An Architect Who Reimagines Classic Buildings and Classic Songs

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A/E/C Stories is an ongoing series of posts featuring individuals who excel in the architecture, engineering and construction industry.  Nominate someone.

Haril Pandya, FAIA, spends his weekdays bringing new life to old buildings and his weekends reinterpreting favorite pop-rock songs.

As principal and director of asset strategy and repositioning at Boston-based design firm CBT, he leads a growing team of nearly 25 architects focused on reimagining the city's aging structures—from One Post Office Square to Schrafft’s City Center.

“I wanted to become an architect since I was 9, and I don’t think I ever looked back,” says Pandya. “I used to watch a million episodes of This Old House and just loved the ways things came together. I was always a tinkerer.”  

At the same time, his creative nature also led him to the fields of music, art and filmmaking. “I started taking piano lessons in the 7th grade, but I really wanted to be in a rock band," Pandya says. "I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been in a band since high school.”

He currently gigs out in clubs around Boston as guitarist and vocalist in Red Square, a cover band whose set list ranges from Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” to Toto’s “Africa.”  

“There are many similarities between music and architecture,” Pandya notes. “Both disciplines have form and rhythm. And each of us has our own circadian rhythm that responds to both music and architecture.”

As a touring musician, he’s had the opportunity to entertain such notable dignitaries as Hillary Clinton, Deepak Chopra and the Prime Minister of India. 

And though the allure of a round-the-clock rock-and-roll lifestyle was tempting at times, architecture has remained Pandya’s primary career focus.

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Carving a path

After graduating from the School of Architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., Pandya joined Elkus Manfredi Architects in Boston as a junior architect.

He hung out his own shingle in 1995 and managed Studio:Pandya Architects, LLC until joining CBT as project manager in 2004. A few years into his tenure at the firm, he began working on a few projects that involved the adaptive reuse of historic Boston buildings.

“I started realizing, these projects all belong together because they all have similarities—creating something from next to nothing and turning it into a very viable story,” he says. 

That notion gradually evolved into a thriving CBT practice group. “We were generating revenue, the phone was ringing and the economy was coming back after the 2008 recession,” Pandya says. “There was a lot of foreign and domestic capital coming into Boston as people started realizing there are a lot of old buildings they can buy low and sell high. A big part of our effort was helping them do that.” 

Today, his team continues to focus on enhancing properties to offer richer experiences for their occupants and added value for their owners. 

“We find these wonderful historic narratives and bring them to life in a modern-day way so they’re competitive in the current marketplace,” Pandya says. “It’s been really interesting to grow a practice within a practice, and see it be successful.” 

Over the last decade, the practice has completed more than 100 repositioning projects and studies for a range of clients: building owners, developers, portfolio managers and brokers.

Pandya’s career achievements have spawned a string of professional accolades, including “40 Under 40” recognition from Building Design+Construction magazine (2008), the Young Architects Award from the American Institute of Architects (2009) and selection as an Emerging Leader by the Boston Business Journal (2011).

Most recently, he has been elevated to the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows, an honor attained by only 3 percent of U.S. architects. 

Achieving this recognition was one of Pandya’s career goals, as was becoming a principal before he was 40 and delivering a TED Talk (which he completed in 2015 at TEDx Fenway). 

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Leaving a legacy

Going forward, Pandya is focused on being an effective leader and leaving a valuable legacy.

“As architects, there’s always a part of us that wants to pass things on or tell stories,” he says. “We want to leave an indelible mark on society by improving cities to help people live better, move better and breathe better. Those are the things that complete us.”  

Though technology continues to streamline the design process, Pandya believes that architects remain as valuable and relevant as ever.

“Architects will always be valuable because we’ve been trained to think very differently. I think every good architect analyzes a situation or a design challenge, and more often than not, helps solve something greater than the problem itself,” he says. 

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