Up Close with Chris Martin

Chris Martin, AIA, LEED AP, was recently promoted to national Science & Technology Market Sector Leader. Chris works in HGA’s Boston office, where he has more than 30 years’ expertise designing research and teaching facilities for leading universities across the United States. Combining his background in architecture and anthropology, he believes good design “connects the past to the future.”

In the following, he talks about his personal and professional satisfaction collaborating with colleagues and clients to design technically sophisticated architecture that fosters scientific discovery and student engagement.

What inspired you to become an architect?

My father was an architect. He spent a lot of time talking with my brother and me about his views of the world through architecture. He loved architecture, yet he always encouraged us to make our own career choices. I studied biology and physical anthropology at Cornell University and did fieldwork for three summers through the Center for American Archeology studying prehistoric Middle Woodland Hopewell burial mounds in central Illinois. I became interested in the architecture of the burial sites and the connection between scientific discovery and architecture. This inspired me to enroll in the graduate architecture program at Tulane University.

What changes are impacting colleges campuses and learning environments?

COVID-19 has brought underlying issues forward. Campuses are seeing declining enrollment and they need to identify their unique qualities, brand, and values to attract the best students and faculty. There is a greater emphasis on helping students graduate with job-ready skills, and this is driving changes in how colleges deliver education in remote and on-site environments. The lecture-based paradigm from 20 years ago is no longer viable.

We are now asking: how can the learning environment help students engage with their peers and support self-directed, collaborative learning? And how can classrooms and labs allow hybrid educational delivery? Spaces need to be flexible and adaptable to accommodate different learning models and technology.

The pandemic has accelerated this reassessment of existing spaces. The schools that can adapt quickly and create a blend of technology will prosper.

How do you engage clients and the campus community in the design process?

I often compare the design process to a long dinner conversation with many courses brought to the table. We have a process at HGA for guiding decision-making on complex projects with diverse stakeholders. Early planning can take four to six months as we gather input from different people, identify similar and sometimes divergent expectations, and form a consensus. Design should be an open-book process that leads to a shared decision.

You specialize in research and teaching environments. How do you support the growing emphasis on multidisciplinary research and discovery?

I’m inspired by designing spaces that bring together experts from different specialties to solve big problems. Research and teaching environments need to be adaptable to support different teams and different problems that may not exist right now. The intersection of scientific exploration is evolving quickly, and today’s specialties can spin off into new specialties and disciplines tomorrow. It’s exciting working with people who are generating innovative research. Colleges are looking for faculty and students who can work across disciplines, and the environments need to support cross-disciplinary research. Young faculty expect to work in collaborative environments. My job is to create spaces that support that collaboration.

If not an architect, what would you be?

Either a physical anthropologist or a contractor. I love building things and working with my hands.