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FOR ARCHITECT Gwen Howard, MArch ’95, civic citizenship runs deep, professionally and personally. Her first post-UB job was in community planning for downtown Buffalo, launching a not-for-profit youth hostel. Next she served as a city building-code enforcement official, where she solved problems of restoring and reusing buildings while helping them meet code. Today, as an associate and project manager at the Foit-Albert Associates architectural firm, one of her clients is a civic jewel, Buffalo’s 135-year-old zoo. Among other projects, she has renovated the original elephant house and designed the zoo’s newest habitats, Rainforest Falls and Heritage Farm.
On the personal front, Howard and her family, including school-aged twin sons, are locavores who strive to use or eat regional products daily. Howard also sits on Buffalo’s Preservation Board, injecting her unique body of knowledge into issues of how Buffalo deals with its vast stock of important aging architecture. Says Howard, “A lot of my work is in the Buffalo community, and it’s like having more kids. I truly enjoy what I do because even the simplest thing affects our community in some way.”
—Grace Lazzara with photo by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
What do you think is different (both better and worse) for students today compared with when you went to UB?
What do you miss most about your time as a student?
I miss the time in the studio with my friends. We really did live there, in large rooms with 15 drafting tables. You don’t leave—you might eat there or even sleep there on a couch. I miss the sense of “we’re in this together,” of growing together in a very sleep-deprived way! It was fun—exhausting, but fun.Gwen Howard
The integration of computer technology into the curriculum today means that students are required to use it. I didn’t use all of those options then; newer students do and are better professionals for it.
Favorite UB class or professor?
I took a number of Bob Shibley’s classes. He allowed us to work like professionals; our [class] ran like a small architectural practice. We did community-based projects and made presentations to the public. In other groups, you’d work for days and make your presentation without sleeping, bathing or dressing professionally, but not in his.
How did UB influence your life and career?
I got my first job with Buffalo Place because of UB. They called me as a result of an urban-design studio project I’d been involved in. They wouldn’t have known about me otherwise.
Last book read? Do you use an e-reader?
I read every night with my children. They like Discover magazine a lot, and right now we’re reading “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. I don’t use an e-reader because snuggling with your kids and an electronic device seems a little detached to me.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Proudest moment since graduating?
After the earthquake in Haiti, my kids wanted us to take tools and building materials down there because they saw me as someone who could help out. What they actually did was to walk through our neighborhood in the middle of January selling baked goods to raise money. That just seemed to take everything I’ve done and boil it down.
If you could have had one technological advancement/device here now that wasn’t around in the 1990s, what would it be?
I wish I’d had more computer-design requirements.
Do you keep in touch with UB friends today?
Yes. The studio experience is really familial; you spend days on end in a room with your classmates. There’s a core of us who still stick together.
What advice do you have for current UB students? “If I knew then what I know now…”
Integrate yourself into your community as much as you can. You’re entering a competitive marketplace where, in addition to what you know, it’s who you know. You need those connections.
How did you do your homework and/or research papers before Google or the Internet?
I used UB’s Architecture and Planning Library. We didn’t use Internet that frequently because our projects were often more local or regional. They were based in places rather than ideas, so we could often visit the site.
Would you still select the same major if you had to do it all over again?
Absolutely. I love what I do.
Any distinct memories about Buffalo winters?
Buffalo is the only place I know where a winter storm that’s a disaster doesn’t result in rioting and looting. We get together and make dinner.
Favorite Buffalo food?
Anything grown or produced locally.
David Dorsey is a Rochester-based freelance writer whose credits include Esquire and Fast Company (Dilek Cindoglu, Dexter Johnson, Atif Zafar); Grace Lazzara is a Buffalo-based writer and public relations strategist (Andra Ackerman, Gwen Howard, Bridget Cullen Mandikos); Mara McGinnis, BA ’97, is executive director of communications at Pratt Institute and a New York City-based freelance writer (Randy Asher, Steve Marchese, Rodney Sharman).