SCAD Alumni Atelier Interview with Eric Ross

In Conversation with Paula Wallace

Alumni Atelier Interview: Eric Ross

Conceived and endowed by SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace, the Alumni Atelier program enriches the creative and professional endeavors of distinguished SCAD graduates. The program helps SCAD alumni advance their careers and strengthen their connection with their alma mater through the university’s global network of emerging and established artists and scholars.

Eric Ross (M. Arch, 2010; B.F.A., architecture, 2009) is an award-winning director at William McDonough + Partners in Charlottesville, Virginia. His work at WM+P focuses on the integration of Cradle to Cradle at all levels of a project, embodying regenerative design and development principles across scale and typology.

Ross’ Fall 2020 Alumni Atelier project, A Return to Zero, addresses mass timber, the building material that is a critical element in the fight for carbon positive buildings. A collaborative endeavor with contributions from mass timber manufacturer Nordic Structures, A Return to Zero will serve as a landmark case study for carbon positive architecture.

President Wallace recently sat down with Ross to discuss his career and ambassadorship.

Rendering excerpted from A Return To Zero: A Case Study Report, Eric Ross, AIA, 2020.

Paula Wallace: Eric, you’ve had some extraordinary experiences during your ambassadorship. So, tell me, what’s the most memorable experience that you’ve had working with our current Bees?

Eric Ross: The experiences I enjoyed most were participating in critiques and lectures with the School of Building Arts. It was exciting to see students thinking about some of things that I was exploring. They had great questions and were curious. So, for me, it was about paying it forward and sharing the knowledge that I gained at SCAD.

PW: What would you tell fellow alumni and prospective students about SCAD?

ER: I would tell them that the School of Building Arts is continuing to push cutting-edge technology. SCAD has not rested on their laurels, and they’re always looking for the next innovation, the next advancement, and that was exciting to see.

PW: Professionally, what discoveries have you made during your ambassadorship?

ER: I had a moment when I realized that the things I was thinking about outside of work dovetailed with things that were emerging in my career. I sat down one night and wrote my brief. The next day, SCAD called me, and with their help and encouragement, we brainstormed what became my atelier project.

PW: What is an achievement you will celebrate as a result of your ambassadorship?

ER: I will certainly celebrate all the research and work that went in to those ten weeks and feel it will feed my professional work going forward. It was a great time to step back and really delve into my ideas in a deeper way. I am eager to employ all my work on projects that are on the horizon.

PW: Eric, you are the first architecture graduate to be a SCAD Alumni Atelier ambassador. What would you share with other architecture alums about the Atelier experience?

ER: The experience was a chance to find synergy on the ideas that come up on professional projects but don’t always get explored. It was an opportunity to step back, pull those ideas together and explore them in one dedicated project for the first time in a long time. It was exciting and through that process, new creative ideas came forward. When you have a deadline, when you have a deliverable, your creative thinking is inspired. I was waking up in the middle of the night with an idea and running downstairs to work on it. That was refreshing. It was a flashback to my college days again.

PW: You’re recognized as an innovator and expert in your work with mass timber. I know you’ve also got a top-secret project that’s about to debut. Is there anything at all that you can tell us about that?

ER: It’s a campus expansion for one of the largest technology companies in the world. We recently got an entitlement approval and we’re inching closer to being able to talk about it publicly. For that project, working with a corporation that really takes these issues to heart and pushes us as professionals to find creative solutions that impact the project across multiple facets and multiple scales forced everybody to up their game and see what we could do.

PW: For anybody out there who doesn’t know Cradle to Cradle, can you give a brief textbook definition?

ER: Cradle to Cradle design is the premise that we can eliminate waste before it hits landfills through good design practices. I was given a book in Studio One at SCAD that really grabbed hold of me and I explored that concept throughout my studio classes. Then I was fortunate to get linked up with William McDonough. Since then, Cradle to Cradle ideas have grown into something called the circular economy. Now the concept is run on a global scale. Countries and corporations are embracing deas of repairing our planet through business activities. It’s impacting building, materials, and projects across multiple scales. It’s the wave of the future.

PW: What is your next big thing, other than this project that you can’t quite talk about?

ER: Thankfully we’re getting inquiries from other large companies. We are working with Starbucks, Walmart, and other large multinational companies both in America and overseas. We’ve done work in India, in Europe, and in Asia. These ideas are really starting to explode across the nation and across the world and we’re excited to be hopefully at the tip of the spear, leading the charge to help repair the world and the climate.

PW: Congratulations, Eric! We look forward to celebrating your creative visions for many, many years to come. You exemplify the qualities and character of a SCAD Alumni Atelier ambassador. Thank you for coming home to SCAD and for always elevating your discipline, your profession, and your alma mater. Once a Bee, always a Bee.

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