Meet Kathleen M. Galvin, FAIA

Kathleen M. Galvin, FAIA is a registered architect with her own practice based in Charlottesville, VA (Galvin Architects.) Throughout her professional and political career, Ms. Galvin has demonstrated an unfailing commitment to creating authentic, equitable, and sustainable places where people of all ages and income levels can thrive.

Ms. Galvin was lead architect and urban designer on such notable projects as the Crozet and Places 29 Master Plans in Albemarle County, Old Trail Village in Crozet, a form-based code for the Town of Orange, and the Eastern Planning Initiative. For fifteen years she has shared her expertise and passion for sustainable and equitable neighborhood design with students as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Virginia. Ms. Galvin served two 4-year terms as a Charlottesville City Councilor and one 4-year term as a City School Board member (from 2008-2020) where she focused on: creating pathways out of poverty; working with the community to reimagine their neighborhoods with more jobs, amenities, and affordable housing but without displacement; transforming city infrastructure to be safe for walkers, cyclists, and motorists alike; reforming the city’s zoning laws to reflect the community’s values; making government more responsive and effective, and designing city and school buildings to be more healthy and sustainable.

In 2017, Ms. Galvin received the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Award for Distinguished Achievement and in 2021 she received the National AIA’s highest award for her public service and civic leadership while advancing the profession of architecture, by being elevated to the AIA College of Fellows. Ms. Galvin grew up in hard-scrabble Brockton, MA, the daughter of an auto mechanic and school nurse who both volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army during WWII. As her “first teachers,” her parents emphasized the importance of education and modeled what it looked like to respond to the call to serve. Ms. Galvin received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Economics (with distinction) and Geography from Boston University and a Masters of Architecture (MArch) from the University of Virginia (UVA.) She is a graduate of Sorensen’s Political Leaders Program (an affiliate of the UVA Weldon Cooper Center.) In addition to running her own practice, Ms. Galvin now serves on the Virginia AIA Board, Advocacy Council, and Political Action Committee (PAC) Board of Trustees, the Sorensen Advisory Board, the Form-Based Code Institute’s Advisory Committee, and the Friendship Court Redevelopment Advisory Committee. She and Michael B. Costanzo have been married for over thirty years and are the proud parents of their two sons, Patrick and Kevin, and the grateful caretakers of their beloved family dog, Orion.

Where did you go to college?
Cities always fascinated me, especially Boston so attending Boston University to obtain a BA degree was a perfect choice at the time. A childhood impacted by the economic decline of a once-bustling shoe factory town southeast of Boston however fostered an interest in economics and geography with a focus on affordable housing and urban development. After stints managing assisted housing and being the project manager for an architectural firm doing redevelopment studies for the Boston Housing Authority, I became passionate about community-driven design, placemaking, and architecture. Consequently, I built a portfolio at the Boston Architectural Center and was later admitted to the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture in 1983 under the leadership of renowned urbanist and architect, Jacquelin Robertson (who passed away in 2020.)

What does it take to be an architect?
The challenge for us today is how to keep our cities equitable, sustainable and beautiful, in the face of rising housing costs, climate change, growing income inequality, and a longing to preserve what is gracious and authentic while striving to innovate and create. Richard Swett, FAIA, former US Congressman and author of the book, Leadership by Design once wrote, “Creativity is the art of survival. If one is willing to look at all situations with an open mind, a creative attitude, then the limitations imposed by the problem become the finest incentives to exercise one’s maximum ability and talent.” That wonderful quote sums up why architects are well suited to take on the complex challenges of 21st-century urban life, not as bystanders, but as leaders. Architects are visionaries who both inspire and depend on others to get their projects built, from zoning officials, review boards, clients, and builders, to civil and structural engineers. Architects must be confident yet humble, decisive yet collaborative, all in the right ratios, and make connections with the right people all at the right time to solve gnarly multifaceted problems. These are the same traits that make for an effective elected or appointed political leader or community advocate. It’s probably why I won three out of four political campaigns and successfully served for twelve years in local elected office.

Was there an architect that particularly inspired you?
There was no one architect, but there were memorable urban places shaped by great architecture that inspired me. Despite our family’s precarious economic situation, my mother always found time for enriching experiences that unwittingly made me a lover of both great architecture and cities. Whenever we went to Boston, she would take me to wonderful places like the Italian North End and Copley and Lewisburg Squares (while my dad and brother went to Fenway Park). We’d visit magnificent buildings like H.H. Richardson’s Trinity Church, McKim, Mead and White’s Boston Public Library, Henry Cobb’s (of I.M. Pei & Partners) John Hancock Building, and Willard Sear’s magical Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; designed as a Venetian palazzo, built by Venetian craftsmen and embraced by Frederick Law Olmstead’s “Emerald Necklace.” Little did I know as a child, that someday decades later I would become a UVA student of architecture studying in Venice, surrounded by such beauty every waking moment of my day.

What are you currently reading?
Adam Bede by George Elliot, Why Nation’s Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, and Sick City: Disease, Race, Inequality and Urban Land by Patrick Condon.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
It was a dinner party in 2016 at the Ristorante il Falcone, a restaurant in Charlottesville’s Sister City, Poggio a Caiano, owned and operated by septuagenarian, Chef Roberta Vivetta Cintelli. Chef Roberta had come to Charlottesville that year as part of a restaurant exchange program to mark the 40-year anniversary of the Sister City relationship between Charlottesville and Poggio inspired by the friendship of two famous native sons, Thomas Jefferson and Filippo Mazzei (a celebration I helped plan as a City Councilor.) That same summer, I gave a talk in Rome, about resident-centered community revitalization work, after which I was joined by my husband and sons for a tour of Tuscany. I alerted Mayor Marco Martini of our arrival in Poggio and he arranged for us to visit Guiliano da Sangallo’s renaissance palace for Lorenzo the Magificent. “Il momento culminante” however, was dinner at il Falcone with the Mayor, his city councilors and their spouses, my husband Michael and our sons Patrick and Kevin. The food and wine were spectacular, the company and conversation were brilliant and the friendships forged that evening are still alive and well!

Why do you volunteer with AIA?
It was time to give back to a noble profession that had enriched the life of this working-class girl from Brockton, MA beyond measure, affording her countless opportunities to do well by doing good.