This Colectivo project is the Edible Schoolyard at Arthur Ashe in New Orleans. The 4,824-square-foot space has an award-winning design. (Photo: Michael Wong)

The Chattanooga component of The American Institute of Architects is hosting two New Orleans architects, who will share about their work with two different organizations and what locals can learn from it.

Architects and public interest design leaders Seth Welty and Emilie Taylor Welty of the Tulane Small Center for Collaborative Design and the architecture firm Colectivo are in town for presentations Tuesday and Wednesday.

The presentations are the first in a series of AIA Chattanooga quarterly public events aimed at promoting discussion about architectural design’s impact on communities, local architect and AIA President-Elect Jared Hueter said via email.


“These events are an opportunity to learn how architects from around the nation are working with their neighborhoods to develop design solutions to the challenges they are facing and to develop local discussions on how we can design a better city for everyone,” he said.

Tuesday’s presentation is at the Palace Theater at 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday’s event is slated for 11:30 a.m. at The Edney Innovation Center. Tickets are free for AIA members and $15 for nonmembers.

The duo tackled an email Q&A together for more insight into their work and how architectural design affects everyone.

Brief bio 

Seth grew up in a household of makers (his parents made pottery and signs), and Emilie’s grew up in a household of teachers (art and world civ). Our current life together as architects involves a good bit of making through Colectivo and teaching at Tulane. So, I suppose we’ve grown up to be our parents more or less.

Give a glimpse into what you plan to talk about at your events?

We’re thinking of Tuesday night as a talk about the collaborative design process of Small Center and some fun recent projects in that theme we’ve done with students and within our firm, Colectivo. Wednesday’s talk will be centered more on our design firm and how we operate and some of the work we’re excited about.

What do you love about architecture and design?

We love making stuff and doing things. There’s a lot of joy in the physical creation of object and gadgets that haven’t existed before, and we love to indulge in that process.

Once you begin to care about craft and design in general, you find it in all sorts of unexpected places. Kind of like mushroom hunting, once you have your “mushroom eyes” on, they have a much stronger presence in your field of vision.    

You’ll find that design choices have shaped experiences at every scale, from your cereal spoon to the character of your neighborhood.   

Talk about the mission of linking creative professional practice, academic research and community engagement — why are those three things important and/or what is the outcome you hope to achieve by working on each of these?

Our friend Coleman Coker likes to say that architecture is an act of optimism. Each day we are toiling in small ways to make a home or a table or an urban farm better and improve the lives of those who use the space. It’s satisfying to work with others toward some better version of our future.

Are there things about architecture, design or related topics you think members of the public could be more educated about? If so, like what? 

Design impacts us all, yet not everyone has access to design or a voice in the process of shaping their environment. We need to include more people in those conversations and also do a better job of telling the story of why design matters.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re handing over the reins of architectural design to the end-user, but that we’re carefully listening and thoughtfully responding to the folks who will be impacted by those decisions.

What are some underlying assumptions about design? How do these assumptions shape public interest/perception?

There is absolutely a lamentable truth in the perception that design is just for rich people. Fortunately, there’s also truth in the fact that proportions are free and good design doesn’t have to mean extravagant price tags.   

We’re investigating modes of engagement, in both for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, that try to include more seats around the table that have a wider demographic berth.

Have you visited Chattanooga before? If so, impressions you’d like to share? Generally or architectural/design-related?

Well, we’re particularly excited for hills. We come from a place where everything is flat, so it’s exciting to have up and down as well. This is true both architecturally (we’re often trying to invent ways for projects in New Orleans to deal with elevation), and personally; we’re looking forward to hiking around with our kids and staying in a place where the surrounding environment has an impactful presence on the city itself.  

We stopped at Lookout Mountain last year on a road trip to stretch our legs and got a great view of the city from up there. We’ve heard great things about Chattanooga from friends and from articles about best places to live and be, so we are excited to explore y’all’s city and learn more about it.