by AIA New York
Architect and urban designer Paul Milana, FAIA, believes that planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and infrastructure must be critically interconnected to achieve lasting value. Working nationally and abroad as a Partner at Hart Howerton, Milana has provided strategic vision and overseen the detailed design on a range of mixed-use, transit-oriented, infill and new communities and resort villages. Leveraging long-term relationships, his work has advanced the role of urban design across scales through rigorous understanding of place, history, and human potential by designing sustainable model communities, buildings, and landscapes of enduring value. Milana has also been a moderator, panelist, and speaker at real-estate forums across the country.
This year, the Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Milana 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 organization’s definition. Only three percent of the AIA’s membership is distinguished with Fellowship.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
As a designer of communities, the pandemic has forced us to reaffirm or rethink many of the aspects of our neighborhoods and our home life. Health, wellness, and wellbeing, which have been focuses of our firm for many years, are more important than ever. The pandemic has offered many of us more self-focused time and an opportunity to connect to nature, an unexpected silver lining of a very challenging period in recent human history. Additionally, our ability to adapt to teleworking technologies has offered freedom from the tethers of location for many with respect to employment. I do not see remote working as the norm going forward, but I do see greater freedom with respect to the workplace, and that will have a profound impact on how and where we live and work. I also foresee greater importance of localism, which will perhaps engender the repair of our outdated suburbs.
Q: What has been particularly challenging in your recent work?
It goes without saying that the biggest challenge now is a new working style during the pandemic. We are still largely working from home until our staff can be fully vaccinated. We have had to adopt extensive communication protocols to compensate for the lack of shared physical space. And while we have proven to be surprisingly resilient working remotely, it forces us all to work harder and for longer hours to achieve the same results as in-person collaboration. Recruiting and on-boarding new employees, as well as on-going mentorship of existing team members, is also challenging.
Q: What are some of your favorite recent projects that you’ve worked on?
I am very excited about the potential for Hollywood Park in Inglewood, CA. Our master plan for this new mixed-use sports and entertainment district accommodates a state-of-the-art NFL stadium and future Olympic venue, retail, office, and residential and civic uses all interconnected by a walkable network of streets, trails and public open spaces. Greater Los Angeles is a collection of villages, and Hollywood Park infills a formerly underutilized 300-acre tract of land into what can quickly become the new village center for the South Bay communities. At the same time, Hollywood Park can help to transform its environs over time into a more pedestrian friendly, mixed-use setting, something Angelenos desperately seek.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
In many ways architecture is like music, or food, or the scent of a flower or pine forest—it is universal in its ability to impact our physical, emotional and spiritual state. At its best, it can uplift, connect, teach and inspire us and foster wellbeing. At its worst, it can alienate us from one another and our surroundings, making us unhealthy, displaying thoughtlessness and a lack of empathy. As an architect that spends a lot of time designing communities, I am consistently looking for ways to connect place to nature, people to place, and people to people. We are part of nature and a part of our place and each other. Architects have a significant role and a responsibility to chart the path of connection and inspiration.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges, or opportunities, facing cities today?
The biggest challenge to cities these days seems to be the aging infrastructure that was designed for the automobile and the lack of infrastructure designed for the human being. I feel very lucky to live in a city as resilient as New York City because it was conceived before the car. Auto-centric infrastructure includes zoning patterns that isolate land uses away from one another, perpetuate sprawl, consume our natural resources, and alienate community. While we have been having conversations with local jurisdictions about these challenges for decades, there still seems to be much to do to move away from designing for cars and toward designing for people. Cars require a lot of space, and perhaps the opportunity is putting that space to better use in the future.
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
As an architect of community, inspiration starts with geology, climate, flora and fauna, history and traditions (both in the built environment as well as cultural), contemporary lifestyles, technology, mobility, economy, governance, health and wellbeing, and equity. All these factors must be considered to create places that are authentic and sustainable and that will be cherished and valued for generations to come. Beyond that, learning from experts outside of architecture and development—experts in education, health and wellness, nature and the environment, the arts, agriculture, to name a few—inspires me to be better at creating communities that can inspire others to create, to nurture and be nurtured, to heal and to connect.
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.