Coral block to the tallest tower

by Sarah Bousquet
“My designs have endeavored to clearly belong to their unique environments, from the windswept plains of New Mexico, to the urban streets of New York City.” Alexander (Sandy) Howe, Former Principal, AIA

The Howe Traveling Fellowship is a biennial exploration grant that was founded in 2011 to honor the life and work of late Shepley Bulfinch Principal Alexander (Sandy) Howe, AIA. Sandy’s passion for the artistry of architecture and travel was palpable. His attention to place and design’s interplay with its natural environment still push our curiosity and innovation, today.

Our 2017 Howe Fellow, Architect Kate Hriczo, will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 30 days to study how each has—or has not—evolved since the discovery of oil in the 1960s. These are her insights on the journey ahead, and her eagerness to understand a community’s story through its design progression.

Q: The Burj Al Arab was imprinted in your mind the first time you saw it. What is it about that building that is so striking?

A: The visual connection I have to learning that the Burj Al Arab sits on a manmade island, and the structural components of how that would all work is what stands out. I’m more of a technical architect with an eye for design, so I’m interested in the construction aspects of a project and its location. In that moment—in studio class—I knew I wanted to go there.

Q: Did you immediately think “UAE” when you applied for the Fellowship?

A: Yes. I don’t know of any other place in the world that has grown quite so rapidly. It’s kind of insane to think a place that installed its first stop light just 45 years ago, is today, home to an indoor ski resort and the largest underground wall of glass with ocean views. I want to explore these vast structural changes, and immerse myself in local culture to understand the history of this place and its people.

Q: What picture can architecture paint of the development of a society?

A: In my hometown of Boston, you can see the evolution of buildings, design, people, and time periods just walking down the street. But in the Emirates, it seems like each is in its own design space—even though the entire UAE is only about the size of South Carolina. I honestly don’t know what to expect, but I imagine there will be a huge, obvious gaps between old and new builds.

Q: What architectural qualities stand out to you as specific to the UAE?

A: A main goal in my journey is to see the strong juxtaposition between old coral block architecture and new construction techniques on the ground now. I’m also curious to see how facades are used and stand up to more severe environments, like high winds and temperatures.

Q: How do you see this opportunity impacting you, professionally and personally?

A: It’s really a chance for unmatched education. Learning about different cultures and the ways they do in things in person is an incredible opportunity. I also think whenever you go somewhere new, you come home and things automatically look different because you have gained perspective. I’m equally interested to see how I react when I get back to U.S.