AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Spotlight Shines on Claire Gallagher, Associate AIA

March 19, 2019

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Claire Gallagher, Associate AIA

AIA New Jersey Women in Architecture Showcase

I have never been asked for my resume without receiving a puzzled reaction. “How did you get from Marine Biology to Architecture?”  
My resume is even more diverse than that, but it all makes perfect sense to me, particularly since the latter requires interdisciplinary thinking and a bit of a polymath mentality. My life and professional career have woven a fabric of experience that has given me a unique skill set. 

Yes, I started my academic career in Marine Biology, and after my B.S. was headed to Florida State University for a Masters in Malacology but an honest conversation with my mentor about job possibilities threw some reality on my plans and I went home to NJ to think it over. Over the next ten years, life took me to Montreal, Toronto, then back to NJ. I started an MBA at McGill University (a woman with an MBA in 1977 was destined for a great job I was told) but detested it, I managed a Madison Avenue children’s store on Bloor Street in Toronto, I sold real estate in rural Ontario, and decided to get a Masters in Secondary Science and a teaching certificate when I returned to the U.S.  The real story was what I had been doing behind the scenes the entire time: renovating houses, myself. It had been the perfect fit.  When I arrived in Montreal in January of 1977, the Separatist government had just been elected in Quebec and the Anglophones were fleeing the Province for Ontario and Alberta. You could buy any house you wanted for a song, and so I did. My father had taught me how to build and repair just about anything and I knew tools and structure, and my way around buildings.  I started with a row house in the Montreal neighborhood of Westmount; two years later I was working on an outbuilding on a farm, a stone house in the town of Uxbridge, Ontario, 35 miles northeast of downtown Toronto. Both projects were easy to sell. 

When I moved back to the U.S. in 1980, oil had become very expensive and towns like Monmouth Beach were filled with old, uninsulated white elephants that no one could afford to, or wanted to, heat.  I literally knocked on the door of someone I had heard was living with his little girl in three rooms he was heating with space heaters and asked if he was interested in selling his house. It was a Queen Anne, turrets and gingerbread, a block from the beach. It was my next project but this time I did the demolition and hired others to do the rest. It was my introduction to being a contractor, quite a different role. I was teaching math and science at a local elementary school during the day and spending the rest of the time working at the house. 

Driving to and from work took me through Rumson and by an 1886 Stanford White designed house that was about to be razed. I didn’t know it but that house would be my ticket to an MArch.  The project was enormous and nearly killed me, but 2 years later it was sold.  I left my teaching job, moved to NYC, and enrolled at Columbia University in the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation; I never looked back.

But things took another turn. When I graduated with my MArch in 1990, the job market was horrid. I was living in Pittsburgh, having spent the last year of my degree at Carnegie Mellon University to get some exposure to computers, which Columbia had not embraced as yet. I left after commencement to go back to NJ and to my surprise found a message waiting for me from the Chair of Carnegie Mellon’s Architecture Department, John Eberhard, asking if I would like to teach studio. I turned the car around and went back to take the job. I have been teaching at the university level ever since. With a doctorate in architecture education, I have found my niche in the study of pedagogy and school design and have been teaching in a School of Education for the past 20 years, where I infuse courses with design thinking. I wrote the curriculum for the Teachers’ Residency at Fallingwater and served as the Director for 20 years; I wrote the curriculum for the AIA’s Legacy Project in Philadelphia, the Charter High School for Architecture and Design, and served as Director of Curriculum; I have been a member of the AIA Committee on Architecture for Education for over 25, for the last 5 years as a member of the Leadership Group, and last year as the Chair. 

As for my resume?  It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?



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