Architects Talking to Architects: Helen Pierce, AIA

Helen Pierce, AIA, is an architect at Alamo Architects, a multidisciplinary firm based in San Antonio that specializes in institutional, educational, multifamily, and retail architecture, as well as urban planning.  

Helen Pierce, AIA

Helen Pierce, AIA – photo courtsey Helen Pierce

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Middletown, Delaware. It's a tiny farm town on the Delmarva Peninsula midway between the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River and surrounded by potato, corn, and bean fields. I was born on a farm but grew up in town. We lived in a Sears, Roebuck & Co. mail order home, built in 1910, and we were pretty sure it was haunted. I've been growing up in San Antonio for the last five years, and I've also lived in Phoenix and Albuquerque. I'm making the grand tour of the Southwest.

If you were not an architect, what other profession would you have pursued?

In high school I wanted to be a writer. Immediately after high school, I wanted to be an engineer. Now I want to be a blues musician. None of these things do I have a great deal of aptitude for. In reality, if for some reason I could not have studied architecture, I would be an artist.

Helen's Art

nakedwomanholdingairplane, 48"x36", Oil on Canvas. – by Helen Pierce

Pen, pencil or computer?

For years, I was more pen than computer, but the scales tipped at the point that I became facile enough with the computer to work really fast and get the kind drawings I wanted. I still always start with a pen (has to be felt tip). My initial thoughts on any design problem usually start with a mix of sketches, diagrams, and written notes; then I'll go pretty quickly to the computer.

Where do you find inspiration?

To me "find" means to seek, and I know I can't seek it. I guess I usually stumble upon it. And when I do, I probably only recognize it one out 100 times. Often, even then, I don't know where it came from.

What is your favorite city to visit?

My favorite city is New York, as it's just the most energetic place I've been. I went often when I lived back East. There are so many things to do and see, but just walking around the city is by far my favorite thing to do. I also love the weird and intense sequence of entering the city from the Holland Tunnel — going from the vast and bleak New Jersey Turnpike, rising out of the tunnel, and getting the full frontal assault of sights, sounds, and smells. I recently went to Barcelona, and that would be my second favorite city. Montreal also holds a place in my heart, but I wish I could say that I've been to more world cities.


New York City skyline – photo by Bob Borson, AIA

What is your favorite time of year?

In San Antonio, the winter — around the holidays when tamales are in season. Winter in San Antonio feels like fall back home. Back home in Delaware, the summer, when blue crabs are in season. The summer in Delaware feels like the spring in San Antonio.