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Profile: Aisha Densmore-Bey Assoc. AIA

Name: Aisha Densmore-Bey Assoc. AIA
Job title and company: Principal/owner, Aisha Densmore-Bey, Designer
Degree(s): Bachelor of Architecture, Florida A&M University, 2000
Professional interests: Too many to list, but they include architecture, museums, interior design, lighting, graphic design, branding (strategy and development), set design, film direction and cinematography, painting, and on and on.

What are you working on now?

I just finished a brand package for a small start-up, which was really fun, and I also worked with a small school that is relocating to Hyde Park. I am a new business; the primary thing I am working on is marketing and learning how to run an office. I like wearing many hats.

How do you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

I don’t have to explain it because my uncle (my mother’s older brother) was in architecture. She knew more about [the] stresses [I would have] and strain I was going to go through before I did.

What inspired you today?

I downloaded this image of pink clouds; [it was] very random, but it made me want to use it in some way. I started thinking about creating an exhibit on architecture and the dream world, some type of fantasy thing. Usually even in our dreams we are in the built environment in some way.

What architectural buzzword would you kill?

“Starchitect,” just because the word is loaded with contempt and what I honestly feel is jealousy. I once heard someone say that the profession will evolve so that there won’t be any more “starchitects,” but that’s not human nature. People are always going to want what or who is in demand and create conditions for that to happen. On the one hand, architects grumble that the public doesn’t understand or appreciate what we do, and in the same breath we complain when architects become too famous. Then suddenly their work is self-indulgent, doesn’t respond to context, blah, blah, blah.

I wouldn’t kill the buzzword as much as I would get rid of the contemptuous feeling behind it. I am really over the negative and superior attitude that some designers tend to have. Unfortunately, a lot of that competitive and critical culture is developed in architecture school. You may not agree with another architect’s design philosophy or style, but don’t trash [him or her] for sport. The profession is hard enough without trying to tear each other down, famous or not.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?

I work alone a lot, so I relish the chance to hear a different perspective. I have a few friends who have started their own practices, and it’s good to check in with them. I also like Boston because the city is rich with design talent, and ideas are overflowing. I love talking to people who have been in the design field for 30 years to the students who are just entering design school. I always learn so much.

What are you reading?

Ugh! I am trying to concentrate on the study materials for the AREs, but I just bought the book GUSTO: A Journey through Culinary Design [by Sandu]. It’s fantastic. I have a whole stack of books I’ve bought and have not been able to read yet. I can’t wait to be totally done with the AREs, then I can go back to reading for enjoyment. I read everything, but I really adore the theater, and I love reading plays. August Wilson, Shakespeare, Sophocles, Jean-Paul Sartre and Suzan-Lori Parks are all great playwrights.

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?

I sketch by hand. I feel more connected to the work that way. That is the one thing I tell any students I have: “Learn how to sketch by hand. Your computer may not always be there, and you need to be able to communicate your ideas quickly, without SketchUp.” Plus, sometimes it takes longer to create a sketch by computer than it does just to use an old-fashioned Pilot pen and trace or a sketchbook.

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

I didn’t expect to be recognized by the AIA, or at least not this soon. That was pretty freakin’ awesome! I am still waiting on a project that would require me to go overseas. I’ve been abroad plenty of times, but it has never been work related.

Where is the field of architecture headed?

I would be the last person to answer that question. Things change so rapidly. My hope is the profession can be more inclusive and realize that everyone has a story to tell and something to contribute. I hope for more diversity.

Can design save the world?

That question implies that design is some great mysterious entity that descends from the heavens. Design is really pedestrian and is just what it is. I see it as the great part of human creativity to solve problems. Now, that being said, I really love the Design Like You Give a Damn [book] series—people using design as a catalyst to help improve quality of life.

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

With the work I am doing now, I hope to help people realize their dreams, like helping start-ups. Sometimes I feel almost like I get more than I give. I love what I do. At the end of the day, I don’t think about what I am contributing; my aim is just to do good work that endures.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

Besides my mother . . . I will say tenacity and time. Every bump in the road, every positive and negative experience (there have been quite a few of each) has been a lesson. Many people have been an influence on me, but I must give credit to a few of my most important mentors: Neil Hall AIA of The Hall Group in Miami, was my first mentor, a class act, and is still the type of architect [whom] I want to emulate. Allen Ambrose AIA of Ambrose Design Group in Hartford, Connecticut, was the best teacher, and my time at his firm was the happiest I have ever been in an architecture office. He was incredibly encouraging and wanted me to learn. Peter Kuttner FAIA of Cambridge Seven Associates is just a phenomenal person in general. He has had my back repeatedly.

Your least favorite college class?

Structures. ’Nuff said.

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

Stop worrying and comparing yourself to everyone else. Things will work out exactly the way they need to.

Your favorite Boston-area structure?

It’s more about moments than structure for me. I love the ICA because I am a museum person, and I love [its] Mediatheque room and Founders’ Gallery that look out to the water. The Christian Science Center is beautiful to walk through on a summer evening. The John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute on Northeastern’s campus is great, simply because of its strong cultural identity.

Who would you like the BSA to interview next?

Fijoy Fisiy—she is a remarkable MArch candidate at the BAC, and I really see her going places—and Meejin Yoon, from Höweler + Yoon Architecture. Meejin is all kinds of fabulous.

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?

Hold on to your hats, and put the kids to bed. Aisha’s here.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Spread love. Be kind. Eat well and laugh often.