Alumni Profile - Paul Pettigrew

Infinite Careers is a collaboration between Career Services (Career Advising & Professional Development) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.

Paul Pettigrew

Education

  • Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, 1986
  • MIT Master of Architecture'88

Biography 

Paul Pettigrew is founder of Paul Pettigrew Architect & Products in Space, design and fabrication practices based in Chicago & Cambridge. As founder of Paul Pettigrew Architect & Products in Space, Paul has been designing and fabricating the relationships between buildings and functional objects for the past 32 years. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and a Master of Architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is a licensed architect in Illinois and Michigan, a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). 

Paul Pettigrew in front of shelf of audio designs

After graduating from MIT, Paul returned to Chicago and worked on large scale architectural projects (Perkins & Will) and mid-scale architectural projects (Pappageorge Haymes) while simultaneously designing and fabricating functional objects in garage and basement workshops. Unable to shake the dual interests of Architecture and functional object design, he joined Northbrook Illinois based Crate & Barrel/CB2. Crate & Barrel/CB2 provided experiences selling functional objects, designing the physical and virtual retail experiences within which functional objects are sold and designing and fabricating functional objects for display and sale within the retail experiences designed by Paul and his Crate & Barrel teammates. 

From fall of 2000 - summer of 2016, Paul shared his architectural and functional object design and fabrication experiences with architecture students at the Illinois Institute of Technology. As Studio Associate Professor of Architecture, he taught First Year Architectural Design Studios, Introduction to the Architectural Profession courses and Functional Object Design and Fabrication courses emphasizing the relationship between functional objects and the buildings and cities within which design objects function. He has been researching, writing and lecturing on the relationship between the hand and brain in the education of architecture and design students since the Spring of 2006.

Paul is the Director of Undergraduate & Alumni Outreach & Career Development for MIT’s Department of Architecture. He currently teaches 4.001 “Where is & What is Architecture & Design” and 4.021 “How to Design.” He is the MIT Department of Architecture Board member/representative with the Boston Society of Architects (BSA), and a National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)/MIT Architecture Licensing Advisor. 

Paul’s wife, Jill Wohl, is an MIT BSAD, Media Arts and Sciences (Media Lab) graduate ‘88. Paul & Jill’s daughter Audrey Pettigrew is an undergraduate student at MIT ‘22 currently working towards a combination of 15-2 & 6-14. 

Paul's Story

What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability? 

My father was an urban planner. I worked in my father’s office summers prior to college drawing color coded maps from data that I’d collected with my father on foot and by car. One day I visited an architect’s office (Harry Weese MIT 1933-1935) and saw architectural models. Once I saw those models I knew I wanted to be an architect at which point I gave up drawing data driven color coded maps for architectural drawings, models, and eventually buildings. 

What influenced your choice of graduate program/programs? How has it/have they shaped your career choices and professional ability? 

Champaign-Urbana is located about a 2 ½ hour drive outside of the City of Chicago or 1 hour of driving through the City of Chicago and its suburbs and 1 ½ hours of driving through cornfields. I knew that I wanted to get a master’s degree in architecture, but I also knew that I wanted to study in or near a big city. At the time MIT Architecture was heavily influenced by vernacular architecture and I came to MIT to study the relationship between vernacular architecture and vernacular ways of designing and building with contemporary ways of designing and building. My thesis looked at the potential design relationships between something as large as a city, a building, a piece of furniture, and the smallest functional objects we design as part of our daily life. I’ve spent my entire career essentially putting into practice the ideas I originally explored in my MIT MArch thesis. 

Is there anything you wish you had done differently or more of while you were at MIT? 

I had taken two computer science classes prior to arriving at MIT. My academic advisor Leon Groisser had co-founded the Architecture Machine Group (or future Media Lab) and my thesis advisor Bill Porter had worked quite a bit with his students exploring potential relationships between computers and architecture or design. Neither pushed me in the direction of computers or computer science so I didn’t encounter the potential role of computers in architecture until two year’s after graduation. Looking back, I wished I’d known all of what was going on with computers and design at MIT during my time there, but I was too busy working on my architecture coursework. 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career? 

Whereas many of the buildings I've designed over the years have been altered or even torn down, I've now taught well over 600 architecture students during my 30 years in architectural education. Seeing my students go on to careers in architecture and/or careers of all kinds that benefit from their architectural education is the real thrill or the most rewarding aspect of my career. 

What motivates you to do the work that you do? 

There really is nothing more thrilling than watching a student transition from high school student, to first year college student, to college graduate, to young employee or graduate student, to employee and then to employer. Many of my former students have designed or worked on significant architectural projects all over the world. Many of my students are now teachers and academics. Whereas my work as a teacher had some small influence on my student’s education, their work as architects is having a significant influence on the people who interact with their architectural designs and projects each and every day. 

Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, is really challenging. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?  

Most of my career I have been rational, scientific and practical with career related decisions, but the three most important career decisions I made were made more on impulse than data. Accepting my first teaching position at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago was an acceptance I thought would last a semester and I’ve now been involved in teaching and academia for 30 years. My decision to “drop out of architecture” and take a job with Crate & Barrell was irrational and foolish according to my friends and family, but I ended up helping to start a new company (CB2) and most of my best architectural clients over the years have been either Crate & Barrel employees or people I met in association with Crate & Barrel.

Coming back to MIT 5 years ago was crazy, i.e. I had a great job, a beautiful house, and a wonderful life in Chicago, but something made me say yes, a second time to MIT. Now my daughter is a third-year undergraduate student at MIT. MIT was never on my daughter’s college radar until I returned to MIT and “forced her” to apply explaining why she was the “ideal MIT student.” Once accepted, she still remained unconvinced about MIT (her preference an Ivy League liberal arts college she’d been accepted to) until she attended Campus Preview Weekend, and fell in love with the MIT community in the same way that I did as a student and I did again as a teacher and employee. 

What professional development experiences or opportunities shaped your early career? 

Summer jobs working for architecture firms. I had a plan to work for a small, medium, and large architecture firm prior to graduation so that once I graduated I would know what kind of architecture firm I wanted to work for and working at these different types of offices, better informed my graduate school selection, graduate school classes, and even my master's thesis. 

What professional development activities do you find really useful these days? 

I am constantly reading about the latest developments in and out of architecture and design. I attempt to learn all of the latest software related to architecture and design. And I apply both my newly acquired reading knowledge and software knowledge to small personal, exploratory, experimental projects, and writings that ultimately inform my larger architectural projects. 

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received? 

My first summer architecture job interview was pre-arranged by my father with an architect he and his firm worked with on occasion. My first would be employer told me at the beginning of the interview that whereas my father had gotten me my job interview, only the work inside my portfolio could get me the job. 

Do you have any tips for networking or job searching for current students and recent graduates? 

Don't wait for an ad to appear about a job opening up or being offered. Identify the companies you want to work for and go after them. Don't wait for an opening to appear at the firm or company you want to work for, contact them in every creative way you can imagine to get yourself on their radar so that when a job does open up they already know who you are and know that you want to be a part of their team. 

What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration? 

I love live music so I attend a minimum of 12 live musical performances each year by up and coming bands that most people (especially my age) have never heard of. Along the same theme, I like to design and make music-related functional objects, i.e. stereo amplifiers, stereo speakers, boomboxes, etc.