Meet Al Hansen, FAIA

Where did you go to college?
University of Maryland, College Park

Would you recommend studying architecture to a young person?
Yes- but not in the way it was studied 40 years ago. There is not enough risk in the process to provide the architect with a measure of control. Architects of the future will need to be trained classically and additionally, to be developers, brokers and even builders. That additional risk taken will bring architects into the inner decision-making circle.

The Colleges and Universities began to fill with baby-boomers in the sixties, which has resulted in architect oversupply for the past 50 years. Hopefully, the next generation will begin to reverse this difficult situation.

What does it take to be an architect?
First, one must find the discipline not only fascinating but with the attitude that there is just nothing else in the world that they would rather spend their time doing. I highly recommend aptitude testing before launching into the education required of an architect. An engineer is not necessarily expected to create something artistic or unique but is expected to perform on budget and on time. The artist, however, is expected to create something clever, beautiful and even unique, but is not expected to perform on budget or on time. The architect is expected to do both. It is a nearly impossible profession, which from time to time, provides moments of great satisfaction.

Finally, this is a profession of genuinely delayed gratification. One project in which I continue to be involved, began in January 2000. Learn to take the long view.

Was there an architect that particularly inspired you?
Charles Moore, who was a Kea Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland, School of Architecture. I admired his sense of humor and wit and even more, his humility. Also, John Johansen who created Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City. What a fantastic assembly of Lego blocks and tubes. As beautiful as any Ferrari or dragster engine that ever existed.

What are you currently reading?
High Performing Buildings (ASHRAE), Development (NAIOP), Rodder’s Journal, Hot Rod Deluxe, the Bible.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
Lobster Bisque and Salmon Salad at Jackson’s Reston Town Center

Why do you volunteer with the AIA?
There are several reasons.

As an architect with more than 40 years of experience, I can use what I have learned throughout my education and career to promote high-quality, high performing, and culturally respectful design in Northern Virginia.

I gain great satisfaction in mentoring students, interns and young professionals at turning points in their own careers.

I enjoy working with like-minded professionals who volunteer their time and talent to promote the future of the profession.

Lastly, I fully embrace the AIA’s “Citizen Architect” initiative to encourage every architect to do their part—to work with community decision makers as a way of bringing about public awareness which leads to an appreciation of design excellence in our built environment.

Hansen, Design Cabinet Honored

Al Hansen

A decade has passed since it began operating and Loudoun County is all the better for it.  “It” is the Loudoun County Design Cabinet, the brainchild of Alan Hansen AIA.

For its contributions, the Design Cabinet — and Hansen specifically — was recognized and commended in December by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors with a resolution of commendation.  In part, the supervisors commended the Cabinet for providing thousands of hours of service during which it gave “professional consultation, advice and conceptual plans to improve the communities throughout Loudoun County” that contributed “towards making Loudoun a community of highest quality design.”

When Hansen brought the idea to the county’s then-Director of Economic Development Larry Rosenstrauch, the brainchild became a full-fledged program with enthusiastic county support.  Since 2003, the cabinet has performed 25 charrettes — intensive design studies compressed into a few hours — for local residents and business owners seeking design advice.

“It’s what we’ve been about for years; great communities don’t just happen,” said Design Cabinet Chairman Hansen of DBI Architects. “Skilled design professionals, preferably stakeholders, need to take the time to understand what a community wants to be ‘when it grows up’ and stay out in front of the continuous but changing economic pressures.

“Loudoun is an exceptional community for business and for living, in part because of the emphasis on and attention to, design excellence. We’re fortunate that the leadership of Loudoun County Government understood this a decade ago when we were founded, and we appreciate their continued support today.”

These charrettes often take a full morning or evening, beginning with an introduction to the process and the now 13 professionals who volunteer their time to the community.  The introduction includes a brief synopsis of what the issue of the day is.

Once the introductions are over, local residents, community leaders, and business owners break up into groups and work with two or three of the professionals:  architects, professional engineers, planners, and landscape architects.  Often working together for the first time, the people in each group produce a different scenario of how the area under consideration can be molded sensitively through good design.

Some of the concepts developed have addressed using design to enhance community business corridors in Loudoun’s towns, creating a community skate park in Purcellville, and improving complex traffic issues in eastern Loudoun developments.

In addition to the design charrettes, the Cabinet initiated the Signatures of Loudoun Design Excellence awards program in 2005.  During its tenure, the Cabinet has recognized 83 of Loudoun’s commercial, residential, public and private structures and design features using a public nomination process.

More information on the Design Cabinet is available online at

Citizen Architect: Hansen and Loudon Co. Design Cabinet Honored

Al Hansen, AIA accepts the 2010 PlanVirginia Citizen’s Award

Al Hansen, AIA, and the entire Loudon County Design Cabinet were honored with the 2010 PlanVirginia Citizen’s Award.  This award is given to a group or individual who has made a notable and constructive contribution to the harmonious and orderly development of the community, region, state or nation.  PlanVirginia, who sponsors this award, is a volunteer-based nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering, throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, public understanding and awareness of the need for excellent community planning as a means of making our localities better places in which to live, work, and do business.  

Since 2003, Hansen, who is Director of Architecture for DBI Architects, has served as cabinet chair of Loudoun County’s Design Cabinet.  The Design Cabinet promotes high quality ecological, urban, architectural, and landscape design in Loudoun County. Design Cabinet members include engineers, architects, planners, and designers who have come together in a fusion of creative community problem solving.  Collectively, Hansen and the Design Cabinet members have been actively involved by volunteering in the community, conducting design charettes and problem solving sessions, focusing on improving plans, and stimulating new ways to think about projects in Loudoun County.