Stephen F. Gray Assoc. AIA
Name: Stephen F. Gray Assoc. AIA
Job title and company: Senior associate, Sasaki Associates; lecturer in urban design, MIT
My interests center on the intersection of design, research, and engagement as tools for empowerment and drivers of progressive urbanism. I bring passion and empathy to every project with a focus on helping communities.
What are you working on now?
Inside the office we are wrapping up a masterplan for downtown Raleigh, [North Carolina,] and getting started on the Go Boston 2030 Mobility Plan and the design of four new islands in Malaysia for 300,000 people. Inside the academy, we are wrapping up the fall semester of the Urban Design Skills course for graduate planners and preparing for next semester’s Site Planning Studio in metro Manila, the Philippines.
How do you/did you explain to your mom what you do for a living?
I tell her that I work with communities to help them develop shared visions...in physical form.
What inspired you today?
I met with the mayor of a nearby city who is looking for ways to empower people in his community through new methods of engagement. It was refreshing that a mayor was so focused on options for improving democratic outcomes.
What industry buzzword would you kill?
“Sustainability” and “resilience” are too often used interchangeably. For me, sustainability refers to a balanced coexistence of nature, culture, and economics resulting in healthy built environments. Resilience describes a collective human response to disaster with a misplaced commitment to remaining in and fortifying built environments that have proven to be unhealthy.
When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?
Such is the nature of architecture, planning, and urban design! It’s all about ideas.
What are you reading?
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
Do you sketch by hand or digitally?
Both. Always both.
Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?
Yes and no. I did not have “expectations” per se, but I hoped that I would have the opportunities to do what I love. So far, so good. Balancing my time between Sasaki and MIT, I have been able to enhance my professional practice with institutional inquiry.
Where is the field of architecture headed?
Everywhere, I hope. Just as many of my friends who studied architecture are practicing as traditional architects as they are as filmmakers, advocates, entrepreneurs, academics, and more. While many emerging architects are discovering new and less traditional paths, we all share a common foundation of intensity and rigor that exemplifies the architectural education, and we all have a strong desire to improve the world around us.
Can design save the world?
With each census we are discovering the cultural, social, economic, and religious diversity of the country is expanding, and nowhere is this demographic complexity more evident than in the urban centers of America. Not only are many of these urban centers expanding demographically, but they are also shifting physically. For some cities, it is disinvestment that is altering the physical landscape, and, for others, it is massive reinvestment; but in all cases, design and the design process will shape what these cities will become.
In short, yes!
What do you hope to contribute from your work?
Through a balanced approach to engagement in practice, teaching, and advocacy, I am focused on helping communities reconcile competing interests around issues of the built environment, forge new and ongoing relationships, and build consensus through excellence in design.
Who or what deserves credit for your success?
My family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and everyone in my growing community.
Your least favorite college class?
All of the ones I didn’t take. I think.
If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?
Read everything. Ask lots of questions. Travel widely. Live in the moment with your eyes on the future.
Your favorite Boston-area structure?
Definitely the Ferdinand Building in Dudley Square, Roxbury. And, no, not because it is a Macanoo-Sasaki collaboration. As the new headquarters for Boston Public Schools, it signifies a renewed commitment to high-quality civic architecture, a move toward reinvesting in communities of color, and a recognition of the importance of public education. The building itself is at the same time unique and contextual, utilitarian and elegant, contemporary and timeless.
Who would you like the BSA to interview next?
If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?
I’m not sure who would watch this show, but...
Thought leadership transcends professional project work. Creating new partnerships with other communities or between practice and academia often produce exciting new perspectives that can be both grounded and innovative.
If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?
Working for Democracy through Excellence in Design.