Pasadena Architect Elevated to Prestigious AIA College of Fellows

A Pasadena architect has been elevated to the prestigious College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to the profession.

Gaylaird Christopher, principal architect and president of Architecture for Education Incorporated, Pasadena, California, was recognized as a professional who has advanced the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of architectural education, training or practice.

He was one 178 Architects recently honored with this highest level of membership at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 in Orlando, Florida. Out of a total AIA membership of more than 90,000, approximately 3% of members are recognized as fellows. The elevation to fellowship is conferred on Architects with at least 10 years of membership in the AIA. 

Excelling in his field throughout a career that spans 40 years, Christopher outlined the philosophy behind the body of his work as Inspiring students to excel and become lifelong learners.

"It is always my goal as an architect to inspire children to learn," Christopher said. "Every plan, building system, and detail provide a teaching moment for students, as architecture becomes their 3-dimensional textbook." 

His focus throughout his career has been to improve teaching through translation of curriculum into the built environment, he said.

hallmark of his notable career was the creation of the revolutionary Futures Planning Process, which includes students, educators, community, institutions, and businesses collaborating in the creative use of rich community resources. Contributors' input and ongoing involvement is essential and encouraged. Participants are challenged to look to the future and determine how local resources can best be utilized, multiplying learning options for students and benefiting the greater community. 

Students reach out in service to their community while new educational pathways are opened, as the community enriches learning for its students – in and out of the classroom, the architect said.

His design approach fostered the growth of his original firm, Wolff-Lang-Christopher in Rancho Cucamonga, as well as that of the California office of Perkins + Will, which he opened in Pasadena. While with that firm, he worked with 2,000 other architects in the 9 offices of the company. He later went on to found another firm, Architecture for Education, in Pasadena.

In the toughest of economic times – spring of 2009 – Christopher answered President Obama’s call to “. . . transform our schools . . . to meet the demands of a new age.” He organized and hosted Architecture for Education’s dreamTeam Education Symposium, bringing together leaders in every facet of education planning, funding, advocacy, facilities development, and learning practices. 

More than 50 futurists, planners, educators, architects, and advocates came together in Pasadena for nearly 3 non-stop days of interaction and discussion concerning learning and the many possibilities for tomorrow’s learning environments. 

From this meeting, the dreamTeam was officially formed, through which members consult with educators around the country and the world, bringing the best in learning environments and pedagogy to all students. 

A frequent conference speaker, as well as a former university instructor, Christopher continues to revolutionize the design of learning environments, broadening their identities as community hubs and centers for student opportunity and achievement.

Notable recent projects for Christopher and Architecture for Education include work in Sacramento and Oxnard. Rancho del Paso K-12 Campus in the Greater Sacramento area was the first school built by Gateway Community Charters. The facility brings together K-12 students from 3 different campuses and distinct cultures. 

The design approach: each existing school maintains its identity on the new campus, coming together to share communal spaces and courtyards. A campus that emphasizes hands-on curriculum, the learning environment evidence theme-based work centers that each classroom cluster surrounds.

In Oxnard, a "riverside" project currently in design development – Riverpark West K-8 STEAM School – will expand on the metaphor of a river’s meander to emphasize STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) education. This K-8 campus will be a groundbreaking facility devoted to project-based learning. 

Working closely with a visionary superintendent, an elder from the Chumash Tribe, and many community/staff members, Christopher developed an integrated program that draws on local tradition and art forms, and the abundant agriculture. 

The campus buildings are formed around a central "waterway"; the learning spaces and STEAM centers follow a pathway based on students’ developmental ages, evolving and changing. Workshops safely house long-term projects, encouraging tinkering and lingering. 

The nearby Santa Clara River provides learning opportunities in outdoor lab stations, lightly constructed to respect environmental concerns. Workshops are connected directly to the classroom environment.

The 2017 Jury of Fellows from the American Institute of Architects included:

Mary Katherine (Mary Kay) Lanzillotta, FAIA, (Chair), Hartman Cox Architects; Peter Bardwell, FAIA, Bardwell & Assoc.; Mary Patton Cox, FAIA, Virginia Commonwealth University; Steve Crane, FAIA, VCBO; Marleen Kay Davis, FAIA, University of Tennessee; David Messersmith, FAIA, University of Texas, Arlington; and Karen V. Nichols, FAIA, Michael Graves Architecture & Design.