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Profile: Anne Brockelman AIA

Name: Anne Brockelman AIA
Job title and company:
Associate, and director of sustainable design, Perry Dean Rogers | Partners Architects
Degree(s): BA in art and art history, Wesleyan University; MArch, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Professional interests:
Working with educational and institutional clients to translate their shared vision into spaces that not only meet their needs but also inspire. I enjoy the challenges of working with a larger client or user group. Listening is really important, as is ensuring that everyone listens to and hears each other. Programmatically, my projects have included libraries, various types of academic buildings and learning spaces, masterplans, and civic buildings.

What are you working on now?
The Probate & Family Courthouse in Salem, Massachusetts. It’s a complete renovation of a historic 1909 building, with a new addition. It’s a privilege to be working on such an important project—both in architectural significance and for the services that the facility will bring to the community.

How do you explain to your mom what you do for a living? 
Hi, Mom! My mom’s a German-trained scientist, so she tends to see any nonscientific endeavor as “dabbling” and amusing. Over the years, though, she’s come to respect what architects do as she’s become involved herself (as the client) with building projects on her university’s campus. So I try not to complain about clients changing their minds but seek advice on consensus-building strategies and how to have productive conversations.


Salem Probate & Family Courthouse Renovation & Addition.  Rendering by Perry Dean Rogers.

What inspired you today?
My three-year-old boy. He just mastered climbing a terrifying two-story spider-web-like playground structure, and he asks to go back there day and night. It reminds me to approach challenges with such enthusiasm and, of course, the iterative process.

What architectural buzzword would you kill?
“Sustainable design,” for starters? There’s a lot of jargon around “green” design these days, as if it should be its own isolated theme or stylistic genre. We have to approach all design with an underlying philosophy of conservation—whether it’s visually apparent to passersby is a different issue.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?
Yes, all the time. I have thoughtful, talented colleagues whom I’m always approaching for input. It’s what I enjoy about being part of a design team, and our office culture really encourages it.

What are you reading?
I recently finished The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo—I’ve never been very sentimental, and accruing “stuff” has always tended to stress me out, so I loved being told to get rid of more things; too many books on parenting that I start and never finish; and I have a secret weakness for the young adult genre—if they come in trilogies, so much the better!


Library/Learning Commons at Southern New Hampshire University.  Photo by Chuck Choi.

Do you sketch by hand or digitally? 
I actually find myself sketching by hand more these days, since our office has completely transitioned to Revit.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
Yes, definitely. I didn’t expect to be doing public projects with more complicated procurement processes, but the fact that these projects have the ability to affect more people is very gratifying. When you are a student, you are focused on getting the perfect design solution in your one-person bubble, but my projects have large client and user groups, so helping everyone arrive at a shared vision becomes critical. I think the art of facilitating conversations is an understated, undervalued skill that I was fortunate enough to receive some training in, through education courses and a decade of teaching experience at the Boston Architectural College.  My younger self wouldn’t have expected this to be such an important part of an architect’s skill set.

Where is the field of architecture headed?
We have to practice “Less is more” again—in the sense of using fewer resources and energy. Formal trends and aesthetics will come and go, but the general trajectory has to be to reduce our carbon footprint. Each building should be approached as part of, and improving, an existing ecosystem, and not a discrete project.

Can design save the world?
Design can certainly save and change lives, so yes, design has a significant role among other contributors in “saving the world.”

What do you hope to contribute from your work?
Quite simply, making places that work well, feel good to be in, and inspire a greater awareness of one’s environment. For example, with the courthouse, most visitors probably don’t want to be there and may be under stressful personal circumstances. The space should heighten their civic awareness and also function to help their transactions go smoothly at the very least. For campus buildings, to contribute to a sense of pride and mission, and for the spaces to inspire learning.


Information Commons, Daemen College, Amherst, NY.  Photo by Peter Vanderwarker

Who or what deserves credit for your success?
My parents, for instilling a strong work ethic in me, and my family now for supporting my career; past and current mentors; and a good group of friends who are also architects; we are invested in supporting each other’s careers and check in regularly with each other.

Your least favorite college class?
I can’t quickly recall one I actually despised. I loved being in a class and learning about anything. I could be a student forever.

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?
Try not to work as hard (in terms of hours logged), but take more risks.

Your favorite Boston-area structure?  
Favorite spaces rather than structures: inside [Eero] Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Whom would you like the BSA to interview next?
Mayor Marty Walsh; Carol Gladstone [commissioner, Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance]; and Amy Korte [AIA; principal, Arrowstreet].

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?
I don’t watch TV, so I wouldn’t know where to start.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Stop whining and deal with it!