by AIA New York
Brian Shea, FAIA, has shaped the urban fabric of cities and campuses across the country during his forty years in the field. Since joining Cooper Robertson in 1979 and becoming a partner there in 1988, Shea has served as urban design partner on the firm’s most significant and celebrated urban design projects, including Battery Park City, Disney Celebration, Hudson Yards, the Baltimore Inner Harbor, the Stapleton Airport Redevelopment, and Daniel Island. Shea has also led the design of campus plans for Yale University, Harvard University, Colgate University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Trinity College. Prior to joining Cooper Robertson, Brian worked for the Boston Redevelopment Authority and then served as an urban designer for the New York City Department of City Planning and the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Planning and Development.
In 2018, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Shea to the College of Fellows in the first category of Fellowship, which recognizes architects who have “Promoted the aesthetic, scientific, and practical efficiency of the profession,” according to the organizations’s definition. Now among the AIA membership’s three percent distinguished with Fellowship and honorary Fellowship, Shea was recognized at the New Fellows Reception hosted by AIA New York and at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture in New York City.
Q: What is your proudest achievement as an architect?
A: My proudest achievement is my contribution to the long-term legacy achieved by Battery Park City. The project returned to a simpler, more legible, and comprehensible approach to large scale development and zoning controls for NYC. It provided a model for a plan focused around a street and block layout; streets, parks and open space design; and building types familiar to all New Yorkers. And, I think it helped jump start the city’s renewed interest in lower Manhattan, its waterfront, and how to connect the city and the water once again.
Q: What is your earliest memory of experiencing architecture?
A: My earliest memories of experiencing architecture were my walks through the streets and neighborhoods of my hometown, Boston. I was not just coming in contact with great buildings—like Bulfinch’s State House, Richardson’s Trinity Church, McKim’s Public Library, Olmsted’s Back Bay Fens, even Kallman and Mckinnel’s City Hall—but how these buildings worked within a larger physical setting; the fabric, scale and character of the city; it’s walkability and urbanity.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
A: Three things continue to showing up: 1) Rational and multi-faceted responses to climate change, sea level rise, and energy consumption; 2) Everyone’s search for more authentic and appropriate design solutions that are unique to a place, city, and region; 3) Public involvement—ways to allow people to be part of the thinking, exploration and solutions to identifiable design problems, as they become the best advocates and stewards of a project.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: Currently I’m working on two interesting university master planning projects at opposite ends of the scale—Drury U. (1,100 students) and Georgia State (over 35,000 students). One is in a bucolic setting in the smaller Midwestern city of Springfield, MO, while the other is located in the dense downtown of Atlanta, GA. Both explore strategies to better connect to and revitalize their cities. The next big project is Riverton on the Raritan River in New Jersey, a large mixed-use village, a complete rethinking of the traditional shopping center, and a model first explored by this company at Avalon outside of Atlanta.
Q: What does being a fellow mean to you?
A: First, recognition that the art and practice of urban design has lasting value. Learning from what exists—extending the nature and character of a place, making connections, creating neighborhoods/precincts/districts which become a seamless part to a larger whole—really matters. And second, that encouraging the exploration of simpler, logical, more integrative implementation techniques can guide people to create successful, healthy, beautiful places.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the 28 members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter that were elevated to the AIA College of Fellows in 2018, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here.