For 20 years, I’ve joked that our April Fools’ Day anniversary was fitting because ‘only a fool would start an architecture firm to serve the public good and expect it to survive.’ There is some truth in that. But today I find myself reflecting on the serious side of this 20th anniversary. I founded the firm as Gail Sullivan Associates in 1993 determined to deliver high quality architecture to those who need it most.
From a background working in community, feminist and environmental organizations, I saw plenty of need: for well-designed and affordable housing, for early learning spaces that inspire children’s creativity, for schools that encourage learning and stimulate exploration, for places that offer the elderly and others in need dignified and supportive surroundings. Our first two projects spanned the generations: NSCAP Head Start in Peabody providing education and support to 3-4 year olds and their families; and Kit Clark Senior Services in Dorchester, offering meals, services and support to seniors.
While specialization is frequently the norm for smaller design firms, we have resisted efforts to define us by a specific project type. We didn’t want to be boxed in. At times this might have been a bad business decision, but the long view proved it to be good for our creativity and freshness, but also for our business. We thrive on variety and new challenges. Yet there are consistent design themes and project types over this last two decades:
- High quality and varied places to live
- Learning spaces
- Collaborative places to work
- Community spaces for all ages
- Preservation of historic fabric, often repurposing old buildings for new uses
- Community and urban planning
- Integrating natural landscapes with built environment, as play space, urban agriculture or respite
In all, we seek to engage people in the process of place-making to the greatest degree possible. In each design, we create the potential to build community.
For twenty years, sustainability has been the thread that binds our work. Years ago I gave a presentation to BAC students on green design, arguing that environmental sustainability alone was insufficient, that our designs should also support social and economic viability. Today the concept of three legs of sustainability has broad currency. For us, the three are the critical elements of building sustainable communities.
We offer a heartfelt thanks to all of you who have collaborated with us in the past 20 years, and look forward to working with you for another 20.