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Alex Anmahian

An Architect with a Mission

When Alex Anmahian wasn’t playing his guitar, he could be found designing and building sets for ACS theater productions, a foreshadowing of grander building projects to come. Principal and Co-Founder of the Cambridge, MA-based architecture firm AW-ARCH, Alex spent nine memorable years at ACS from 1966 until 1975. After his family’s evacuation from Lebanon, Alex finished high school in Athens before attending the University of Florida and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. “Did you always know you wanted to be an architect? we asked. “I knew I was either going to be an artist or an architect and actually I applied to both programs at the University of Florida.” Although Alex chose architecture, he did not abandon the fine arts altogether. His firm’s designs have distinctly elegant, sculptural qualities to them, and their work includes art installations, such as the monumental rope and steel gateway, Left of Passage, Right of Passage, designed for Amman Design Week.

Alex with Prom Date, Patty Walker, 1974.

With its diverse portfolio and numerous industry accolades under its belt, we wondered what drives the creative energy behind AW-ARCH. “We are interested in how our work impacts the public realm and the ways in which it enhances the rituals of daily life,” Alex explained.

For those who wander the inviting public spaces of the Ankara Office Tower, conduct research in the re-purposed interior of the Joukowsky Institute at Brown University, or watch as the stunning Tina and Hamid Moghadam Building at MIT takes shape, Alex and his firm succeed beautifully. But there is more. “What really excites us are mission-driven organizations. Architecture in these contexts has the potential to enrich community by improving access to institutions and to opportunities.” Take their design for the new boathouse for Community Rowing, Inc. (CRI). CRI provides a home for the largest public rowing organization in the world and supports more than half the rowers on the Charles River. “Though rowing has traditionally been an elitist sport, we had the privilege of supporting CRI’s mission to make rowing accessible not only to the surrounding community, but to resource-challenged public school students as well as providing a venue for adaptive rowing.” There is also his work developing new designs for Accessory Dwelling Units whose modular adaptability is seen as having promising applications for the growing need in the temporary housing arena and as a way to “restore humanity and dignity for those who have been forcibly displaced,” Alex says.

Community Rowing, Inc. (CRI) Boathouse on the Charles River.

In fulfilling their mission, Alex and his team look to innovative solutions to reduce costs and to improve energy efficiency and sustainability. AW-ARCH’s designs frequently incorporate wood. Wood not only adds visual and biophilic warmth, but also has a significant positive impact on the environment. “Building with wood sequesters carbon that would otherwise be released back into the atmosphere,” Alex explains. The firm also employs innovative passive heating and cooling strategies, along with high-efficiency systems, to create buildings of low energy consumption including, recently, projects that are completely off the grid. Not surprisingly, many of AW-ARCH’s projects have achieved LEED Gold and Platinum certification. 

It has been many years since Alex was a student at ACS, but he would find that he has much in common with the ACS students of today. Students continue to form close communal bonds, and there are many who immerse themselves in the arts and music. Green Team and ECO Club members actively promote sustainability on campus. And through our vibrant Community Service program, our students are, like Alex, looking for meaningful missions of their own. 

Then and Now: Alex (second from left) with ACS classmates.