world?

Design can improve the world for seniors, people with disabilities or others needing a supportive environment. It’s why I do what I do. Design for me has a social commitment to humanity.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?
My mother always encouraged me to do more in school, at home, and at work. She is the engine behind my perseverance. Peter Shaffer AIA [DiMella Shaffer], now retired, is my mentor. From him, I learned how to question the status quo of design. Aline Russotto [Orchard Cover Hebrew SeniorLife] is an outstanding friend and client. And my partner, Anil, who in some aspects has a role similar to my mother’s, always challenges and pushes me to go further!

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?
I would not have done anything differently! Same as I say to myself today: “Do what you can every day and believe in what you do.”

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Life is kind if you are kind to people.

Above: Continuing Care Retirement Community, North Hill. Needham, MA

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