by AIA New York
Barbara Spandorf, FAIA, LEED AP, champions architectural practice through her leadership in creating award-winning facilities in the public realm. Skillfully working with diverse stakeholders, she advocates and realizes inspiring civic projects that advance institutional missions and transform communities. Spandorf is an Assistant Director with the City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the US, responsible for managing design projects at six campuses. Prior to CUNY, Spandorf headed the units responsible for capital projects for the NYPD and public library systems for the NYC Department of Design & Construction (DDC). Before entering the public sector, Barbara was an Associate with Fisher Dachs Associates (FDA), a theater design and planning firm, where she was responsible for design and management of award-winning performance facilities. An active member of AIANY, Spandorf was the Cultural Facilities Committee Co-Chair from 2004-2013 and served on the AIANY Board of Directors as the Oculus Committee chair from 2014-2017.
This year, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Spandorf to its prestigious College of Fellows in the fourth category of Fellowship (public service, government, industry, or organization) which recognizes architects who have worked “To ensure the advancement of the living standards of people through their improved environment,” according to the organization’s definition. While only three percent of the AIA’s membership is distinguished with Fellowship, Spandorf’s investiture will be held at a future AIA Conference and AIANY’s next New Fellows Reception.
Q: What has been particularly challenging in your recent work?
A: The challenge for architecture in the non-profit and public sector has always been to match the dreams and mission with the budget. During our present crisis the aspirations for facilities hasn’t decreased but the funding streams have, of course, been negatively impacted. This has us needing to provide more for our institutions with fewer resources. A further complication is the unknown lasting impact of the virus on our buildings and programs. As professionals I know that we can meet these challenges, but they require us to be more nimble, strategic, and flexible than ever before. We are tasked to think about the future in a more targeted and creative manner in order to plan for the unexpected.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
A: I have been very fortunate to have done a number of master plans, programs, and feasibility studies throughout my career for higher education, performing arts, and civic institutions. I have always loved working with clients and facility users to begin the planning and dreaming of a project. These early conversations around project aspirations and institutional goals provide great insights that are crucial in the development of the optimal facility. Institutions have to be so careful with their limited resources and opportunities, so these early stages are critical to delivering the best and most appropriate project. Currently we are in the planning stages for multi-phase renovations on three CUNY campuses and it is exciting to design the future of these facilities to serve the next generations of students.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
A: Churchill said “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Architects are great problem solvers and client advocates but our role is so much more. We are, and should be, leaders in creating an aspiring, functional, and healthy built environment. It is a serious and exciting responsibility to translate people’s wants, needs, and desires into buildings and civic environments that improve and enhance people’s lives in their workplaces, homes, schools, neighborhoods. The lasting influence of the work that we contribute must be positive, forward thinking, and equitable. Our opportunities are too important and impactful to aspire to anything less and the future depends on it.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities?
A: Every city has its own unique challenges but, speaking broadly, issues of equity currently seem to be common to all. How do we create more livable cities for all residents? How do we plan for a healthier and fairer future? The pandemic has exposed many weaknesses in our society and with that there is an urgency to better plan for a more just future. We should look to the current crisis as an opportunity to pause and assess the direction of our cities. For example, with the rise in importance of outdoor space and alternative modes of transportation our city should seize this as an opportunity to fully incorporate these wants into realities for all residents. Additionally, a more equitable distribution of resources for critical services, such as public schools and public housing, will provide a more livable city for all New Yorkers.
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
A: Colleagues and clients have been a great source of professional inspiration. The dedication, focus, and caring of public sector and institutional clients and end users has always been inspiring. Their insightful articulation of their mission and the depth of their experience has been a tremendous resource in the successful execution of projects. Colleagues’ sharing of their perspectives in project problem solving and career navigation has also been so beneficial and influential. Lastly a love of cities and art and performance has, as well, provided a never-ending source of stimulating and pleasurable inspiration that feeds the soul.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter who are elevated each year to the AIA College of Fellows, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here.