by: AIA New York
Katherine Chia, FAIA, deftly reveals the poetic aesthetic imbedded in materials, light, and structure, while embracing site conditions and her clients’ programmatic goals. Chia is a founding principal of Desai Chia Architecture. For over twenty years, she has led her five-person firm on a steady trajectory of design excellence, creating inspiring environments that celebrate and enhance the way people live and work. Rooted in a multidisciplinary background of art, architecture and mathematics, Chia has received tremendous acclaim—including ten AIA Design Awards and the American Architecture Prize’s Small Firm of the Year Award in Multi-Disciplinary Architecture—for projects that have expanded concepts of building typology and material expression.
Throughout her career, Chia has been recognized as an “architect advocate” who communicates her passion for the advancement of the architecture profession with her colleagues and the wider community. An active member of AIA New York, she has served on the Nominating Committee and, currently, on the Finance Committee, working to reinforce the leadership and fiduciary foundations of the chapter. She has served as a trustee for Amherst College and the United Nations International School, chairing the buildings and grounds committee for both institutions to promote architectural excellence and sustainable design practices on campus. As an Amherst College Pathways Mentor and an Architecture Department adjunct faculty member at Parsons The New School, she has mentored a diverse group of students toward a career in architecture with a particular focus on nurturing women and minority students.
This year, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Chia to its prestigious 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, Chia was recognized at the New Fellows Reception hosted by AIA New York and will be honored further at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture in New York City from June 20-23, 2018.
Q: What is your proudest achievement as an architect?
A: I don’t have a singular “proudest” moment that I can really credit; instead, I’ve worked in a steady way with my partner and husband, architect Arjun Desai—exploring and refining ideas every step of the way—to build up a strong, clear voice with our body of work.
Q: What is your earliest memory of experiencing architecture?
A: When I was young, my family moved into a house designed by Edgar Tafel, FAIA, one of the original apprentices to Frank Lloyd Wright. I spent my childhood immersed in that incredibly beautiful and tactile environment, and I think it had a profound influence on my approach to architecture.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
A: My work continues to be influenced by very thoughtful discussions with our clients about a range of issues that extend beyond their immediate program. I take lots of inspiration from the art world as well as craft-based and tech-based industries. I am always curious about the way communities operate and opportunities to enhance collaboration.
Q: What are you working on currently?
A: We are currently working on a 4-story office headquarters in Toronto, a design studio for a fashion company, a museum addition and renovation, a retail showroom, and several residences.
Q: What does being a Fellow mean to you?
A: It’s an incredible honor to be a Fellow, one that carries the responsibility to represent the profession at the highest level and mentor the next generation of architects.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the 28 members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter that have been 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.