Up Close with Cristianne Peschard

Cristianne Peschard, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB, recently was named Science & Technology Practice Group Leader in HGA’s Boston office. She joined the firm in 2010 and has developed expertise in designing science and technology research buildings for higher education institutions. In the following, she discusses the rewards of collaborating with clients who are “doing amazing work.”

What inspired you to become an architect?

I come from a family of architects. I have it in my blood. My grandfather was an architect, and three of my dad’s siblings, 12 cousins, and my brother are architects. As a child, I would hang out in grandfather’s home studio and see his drawings and supplies. In high school, I became interested in art but gravitated back to architecture when I enrolled at the University of Notre Dame. I am fascinated by how art and architecture are interrelated and how the built environment affects the way people live and work.

How did you become involved in academic architecture?

I fell into academic architecture. After graduating in 2009, the job market for architects was tight, so I did several different jobs before coming to Wilson (now HGA). I started as an administrative assistant before taking on design and architecture functions. I fell in love with the idea that architecture can help students learn better and how design impacts the learning and research process.

What have you learned about science through your work designing research facilities?

Every lab is unique because every researcher is pursuing something new. It is humbling to help someone who is doing research that you may not fully understand. But that is part of the excitement of what I do. The conversation with researchers becomes interactive. They explain their process to me, and I explain our process to them and show them what is possible to support their research. It is a mutual learning experience. It is exciting working with scientists who are doing amazing work and realizing that I am contributing a piece of what they are doing.

How do you address the needs of different researchers?

A lab needs to be flexible and adapt to different researchers and different studies that may evolve over time. In designing labs, we strive for both flexibility and a sense of permanence. We want to create a 50-year building that can adapt to different programs over time. We need to think about how spaces will need to change.

What lessons from your first project guide you today?

My first project was a large building with multiple stakeholders. I learned that it is important to have empathy. Everyone comes to a project with their own background and their own perspectives. The design process is about understanding people’s different perspectives. You must learn how to communicate to understand those perspectives. As architects, we are communicators first.

What advice do you have for young designers considering careers in architecture?

Don’t be afraid to not know everything. That’s o.k. You need to be comfortable asking questions. Questions are expected. You are going to be learning all the time.

Three essential things you keep on your desk?

Paper and pencil. Despite the computer, I still sketch things out to think ideas through. I also have a growing collection of little toys—figurines, dinosaurs, other objects. It’s important to not take yourself too seriously.

What do you do for leisure or travel?

I like to travel back to Mexico City to see my family. Traveling gives me a perspective on architecture and culture. I particularly like to go to Puebla to see the colonial architecture. I live in the North End of Boston, where there is a lot of older architecture that still works well. It is exciting to just walk around my neighborhood and see the history.

If not an architect, what would you be?

A lawyer. I believe that we all need to do our part to help others, and the law is a good baseline to start that search for justice.