In Fords in Four, we ask a Haverford School alumnus four questions about his time at the School and life after Haverford. In this post, Eric Fisher '78 shares his memories as a student on Lancaster Avenue and how his education impacted him in college and beyond. Fisher, a celebrated architect and founder of Fisher ARCHitecture in Pittsburgh, says his motto is "let old be old and let new be new." His clients and his colleagues note that his work is progressive and thoughtful, showcasing a special skill for weaving his work into the fabric of the Pittsburgh community. Fisher is the 2022 Haverford School Arts Fest Featured Artist.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I am influenced currently by European thinking, but individual clients and their projects always bring interesting and challenging concepts to consider. It's important not to get stuck in a rut to design the same thing over and over again.
I feel strongly that we let old be old and new be new. When you have an old building, you need to show it respect. When we design something new, we make it in a manner that serves the client, while also making sure it “fits in” and has context. Maybe it isn’t a physical resemblance, but it fits in color, and meaning, and in ideas. We can’t copy the past and do so in an authentic manner, because we aren’t living in the past. I’m not rigid in my ideas, though. If someone says they want a classical building, I would provide my thoughts and opinions, but would support the client by providing a real and authentic representation and reproduction of the architecture of the past.
I also find inspiration from teaching. I have taught students around the country and I find them to be so bright. They challenge themselves and others and then you can kind of follow their idea paths.
How do you translate clients' needs into a formed reality?
When you’re a residential architect, you have to use a little psychology to understand the people you’re working with. Once you can obtain their trust, you can learn not just what they want, but what they need. Sometimes I end up giving them a design that they’re asking for and what they want, but don’t realize it until it’s in front of them.
Every project brings new problems and new solutions, so it’s important to think outside the box. Regardless, we’re doing buildings that not only look nice, but are rational, functional, and relate to their surroundings. They’re progressive. We use green materials and techniques as much as possible, and we explore all sorts of methods to accomplish what they want while keeping the cost right and providing a unique solution to a project’s problems.
Tell me about your experience at Haverford. Is there anything that stands out to you over time?
I’m sure everyone feels like this at some point, but I recall feeling like the biggest nerd at the School. I remember being on the smaller side and feeling socially undeveloped, but I found a great group of friends at Haverford that made my experience great.
I got into an amazing university, and I thank Haverford for that. If I went somewhere else, I may have gotten into a decent university and maybe not had the same opportunities that I did after Haverford. I definitely think I was well prepared for what came after Haverford. The quality of your teachers, the personal attention with the small classes, and the amount of work that was required kept me focused. That helped a lot.
I recall Neil Buckley having an impact on me. I wrestled in Third and Fourth Form and while I wasn’t very good, he treated me with respect and kindness. I was wrestling on varsity and remember him telling me “you can really help the team.” When I finally won a match, I remember being so proud. It meant a lot to have that respect and kindness from him.
Do you have any words of advice for current students interested in architecture?
I recall my mom and dad discouraging me from going into architecture for a few different reasons. There is a whole generation of creative people who were discouraged from following their dreams.
If a student has a dream of being an architect, I encourage them to keep at it. Do it long enough that to get through the work and training, and have the will to keep trying at the dream. Second, I’d tell them that, within this profession, there are so many disciplines. As a business-owner, I’m not only the designer and architect, but I’m doing the marketing, the business management, and the project management. There are so many landing places for all skills, abilities, and interests in this profession. Managing those different parts of the business may not appeal to some people, but it does to me. My wife, Bea, for example, is analytic and focused on management. She serves as the head of the Pittsburgh chapter of AIA (American Institute of Architects), as she has interest in that type of leadership. We all have different ways we can serve this profession and I encourage young architects to stick with it and find how they can serve.