Over his 35-year career, John Cetra has assembled and led a design practice dedicated to the transformation of urban multifamily housing and residential architecture. Since co-founding his firm, CetraRuddy, with his wife and partner, Nancy Ruddy, in 1987 Cetra’s work has been rooted in a rigorous, ongoing study of urban contextual fabrics and patterns of habitation and has resulted in buildings that reinforce community and neighborhood. In addition to his residential work, Cetra has completed cultural projects such as the Lincoln Square Synagogue, the first new modern orthodox synagogue to be constructed in Manhattan in over 45 years. The 2017 Jury of Fellows of the AIA elevated Cetra to its prestigious College of Fellows in the second category of fellowship, which recognizes architects who have “Advanced the science and art of planning and building by advancing the standards of architectural education, training or practice.” Now among the AIA membership’s three percent distinguished with fellowship and honorary fellowship, Cetra will be honored at an investiture ceremony at the AIA Conference on Architecture 2017 in Orlando as well as at the New Fellows Reception hosted by AIA New York on March 13.
Here, Cetra tells us why being a Fellow motivates him to continue exploring the notion of “home” in high density urban environments:
Q: What is your earliest memory of experiencing architecture?
A: My earliest memory of experiencing architecture actually came through my experiences of building houses in Queens—modest homes, constructed simply. I remembered feeling that they could be so much better, in design, in relationship to the street, and community. It was not until I began my studies in Architectural history, specifically, studies of the Renaissance, that I understood architecture could express higher levels of meaning. Those studies led me to Italy to experience first-hand the works of Alberti, Palladio, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi, to name a few. In the U.S., my travels to see and experience the works of Lou Kahn and Frank Lloyd Wright also inspired me.
Q: Who do you most admire?
A: Architects that have inspired me have inspired countless others. But the greats like Frank Lloyd Wright, and Lou Kahn, or Antoni Gaudí or Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, showed me that architecture could be moving and expressive of design and humanity. I always had an incredible feeling of wonder whenever I was in any of their buildings. Someone I admire more—who without her wisdom, keen design sense and incredible business acumen, I would not have been able to accomplish what I have done—is my partner and wife, Nancy Ruddy.
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: We are fortunate to have a number of different projects. In our residential practice, we are working on a super tall tower at 45 Broad Street. This 1,100-foot-tall mixed-use tower will encompass 206 condominium units and 60,000 square feet of office space. We are also working on a 520 unit condominium tower on the far west side of Manhattan as well as a new hotel/residential tower in the Hudson Yards. We are just starting on a new museum of photography in Manhattan and in Calicut, south India, a new school for 2,500 students from lower to high school.
Q: What does being a Fellow mean to you?
A: To me, becoming a Fellow means that our work in advancing the profession of architecture has been recognized and that the College of Fellows has motivated and inspired us to continue our exploration of the notion of “home”; to continue developing new thinking in areas of design in high density urban environments where we are focused. I am truly honored to have been elected to the College of Fellows and by this recognition. I look forward to contributing in scholarly discussion on ways to improve our profession in service to society.
Editors’ Note: This feature is part of a series celebrating the 18 members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York Chapter that have been elevated to the prestigious AIA College of Fellows in 2017, an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to both the profession and society. Learn more about Fellowship here. See the previous Featured Member here.