Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Felicia Middleton @UrbanAesthetics

Felicia Middleton is an Architecture Design Professional, an Author, an EPA Certified Renovator and an Entrepreneur. She is the principal of Urban Aesthetics, LLC serving the Philadelphia metropolitan area.  She specializes in Residential and Commercial Architecture and Interior Design – both Renovations and New Construction – as well as Commercial and Residential Kitchens and Baths, Quality Assurance, Interior Material Specifications, Interior Commercial Design including Restaurants and Bars, Salons and Spas, Education and Church Facilities and Corporate Design and Retail Planning. She also provides Construction Administration and Construction Management services.

She can be found on social media by following these links: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and on LinkedIn.


When and why did you decide to become an Architect?

At the young age of 15, while attending the Carver H.S. of Engineering and Science I took a drafting class and decided what I wanted to do as a career. I told a drafting teacher that I wanted to draw on computers. We had a drafting teacher who was very encouraging, named Mr. Avant. The students loved him so much because he would let us eat lunch with him in his drafting class and he had a genuine interest in each one of us. Sadly, he passed last year. I always wanted to thank him for his help and encouragement.

What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?

College financing often was a challenge for me. My family had difficulties and paying for college became a struggle. I had to work many jobs while in college but I realize now that those jobs helped lay the framework for my future. Thank God for making it possible for me to overcome so many obstacles and pursue and achieve my dream.

Any memorable clients or project highlights?

Earlier in my career, I designed a Commissary Kitchen Warehouse and several cafeterias for the Vineland School District in Vineland, NJ. I learned so much from that project. I learned a lot about the operations of school food facilities. That learning process really reinforced how important the use of a building is in design and planning.

During that same time, I worked on many well-known food facility projects in casinos throughout the country. I found a design niche that I grew to love and still love over a decade later.

How does your family support what you do?

My immediate family supports me 100%. Especially my mother. She has been my biggest fan. My friends and family will often pass my name to others who may need my services. In addition, they support events and projects sponsored by my company, especially the community projects.

How do Architects measure success?

Many architects measure success via projects and achievements and the impact that they have on others. I would also add that success is measured by the way we are able to make a difference in our communities.

What matters most to you in design?

Safety, is extremely important to me, also function and aesthetics. Buildings are where we spend the majority of our time so they should be safe spaces that add to our well-being.

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What do you hope to achieve over the next 2 years? 5 years?

Over the next two years I will focus on managing Urban Aesthetics projects while developing my own individual brand. Within 5 years I will have my brand developed in Food Facility Design and operate separately from Urban Aesthetics.

Who is your favorite Architect? Why?

I feel in our profession mentoring and inspiring is very important. Your life, work and values should inspire your followers. My favorite historical architect, Daniel Burnham’s life story is inspiring, his buildings are beautiful and he has written very inspiring quotes. I have used his quote as a motto for my business.

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency…”

My favorite current architects are my colleagues.

Do you have a coach or mentor?

I have a Business Coach but unfortunately, I do not currently have a mentor. I have been blessed with many mentors throughout my life and career and I have mentored many.

Mentoring relationships are not permanent. They end or change as we grow. I have desired to find a mentor for a couple of years but I have not been able to create the relationship.

The architect that I share an office with is probably the closest person to a mentor that I currently have. He is a senior on the architecture profession and he offers advice and gives advice when I ask. I have a great deal of respect for him.

What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?

My favorite historic project is the Colosseum. The Colosseum is a grand structure located in Rome, Italy. It is beautiful and strong, representing the games that were performed for spectators. Amazingly, it has stood robust and tall for almost 2000 years.

My favorite modern building has changed a many ties over the last 20 years, as innovation, design and the environment surrounding me changes. Most recently, the Cira Center, in Philadelphia, has been a favorite. I love it because it stands a jewel above the surrounding buildings and it represented the expansion of our downtown to the other side of the Schuylkill River. An added bonus is that the building is green, LEED Certified.

Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?

For a while, it seemed as if there was a decline in the profession but I have noticed a recent resurgence. I do believe there needs to be some liberation in the process involved in becoming an architect and function within the profession. I see the profession opening up to multiple careers, interchanging with architecture.

What type of technology do you see in the design and construction industries?

Virtual 3d Modeling is a form of technology that I have seen most recently. Virtual reality in design will help us communicate designs to clients who have difficulty understanding plans. In addition, advances in project management software helps to streamline the planning and construction processes.

Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?

The Green Movement has been my greatest influence in design. I became serious about environmental issues while in college and there I decided that it would have a big impact on my work. I worked for an environmental organization for a couple of years while in college and I learned so much. I added a few environment-centered courses while in college and

my senior internship included researching Brownfield’s Redevelopment. When I first entered the design world, eco-friendly design was not a large part of what we did. I was a bit discouraged at first but was reenergized in the early 2000’s when the green movement really started taking shape.

Which building or project type would you like to work on that you haven’t been part of yet?

A LEED project. My current burning desire is to participate on a LEED project.

How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?

I will to continue mentoring our young people by explaining to them as many aspects of our work as I can, to help the understand all that is included and let them see that this profession has so much to offer, depending on what direction you wish to go. I will let them see that when you fall in love with your work, it can be very fulfilling. I hope to let them see that you can make a difference in your community and also the world while working in this field but you MUST find your way.

What advice would you give aspiring architects (K-12)? College students? Graduates?

Fall in love love with architecture and the profession if you want to succeed and endure the work. You will have to put your time in while working but be sure to learn more than what is expected.

What does Architecture mean to you?

Architecture is art in the form of function and use. We create structures that affect people physically and emotionally. We discover solutions to problems both spatially and creatively. I learned at a young age that I liked seeing how things come together. In architecture, part of your work is to develop the way a building comes together. At times we have to take a building apart to bring the desired project together.

What is your design process?

I follow a basic process:

  • Determining the client’s Gain an understanding of their situation (financial, time constraints and any limitations)
  • Preliminary Research – Code, Zoning, Needs of Use, Property,
  • Pre-Design – Discuss research findings, create
  • Design Development – Develop the concept into a more workable Additional research.
  • Coordinate with project team.
  • Complete

If you could not be an Architect, what would you be?

If I could not work in this great profession, I would be a writer. I guess I already am a writer. I have always excelled at writing. Writing is my second love, next to architecture. I have published 2 books, written for magazines and published several blogs. I absolutely love to write.

What is your dream project?

I have a strange desire to design a high-end Starbucks, similar to the project in progress in Chicago.

What advice do you have for a future Executive leader?

Take time to let things develop. Relish in the importance of being guided by others, mentors who can help you and your interests. You must share in your success, look to give to your fellow business colleagues. Develop a relationship with fellow business owners and remember that collaboration produces multiple wins. Work with partnerships, strategically develop partners with whom you can develop lasting business relationships.

What are three key challenges you face as a leader in business today and one trend you see in your industry?

Maintaining Momentum is a challenge that requires constant thought and planning. Moving to the next level while continuing a current pace is very important for success.

Keeping the needs of our community in focus while maintaining momentum is important and also challenging.

One trend I have seen in my industry, especially locally is the explosion of development within the inner city. It is similar to the Mc-Mansion boom we saw years ago.

What one thing must an executive leader be able to do to be successful in the next 3 years?

Remain relevant to society, business and your community. Offer a unique service that keeps the client as a focus.

What are some executive insights you have gained since you have been sitting in the executive leadership seat – or what is one surprise you have encountered as the world of business continues to morph as we speak?

I have learned that business is difficult and you have to extract emotion from the process or it will wear you out. I work in a creative profession but often the bottom line drives my work. I’ve read about and followed the lives of innovative leaders in business to inspire me, geniuses such as Steve Jobs. Although they are one-in-a million I you can be one, I can make a difference. I strive to learn as much as you can from these leaders, both good and bad and use their tools in my work.

Shark Tank may be entertaining but you can learn a lot watching that show. Learn where you can. Never stop educating yourself. Follow the rules.

A surprise I have encountered is the number of opportunities that are available for current and future business owners.

Final Thoughts on How to Be Successful?

Read as much as you can. Keep learning. Be honest, thankful and give back as much as possible. Follow the rules. To me, true success, being able to use the resources that you’ve been blessed with to bless someone else. Whether it is with your money, labor, knowledge, time, mentoring, etc.

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ILMA of the Week: Frank L. Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright (born Frank Lincoln Wright, June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American Architect, interior designer, writer and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures and completed 532 works. Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by his design for Fallingwater (1935) featured in the photo above, which has been called “the best all-time work of American Architecture“. Wright was a leader of the Prairie School movement of architecture and developed the concept of the Usonian home, his unique vision for urban planning in the United States.

Wright’s portfolio includes original and innovative examples of many different building types, including offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels, and museums. Wright also designed many of the interior elements of his buildings, such as the furniture and stained glass. Wright authored 20 books and many articles and was a popular lecturer in the United States and in Europe. His colorful personal life often made headlines, most notably for the 1914 fire and murders at his Taliesin studio. Already well known during his lifetime, Wright was recognized in 1991 by the American Institute of Architects as “the greatest American architect of all time.”

Wright’s most famous private residences —Fallingwater— was built from 1934 to 1937 for Mr. and Mrs. Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., at Mill Run, Pennsylvania, not too far from Pittsburgh. It was designed according to Wright’s desire to place the occupants close to the natural surroundings, with a stream and waterfall running under part of the building. Wright wanted the new residences to live with the waterfalls, to make them part of their everyday lives. He didn’t want them to just look at them every now and again. Constructed over a 30-foot waterfall, the house may look very big on the outside but on the inside it is quite small, which surprises some visitors. It was made with three bedrooms, a massive living room and a dining room. The house was more of a design for a family getaway not for a live-in family. The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces, using limestone for all verticals and concrete for the horizontals. The house cost $155,000, including the architect’s fee of $8,000. It was one of Wright’s most expensive pieces. Kaufmann’s own engineers argued that the design was not sound. They were overruled by Wright, but the contractor secretly added extra steel to the horizontal concrete elements. In 1994, Robert Silman and Associates examined the building and developed a plan to restore the structure. In the late 1990s, steel supports were added under the lowest cantilever until a detailed structural analysis could be done. In March 2002, post-tensioning of the lowest terrace was completed.

The iconic “Guggenheim Museum” (also featured in the photo above) is located in New York City. This project kept Wright occupied for 16 years (1943–1959) and is probably his most recognized masterpiece. The building rises as a warm beige spiral from its site on Fifth Avenue; its interior is similar to the inside of a seashell. Its unique central geometry was meant to allow visitors to easily experience Guggenheim’s collection of nonobjective geometric paintings by taking an elevator to the top level and then viewing artworks by walking down the slowly descending, central spiral ramp, the floor of which is embedded with circular shapes and triangular light fixtures to complement the geometric nature of the structure. However, when the museum was completed, a number of details of Wright’s design were ignored, such as his desire for the interior to be painted off-white. Further, the Museum currently designs exhibits to be viewed by walking up the curved walkway rather than walking down from the top level.

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Order, Formulas, and Rules

by Frank Cunha III

It seems like when you finally get it right in Architecture, Art, Music, Fashion, etc, you become a “sellout.”  So what is Right? How can we get it right? Will anyone know the difference?  In the music industry, record companies spend millions studying what kind of music we enjoy.  Recently I heard that they have developed a formula for what makes great music whether we consciously agree or not (they call it “musically satisfying”).  Is it any wonder we get those cheesy songs stuck in our head?  This comes as no surprise in a technologically advanced and transformative world.  Could the same be true for Architecture (Architecturally satisfying)?

Like many other Architects, I subscribe to hard copies and digital copies of various Art & Architecture magazines.  It’s fun to see all the new and exciting international projects that have been commissioned.  It’s also frustrating to see that many of the projects follow some sort of formula – It is easy/difficult to put a finger on it but given an opportunity – Budget, Client, Program, couldn’t we too fudge, I mean design something similar?  I remember an old college professor telling us how in his day he had to study / copy the Masters of his day for Architecture School.

I am pretty sure I did not miss class the day they taught the secret formula to creating great Architecture – Which leads me to ask, What is great?  I mean, we all have our opinions on the Masters of our day – Good or Bad.  What I mean to ask is something that delves deeper.  Besides the ability to obtain intellectual clients with extremely high budgets looking for “meaningful” design, how do these high profile Architects / Architecture firms land these clients?  Once they figure out this formula is it a matter of fine-tuning it and repeating it?

Although Architecture is filled with Order & Rules (figuratively and literally) should there be a Formula to producing great works of Architecture?

I would think that a world without figurative Order & Rules of today’s contemporary Architecture (that results in the “Same” different Architecture, the same way someone dyes their hair pink or blue to be different, to be like their friends) would result in a more meaningful, natural world of Architecture filled with unique projects emulating real emotion and artfulness.  When Architecture (or Music for that matter) begins to repeat these figurative patterns it also eliminates the artfulness of the unknown. The mystery of Architecture is not in the mathematics or science of Architecture but in it’s naïve soulfulness.  That is where I believe the true spirit of Architecture resides.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts by Frank Furness

Ever since I first heard about Frank Heyling Furness (1839–1912) during an Architectural history class I have been fascinated by his work.  I made several trips to Philadelphia to see his work and I am familiar with his Emlen Physick Estate in historic Cape May, New Jersey.  Although at first glance his work appears to be traditional Victorian, his body of work  trandscends any particular style.  I consider Furness the first Deconstructivist (or Pre- Post-Modernist) the way he melded different styles to create his work. Below I am featuring his most well known and preserved work, the  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts located in Philadelphia, which is one of the few projects that have been preserved.

No small part of Furness’s historical significance lies in the fact that the young Louis Sullivan picked this office – then known as Furness & Hewitt – to work in for a short period after he left Ware’s School in Boston. As Sullivan’s Autobiography of an Idea testifies, the vitality and originality of Furness meant more to him than what he was taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or later at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.”

Following decades of neglect, during which many of Furness’s most important buildings were demolished, there was a revival of interest in his work in the mid-20th century. The critic Lewis Mumford, tracing the creative forces that had influenced Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, wrote in The Brown Decades (1931): “Frank Furness was the designer of a bold, unabashed, ugly, and yet somehow healthily pregnant architecture.”

The architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock, in his comprehensive survey Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (revised 1963), saw beauty in that ugliness:

“Of the highest quality, is the intensely personal work of Frank Furness (1839-1912) in Philadelphia. His building for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Broad Street was erected in 1872-76 in preparation for the Centennial Exposition. The exterior has a largeness of scale and a vigor in the detailing that would be notable anywhere, and the galleries are top-lit with exceptional efficiency. Still more original and impressive were his banks, even though they lay quite off the main line of development of commercial architecture in this period. The most extraordinary of these, and Furness’s masterpiece, was the Provident Institution in Walnut [sic Chestnut] Street, built as late as 1879. This was most unfortunately demolished in the Philadelphia urban renewal campaign several years ago, but the gigantic and forceful scale of the granite membering alone should have justified its respectful preservation.

On the occasion of its centennial in 1969, the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects memorialized Furness as its great architect of the past:

For designing original and bold buildings free of the prevalent Victorian academicism and imitation, buildings of such vigor that the flood of classical traditionalism could not overwhelm them, or him, or his clients …

For shaping iron and concrete with a sensitive understanding of their particular characteristics that was unique for his time …

For his significance as innovator-architect along with his contemporaries John RootLouis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright …

For his masterworks, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Provident Trust Company, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station, and the University of Pennsylvania Library (now renamed the Furness Building) …

For his outstanding abilities as draftsman, teacher and inventor …

For being a founder of the Philadelphia Chapter and of the John Stewardson Memorial Scholarship in Architecture …

And above all, for creating architecture of imagination, decisive self-reliance, courage, and often great beauty, an architecture which to our eyes and spirits still expresses the unusual personal character, spirit and courage for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery on a Civil War battlefield.

Click here for more information on Frank Furness.