by: AIA New York
Wells Megalli, AIA, LEED AP, has two decades of design experience spanning strategy, technology, interiors, and architecture. Megalli currently leads commercial and institutional projects at Selldorf Architects, where she is engaged on a DDC project for the Queens Public Library and two projects for Harvard University: the renovation of an historic greenhouse and new ground-up Humanities building, both at the Dumbarton Oaks campus in Washington, DC. She also serves on the board of Tulane School of Architecture and recently was appointed Co-chair of the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee.
Megalli’s interests span past and future, and her expansive work includes projects with TenBerke, Selldorf Architects, and her own design practice. She studied architectural history at Yale as well as digital design. Her early digital content and online experience designs for EarthWeb Inc. were instrumental in the firm’s IPO, one of Web1’s first success stories. Megalli’s expertise in user experience has shaped her approach to architectural design, which often focuses on the ways physical space can influence, transform, and enable the individual and the community. Her multi-disciplinary design studio, Person Place Thing PLLC, takes on special design and strategy commissions for clients combining art, architecture, technology, and sustainability.
Please join us in welcoming Megalli to the helm of the Women in Architecture Committee. Here, she tells us a little about her roots in architecture, and what is influencing her work the most right now.
Q: How/why did you decide to pursue architecture?
It was experiencing and studying the architecture of New Haven—from the modern gems to the Quaker grid—and the influence of my teachers at the time, including Vincent Scully. I was also a budding technologist, so coming out of school I took a chance and got involved in nascent internet design. I was intrigued by the overlaps in design process, spatial thinking, and problem-solving between the two disciplines. It was only later that I earned my M.Arch and became an architect in the traditional sense. I’m incredibly grateful for my early experiences that allowed me to embrace a multidisciplinary approach to design.
Coming out of tech—another historically male-dominated industry—I see parallels in the challenges women often face achieving leadership roles in architecture. I’d like to make a difference to the next gen. And I’d like to create beautiful spaces and things while doing so.
Q: What do you see as an architect’s role—and responsibility—within our culture?
Architecture is one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, passions one can pursue. You would only do it if it gives you tremendous pleasure—because the flip side is that it takes vision, very hard work, and unfathomable patience to deliver excellent work. Architects shoulder a tremendous responsibility for the world we are building and to the people that inhabit it. It’s imperative to design sustainably, with a sense of economy and stewardship towards our natural resources as well as resources such as time. Time really is the ultimate resource, and some architecture is timeless, or perhaps stops time, or better yet, creates time.
Q: What is influencing your work the most right now?
The challenge of balancing emotion and logic. Architecture can spark our imagination and sense of awe; it can be delightful or surprising or provocative or mysterious. But ultimately architecture is subject to logic (or should be). So, I’m exploring ways to balance or superimpose or syncretize these two paradigms. To me, logic is ultimately the most beautiful. Whatever emotion a space evokes, a kind of clarity should be legible.
Q: What are your greatest sources of inspiration?
The diverse humans who inhabit these spaces and their individual and collective aspirations and pursuits. It goes back to user experience. I start by asking who is using the space and what is their trajectory or goal. Second, I want to know what the space does and what does it need to communicate, including emotions. My process defines a relationship between the user and the space. Based on that understanding you can dive into aesthetic vision and design opportunities and materiality and form, etc—those exist to enable the relationship to thrive.
Q: Do you have a favorite building?
I have a favorite building type… I’m designing a library now and I have always been obsessed with libraries. It’s silly to have a “favorite” but… the only building I have a photo of in my studio is the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale. I collect rare books and the Beinecke is a rare book temple. Its proportions are classical and uncompromising but its siting in the Quadrangle was quite audacious, even subversive at the time. And I loved the original juxtaposition of Oldenburg’s Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks sculpture which used to be in the plaza, but I’ve only ever seen this in photos since the Lipstick is in Morse (residential college) now.