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Aug 09, 2022

S. Austin Ward AIA LEED AP BD+C

1 Ward Headshot

Photo by Aidan J. McCarthy

Associate, Machado Silvetti


Master of Architecture in Urban Design, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Bachelor of Architecture, University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design

Professional interests:

Urban design, housing, public space, adaptive reuse

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

Growing up and on a working farm in rural south Arkansas, I was exposed to building, making and craft from an early age. The credit for my launch into architecture belongs to my mother, who introduced me to an architect during my senior year of high school and took me to visit the University of Arkansas, which I later attended.

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

My father, like his own father, can make just about anything. He is a jack-of-all-trades type, and my parents understand I design and build buildings in a straightforward sense. A few years ago, they had the opportunity to come to New England and see some of my work over the last decade. It was a special moment. I think they saw in some small way that architecture for me is more than the simple act of building.

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

Patience. I recently listened to an interview with Frida Escobedo in which she described architecture as a patient craft. I really love this notion because of its insistence and reliance on time in the positive sense, as a vehicle for personal and professional maturation. In the early days of your career everything can seem urgent and important. Learning to slow down and to distinguish between the two is incredibly profound sensibility.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

The list for this question could be an essay in itself. My parents sacrificed immensely to give me the opportunity to get an education and to find my own way in this world. My wife and family are an anchor and a steadfast source of support. There are numerous colleagues, clients, friends, and, perhaps most importantly, mentors who have supported me personally and my work professionally through the years: Marlon Blackwell, Robert Miklos, and Rahul Mehrotra, as well as the partners at Machado Silvetti – Rodolfo, Jorge, Stephanie and Jeffry.

What is your favorite Boston-area building or structure?

Saarinen’s MIT Chapel and Commonwealth Avenue.

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

Recently, I was able to travel to South America for a major project I’m working on with an incredible team at Machado Silvetti. During the trip I was able to take in the works of Rogelio Salmona, Daniel Bermudez, and others. Certainly, it was an unexpected but delightful experience which gave me a new appreciation of the influence and translation of modern architecture in the context of Latin America.

Which one of your current projects excites you the most?

This is a hard one because I’m currently working on a lot of exciting projects across a broad range of scales and types. For the last several years I’ve been working on an expansive seven-acre public park in Cary, North Carolina, with a talented team from Machado Silvetti and OJB. It is ambitious in every sense of the word – bold, dynamic architecture set within diverse and fluid landscapes, and rich materials all in service of crafting a distinctive new public space in the heart of the historic downtown. It is a testament to the way coalitions of design experts, community advocates, and civic leaders are required to make places of significance. The project is halfway through construction and will open in the fall of 2023. I have the privilege to travel to Cary every other week to oversee its construction. Seeing a project come to life and working with makers, fabricators, and builders through the challenges of construction is one of my favorite parts of my job as architect.

2 Las Torres del Parque

Bogotá from Las Torres del Parque.

Photo by S. Austin Ward AIA

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

I don’t think there has or ever will be a single moment. The moments spent teaching or mentoring, whether at the office or in the studio, have been by far been the most rewarding of my career thus far. It’s a gift to help others see something new or, as is very often the case, learning to see myself through the generosity of my talented colleagues and peers.

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

In many ways I believe we become what we behold—our built environment shapes who we are and how we engage with the world. I aspire to generate meaningful work of enduring value. I see architecture as the coalescence of craft, of culture, and of community. I believe in the power of architecture to engage with the aspirational and the ideal, to create distinctive, vibrant, and beautiful places for our cities and their citizens. If in my work I can contribute even in part to shaping, making, and advocating for these types of places, that will have been a profound grace and worthwhile endeavor.

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?

A few years ago, the Worcester Blackstone Visitors Center won a BSA Honor Award for Design Excellence, as well as an American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum. I was fortunate to have spent several years working with an incredible team at designLAB architects to make this project a reality. This urban project transcends its own physical and programmatic constraints to influence a larger cultural aspiration within its city and region. This is the calling of all work in the public realm—to make beautiful places for our communities while synthesizing its tacit engagement and impact in the larger civic context, public discourse, and ultimately, the community to which the project is in service. I would love to see more public buildings expand in both idea and approach to operate cogently at multiple scales.

What does equity mean to you?

We must recognize the inequity present throughout our cities and our communities. Collectively we must work to develop a culture of community that promotes, empowers, and resources individuals through their different circumstances and needs. Recognizing, resourcing, and supporting people where they are and through their work is profoundly important. Through this I’m hopeful that one day our differences can be the source of our collective strength rather than the sign of our continual shortcomings. We are still far from this reality and have so much work to do.

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

Over the last few years, I’ve been reading more literature and attending educational programming on embodied carbon and the life cycle impacts of our building materials, such as the BSA-sponsored Embodied Carbon Series. If we are to make substantial strides to a better built environment, we need the tools to convey value to our clients, and our policy makers. I still have a lot to learn and even more to implement in practice.

What is the greatest potential for architecture to shape a neighborhood community?

To inspire, to dignify, and to motivate reflection.

Who do you most enjoy partnering with on a project?

Craftsmen and fabricators. It’s probably in large part due to my background, but I love learning about the material process of fabrication and traditions of making from others. They are the real artists.

What are you reading right now?

In full transparency, I am a slow reader, and I have a bad habit of starting several books at one time and taking forever to finish them. Currently I’m working my way through Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, Unless: The Seagram Building Construction Ecology, and The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World.

What was your least favorite college class?

Physics. When my professor lectured, he referred to himself exclusively in third person. It was a very long semester.

If you could redesign anything, what would it be?

Coffee cup lids… They always leak.

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

Our public transit system. It’s quite honestly embarrassing at this point. For the city that brought us the Big Dig as an urban project, Boston seems to have lost the ability to imagine, design, implement, or operate a functioning transit system at a scale of any significance.