With new president, Kuhn Riddle Architects becomes woman-owned

  • Aelan Tierney. Submitted Photo/Joanna Chattman

For the Gazette
Published: 3/6/2019 12:52:35 PM

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the number of women-owned architecture firms in the Pioneer Valley. This story now includes Fitch Architecture & Community Design, which became women-owned in 2008.

Kuhn Riddle Architects became a certified woman-owned business in when Aelan Tierney stepped in as majority shareholder and president of the company in 2018.

Tierney said she became interested in the field when she completed an internship program at a local architecture firm in high school. She designed a teen center, a project she cared about as a high school student.

“I got to pick a site, and build a model, and do drawings, and it influenced what I wanted to do when applying to schools,” Tierney said.

Tierney said her transition into the role of president at Kuhn Riddle Architects was a very deliberate move. The firm, located in Amherst, discussed how the transition would happen over a few years. As the president, Tierney works with Jonathan Salvon and Charles Roberts, who are principals at the firm. Both Salvon and Roberts expressed confidence in the work that has been done since Tierney took over.

“I think that when Aelan steps away or goes away, there is definitely a missing presence in the office, and it is always a relief when she comes back,” Roberts said.

Kuhn Riddle Architects was started by Chris Riddle and John Kuhn in 1988. Riddle is no longer involved in the daily operations of the company, but Kuhn is still involved despite stepping down as a leader in the company.

“With Aelan moving into a full leadership role here, we really have a completely new group of leaders,” Salvon said.

The firm sent out postcards to their clients to let them know about the change in leadership. Salvon said the responses to these postcards were almost all positive.

Tierney said that being a female architect does have its challenges as well.

“Even today, I’ll bring a younger male staff person on-site, and the contractors will go to them instead of to me,” Tierney said.

One in every three new architects is a woman, according to recent statistics from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. There has been little change in the past few years, but the numbers show a slow progression towards a more equal industry. Minorities are even less likely to become architects, accounting for less than one in five of new architects.

“Architecture represents who we are as a culture, and I don’t feel the architecture we’re producing is fully representing who we are in the United States because of the lack of diversity in the profession,” Tierney said.

There are other women-owned architecture firms in the Pioneer Valley. Dietz & Company Architects was started by Kerry Dietz in 1985 and is solely owned by Dietz. Fitch Architecture & Community Design in Amherst became was certified as a women-owned business in 2008. Jones Whitsett Architects was opened by Margo Jones in 1984. Jones partnered with Kristian Whitsett in 2014.

Jones said she has been interested in the field since around eighth grade. She found she could draw well and was good at math, some of the technical skills needed in architecture.

“I didn’t have the skills to be just an artist,” Jones said. “But being an architect, you get to work on buildings, and I really loved architecture in general.”

Jones said that starting a family can cause complications when it comes to moving up in the field.

“If you want a family, a lot of the work goes onto the women, and we don’t always have very good child care and family support systems,” Jones said.

Both Jones and Tierney said they are very happy with the work they are doing and were satisfied with their decision to pursue a career in architecture. Tierney said one of her strongest skills is communication, and she thinks this helps her in the office as well as with clients.

“That is a huge piece of what we do as architects: We listen carefully to our clients, and then we communicate back to them in the form of a design,” Tierney said.

Tierney has taken her own steps to increase diversity in the field. She is currently setting up a scholarship fund for the University of Massachusetts Amherst summer architecture program. She hopes to make the program available to students who may not be able to afford it and get them interested in pursuing a career in architecture.

“I think providing opportunities like the opportunity that I had with the internship in high school, where you are exposed to a profession, is so valuable — and it’s part of the reason why I do it,” Tierney said.

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