Moskow ’83 discusses sustainable architecture

by Kaina Chen | 3/8/15 7:35pm

When Keith Moskow ’83 started at the College, he dreamed of becoming a boat builder. Instead, he became the co-founder of Boston-based architecture firm Moskow Linn Architects, which focuses on sustainable architecture in New England. His work has won awards, including ones from the American Institute of Architects and the Seoul Design Olympiad.

Did your time at Dartmouth influence your decision to be an architect?

KM: At Dartmouth, I was known as a visual studies [studio art] major. Unlike many architecture students who pop out of the womb and know they want to be architecture students, I just knew I wanted to do something in design and building. In fact, I thought I was going to be a boat builder. I spent a lot of time in the wood shop, and I took a wide range of courses.

Did you end up building any boats?

KM: My junior fall, I took off a term from college, and my dad is a builder. I set up a wooden boat shop. My intention was to build two boats. That fall, I built a Carolina Dory. During that time, while working with my hands was very satisfying, there was not much interaction with the outside world. I realized that I wanted to do something that interacted with people on a daily basis, and I had been interested in building and design and so I decided to apply to architecture school. The holistic teaching that one gets from a liberal arts education, it was very beneficial learning how to be an architect, not only because it involves drawing and design, but also because you get exposure to all the humanities.

From where did your interest in boat building come?

KM: It began because I spent a lot of time by the sea. I appreciate the beauty of making things, and I appreciate the way boat building ties those components together. After I graduated from Dartmouth, when most people go off to their careers, my first job before I went to architecture school was a deckhand on a ship in the Caribbean.

How was that experience?

KM: It was a wonderful experience. I think I made a $100 a week, so it wasn’t very lucrative, but I got into very good shape. I learned much more about wooden ships, and I’m sure when I showed up in architecture school, I was in the best shape and most tanned of anyone there. My interest in boat building started with my dad, who built wooden canvas kayaks. Interestingly enough, my architecture partner, his father was an art teacher, and he spent tons of time growing up painting, and the only thing he said he ever built was something out of duct tape. He came into architecture from a very different side. I came from a very hands-on building side, whereas he came from the artistic side.

Was architecture everything you expected, or not so much?

KM: I had no idea what I was in for. In fact, the first year was awful. I had gotten through four years of Dartmouth doing well, enjoying what I was doing, and never pulled an all-nighter. I rowed crew, worked in the wood shop, played ice hockey for a team from Hanover and did lots of different activities. Architecture school was a rude awakening. Everything you do is presented in front of your peers. In the first week, I pulled two all-nighters, and I jokingly say it all went downhill from there. It was very demanding, especially for someone who came from a liberal arts program, not a pre-professional program where there were many people who already had many skills. The first year of architecture school was very much a leveling off between those who had experience and those who didn’t. You’re learning so many new things, so second year got better and third year was great.

Was there any point during architecture school that made you consider quitting?

KM: When I was in the Caribbean working, we had a layover in St. John’s, which is one of the Caribbean islands. I was walking about, and there was an architectural office, and there was a nice guy and he was very friendly. After my first year in architecture school, I stayed in touch with him, and he said I could come and work for him. I really thought long and hard about taking a break to work in a beautiful location. I spoke to the head of the architecture school, and she highly recommended that I finish up. She also said that you develop bonds with classmates from architecture school, and that’s true — I have a few friends I’m still in touch with, and I ask them if I have questions. It wasn’t a matter of leaving the profession, but it was a matter of leaving school for a while.

Was sustainability a point of emphasis during your time as an architecture student?

KM: When I was in architecture school, it was 1983 [to] 1986. It had already been the energy crisis of the mid-70s. That said, sustainability was not an important part of the curriculum. However, I took a great course in environmental design, and with that course, we looked at all the concepts that are now called sustainable. I was really intrigued and really thought the concepts were wonderful. It was not a required course, but it was one of the most influential courses. Now, it’s absolutely part of the program.

Where did your career take you from there?

KM: In 1990, I designed a few homes, and I kept thinking back to the environmental design. I designed small homes, thinking about how they could be energy efficient. Then I got a break — I got hired as an environmental advocate [at a place] called Conservation Law Foundation. Then, they only had an office in Boston. I got the opportunity to design their new headquarters, and they wanted it to be very environmentally sensitive. They wanted to practice what they preached. We ended up with a project that won all sorts of awards for being environmentally sensitive.

How is sustainability integrated into your job now?

KM: In one of the interviews, one of the reporters asked me about my opinions on sustainable design. I didn’t know what the word meant — I hadn’t heard it before. So that goes to show you how much, in a short amount of time, the idea of sustainability have come to fruition. That was in 1995, and that’s not that long ago. Then, I hadn’t heard of the word “sustainable.” Now, I can’t breathe without hearing it.