Inspirational architect: Kelly Hayes McAlonie (BEDS’92, MArchFP’94)
by Anne Swan
After a 23-year career in architecture, alumna Kelly Hayes McAlonie (BEDS’92, MArchFP’94) remains clear about one thing: the value of her Dalhousie education. Kelly’s career has been focused on one simple question: How can architecture be a vehicle for education? This was something she began to explore while a thesis student in the School of Architecture.
“My time in the school was hard,” remembers Kelly. “However, I remain grateful for my experience there. I am particularly thankful to Grant Wanzel who taught me that Architecture can be a strong vehicle for social justice, and Richard Kroeker, who gave me confidence in my ideas and showed me how to be passionate for my work.”
Her thesis, on children in architecture, led her to show interest in Ithaca architect Robert Leather’s design of a community built playground in St. Andrews by the Sea. After graduation she was on a bus to New York and knocked on his door. “I think he was inspired by my tenacity and he hired me!” recalls Kelly. She remained at Leathers and Associates for 5 years during which she traveled all over the world working on children’s environments and learning the life-long skills of running meetings, building consensus, and most importantly – working with clients. “Architecture is first and foremost a team sport” remarks Kelly. “I was fortunate to learn this early in my career.”
Kelly then relocated to Buffalo, N.Y. where she was hired by Canon Design as part of their K-12 practice. Over the years, the firm’s K-12 and post-secondary units merged, giving Kelly the experience to launch her into the next phase of her career. As an Associate Vice President at Canon, Kelly drew from her early client relations skills, grew them, and became the Buffalo Office’s educational planner and a client advocate.
After re-locating to Buffalo and getting licensed, Kelly realized she missed having a sense of place. A self-proclaimed “organizer,” she missed connecting with people and wanted to “build a tribe.” Kelly dove into her involvement in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and created Architecture + Education, an award-winning program founded to increase awareness and involvement in the built and natural environment and to use architecture as a multidisciplinary form of active learning. By 2008 she was the President of AIA Buffalo, and by 2012 the President of AIA New York State.
In 2010, the President of the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) came knocking with an inspiring vision of the concept of the educational continuum and how architecture can support this, as well as with an opportunity. UB was taking the first steps toward an ambitious Master Planning Project (UB2020) and wanted Kelly to join the team. She is currently enjoying watching the first phase of that project, a 600,000 square foot, 375 million dollar home for the medical school, being constructed. Designed by HOK, the project is on its way to being a huge success! She is now working on the revitalization of the historic South Campus and the existing space impacted by this project, using her client advocacy skills to represent the student interest. “I truly believe that the student experience enhances the campus experience and is what a great University foundation is built on.”
Another notable aspect of Kelly’s career is her involvement with women’s issues. As she advanced in her career, Kelly became more and more interested in gender equity. For many years she has worked to promote the legacy of Louise Bethune, FAIA, America’s first professional female architect, through research, writing, lectures, award nominations, and two exhibits. Kelly and her colleague Despina Stratigakos are also responsible for the collaboration with Mattel and the AIA that resulted in Barbie I Can Be…Architect. This project was the subject of 175 million Internet impressions, 270 news stories, 20 television segments, 240 on-line stories and 8 print articles.
“I was lucky,” says Kelly, “I was able to study in a place where I was inspired by the professors and found trust in those relationships. I was taught to be willing to ‘fail forward,’ to trust in my beliefs, and that design is not for frivolity but an expression of the human experience. My time at Dalhousie gave me the thrust into life that has shaped all the work I have done.”
Kelly has recently been accepted into the AIA College of Fellows. This honour recognizes the achievements of architects as individuals, but also their significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level, achieving a standard of excellence in the profession. The investiture will take place on May 20, at the AIA National Convention. We are thrilled to call Kelly one of our own!