Aaron Trahan: Grand Designs
Aaron Trahan knew by the time he was in high school that he wanted to be an architect. His career has confirmed the wisdom of that early decision. Aaron, now 30, has won the 2017 Emerging Architects award given by the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). The award, announced several months ago, was formally presented to him in early December in Hartford.
Aaron is the first person from Centerbrook Architects and Planners (CAP) to have won the award, which AIA has given for the last four years. It recognizes not only excellence of design work, but also community involvement
Aaron appreciates the wide variety of professional skills that architecture demands.
“If you are working on a science building, you have to know about science,” he says. “If you are doing a sports area, you have to know about sports. That’s what drew me to architecture.”
Todd Andrews, one of the principals at CAP, nominated Aaron for the award, which, Aaron says, is the result of the mentor-mentee relationship they have developed in the 4 ½ years Aaron has worked at the firm. Aaron adds that their relationship has influenced the nature of other collaborative efforts at CAP, from taking more advantage of space for group meetings to using different methods to advance group participation.
The team Aaron works with projects images onto white boards and then uses tracing paper to sketch new ideas based on those images.
“It pushes the process forward,” he says.
Working in groups, Aaron points out, requires the development of a particular skill set.
“You have to be able to accept criticism and not be shy about presenting new your ideas. It puts you in a vulnerable spot. Your ego is wrapped up in putting thought and ideas into design, but you have to keep in mind that everybody is working towards the same goal,” he says.
Much of the work Aaron has done at CAP has been for the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a major biological and cancer research center with its main campus on Long Island. CAP, which has focused much of its design work over the years on structures for colleges and other educational institutions, has worked with Cold Spring for more than 30 years, but Aaron says the work is never finished.
“It’s a growing institution; it has to accommodate new types of technology and of course renovate existing buildings,” he explains.
Aaron attributes his early interest in architecture of his father’s job with United Airlines, enabling the family to travel all over the world. Aaron was fascinated by the different kinds of structures he saw.
“We traveled free and saw buildings all around the world,” he recalls.
Ironically, one of the things he observes now is the growing tendency for modern urban buildings to look alike, regardless of the city or the continent. It was the fact that CAP’s designs reflected an appreciation for location and tradition and well as the demands of modern life that drew him to the firm.
“Some architecture is very ubiquitous. It could be in London or Shanghai, but [CAP buildings] look like they belong, like they’re made for you, for your school,” he says.
Aaron credits the variety of the odd jobs he and his twin brother did in their high school and college years for some of the experience necessary to adapt to the different kinds of clients he meets in his professional life. He worked at a PetsMart store, at a law firm, and as a waiter at an assisted living complex as well as at two popular Boston restaurants, The Cheesecake Factory and Legal Sea Food.
Aaron earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northeastern University, and worked in Boston for several years before coming to CAP. Now he has put down roots in this area, becoming involved not only with CAP projects but also with community work. Recently, he gave a talk on architecture at a high school career day in East Haddam.
“I was very happy when I heard the students really liked it,” he says.
Aaron also is on the board of New London Landmarks, a group that tries to preserve viable historic structures, educate the public about their worth, and find adaptive ways to use them in modern economic frameworks. The group currently has at least for the present prevented the demolition of several historic buildings on Bank Street in New London.
“A streetscape is the combined appeal of all the buildings. When you say, ‘Why not take down one?’ it’s like missing a tooth. And then it becomes easier to take down more than one,” he says.
In addition to community work, Aaron has volunteered for a professional architectural organization involved with the certification process necessary for licensing. Among other requirements, a would-be architect has to pass seven different written examinations to complete the process. The Emerging Architects award is designed for a practitioner who has not yet gotten a license.
At this point, Aaron actually has a number of things to celebrate, because not only did he win the Emerging Architects award, but in the interim since he received the award he has also become licensed.
When he is not working at the office, Aaron is working on the house he bought and also trying to find some time for bicycling. He doesn’t always have planned route in mind when he heads out.
“Just a general direction,” he says. “I like to explore the area.”