Monday, August 20, 2018

531 East 34th Street

531 East 34th Street. Those were the words on David Lee’s first slide and they began an expansive discussion about architecture, community building, politics and success.  

David Lee and and Save the Harbor President, Patty Foley

David Lee is a partner at Stull and Lee Architects, the former President of the Boston Society of Architects, and has taught at Harvard, MIT and the Rhode Island School of Design. We were honored to have him meet with our summer staff as part of our Youth Leadership and Jobs Speaker Series.  

Mr. Lee started by sharing a bit of his history. He was born in Chicago and first gained a love of design as a child, watching a television show named “Community Builders.” On the show, designers would enter a home and reconfigure the interior. Later, he studied design at the University of Chicago and was given his first job by David A. Crane. Crane’s firm was known for doing work in African American neighborhoods and Mr. Lee noted that he came of age as an architect during the 1960s, the time of the civil rights movement. He wanted to help organize cities to promote equity.  

Later when Mr. Lee moved to Boston to attend Harvard he joined Donald Stull, and their new firm had to wrestle with the issue of equity and highway expansion. A new highway was planned to go directly through a neighborhood in the South End of Boston, which would have split the area in half. The residents, concerned about traffic and pollution, mobilized to stop the highway expansion. Stull and Lee were brought in to work with the community and created a new design that preserved the neighborhood.  
Discussing the Southwest Expressway

Our staff was impressed to see all of the familiar Boston buildings that Mr. Lee had designed such as the police headquarters in Ruggles and the John D O’Bryant African American Institute at Northeastern University. Many of the Save the Harbor staff said they walked by these buildings regularly and would now have a different appreciation for them. Mr. Lee also showed his work with green infrastructure, the remodeling of public housing and his projects in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina helping to rebuild the 9th ward.   

When asked what trait he most attributes to his success, Mr. Lee stated, “Success in life is how you deal with Plan B.” He also offered a thought-provoking quote: “Anybody can add; it takes genius to subtract.” 
And when asked what is his best work habit, he gave three: don’t compromise your principles, be collaborative and listen to people, and you’ll go a long way if you don’t care who gets the credit.  

531 East 34th Street.  

This was the address of Mr. Lee’s childhood home. He would return decades later to construct buildings a block away from where he learned to ride a bike.   

Thank you, David, for showing us history, civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and inspiration through your architectural journey.  

David and our Summer Youth Staff

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