by AIA New York
Bruce Eisenberg, FAIA, has spent his career transforming public sector architecture by raising design standards for housing, buildings, and parks. His work enhances design quality by skillfully combining sustainability with thoughtful preservation. As Deputy Director of the Design Department for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Eisenberg leads a team of architects, landscape architects, and design professionals who are reimagining how public housing is designed. Prior to NYCHA, Eisenberg oversaw complex public-sector projects in the New York area as Director of the NY Architectural Studios and Vice President at STV. As Director of Architecture at the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Eisenberg enhanced design standards for such high-profile projects as the High Line, Lincoln Center, and the 59th Street Recreation Center. Eisenberg has held leadership positions in AIA New York State’s Executive Board, AIA New York’s Historic Buildings and Interiors Committees, and participates in the organization’s Housing, Design for Aging, and Interiors Committees. He graduated from Washington University’s School of Architecture.
The Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Eisenberg to the College of Fellows in the fourth category (public service, government, industry, or organization) of Fellowship, 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. Eisenberg was recognized at the New Fellows Reception hosted by AIA New York and at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture.
Q: How/why did you decide to pursue architecture?
A: Growing up in the 1960s I was deeply inspired by the confluence of influences of mid-century modernism, 70’s style, and the appeal of the futuristic Jetsonian utopia, which profoundly influenced my desire to pursue a career as an architect. As a young child, I started drawing houses, eventually graduating to larger and more complex buildings. For me architecture was an extension of my desire to solve problems coupled with artistic endeavors.
Q: What has been particularly challenging in your recent work?
A: Designing projects for the public sector, with limited budgets and practically no maintenance, is challenging enough, and adding in sustainability- and quality-based design to the mix increases the complexity. Seeing our projects through to completion is always the goal. When a new ground-up community center in Marine Park, Brooklyn, with a heavy push from the design team to keep it on track, exceeded the goal of LEED Silver by actually reaching LEED Gold, I knew that we had achieved a near miracle.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
A: Renovation of decades-old community centers is one our most challenging project types. Taking them to a new level of design—not only bringing them to a state of good repair, but making them beautiful spaces beloved by the community they serve—has been most satisfying. The White Houses Community Center in East Harlem is one project that reaches this goal. Another is the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center in Queens. A third example is the Truman College Student Services Building and Garage, which turned a much-needed parking garage into a student destination.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
A: The architect must be the visionary, seeing the opportunities in each and every project, and then figure out a way to make it happen. We balance the aspirational with what can truly be built to serve the need. We orchestrate the design team, bring the right set of professionals to the table, and then stick to our guns to make sure that the details do not get “value engineered” out of the project.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today?
A: We have crumbling infrastructure all around us. We truly need a great infusion of investment in our cities today, in our transportation, in our buildings, and especially in our housing. We cannot let this all slip away. Our biggest challenge is not in maintaining these structures but bringing them into the 21st century utilizing smarter material and technologies. Fortunately, many have stepped up by leading the way to more energy efficient buildings, landscapes and environments. How do we bring the other part of our cities along with this group of enlightened city builders? How do we get consensus from our stakeholders to support this investment?
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.