Northeastern alumna Laura Moss, School of Architecture, co-owns a full service design-build studio in Providence, Rhode Island called Functional Aesthetic Design±Build, LLC. The studio functions as both an architectural and construction company, serving as a one-stop shop for clients who are looking for design and building expertise.
Laura’s husband, Gordon Moss, started the company in 2011, and after Laura finished her master’s degree in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she joined him as a co-owner. The studio is small, which allows Laura and Gordon to really establish an informed relationship with their clients, which are mainly private businesses and homeowners. They tackle everything from full home renovations to designing and building custom furniture.
“Our clients are open to taking creative risks, which is important to us,” said Laura. “Whatever the project is, our goal is to provide a high quality product for our clients, achieving their vision in a way that is built to last.”
Laura and Gordon’s decision to open Functional Aesthetic in Providence was a strategic one; the city offered them the creative freedom they wanted.
“Providence has an amazing community of other artists who live and work here, and it gives us a certain freedom from real estate developers,” Laura said. “If you start your own business, you have the chance to mold your own identity and choose your own clients. This was possible for us in Providence, an extremely friendly and affordable city for small businesses.”
Laura describes that one aspect of architecture and construction fields that she loves is the permeance of their work, and the ability to learn from builders and designers who came before them.
“We commonly work on houses that were built 100 years ago, which allows us to gain exposure to traditional techniques of architects and builders. I cherish that experience and I value seeing the details that held up well and also those that didn’t work so well,” Laura said. “In a certain sense, I feel like I am part of history. If we renovate someone’s home, that work is going to be there for the next fifty years at least. And since it’s our client’s home, the project is really meaningful to them – and therefore, it’s really meaningful for us.”
Laura’s passion for design was solidified while an architecture student at Northeastern, specifically in her studio courses. Combined with her classes, her co-op experiences were helpful in terms of figuring out what working in an office was like, and what type of firm she thrived in most.
“Northeastern’s co-op program was an unbelievable, eye-opening experience and it really framed what I wanted to do in architecture and also what I didn’t want to pursue in architecture,” Laura said.
Her first co-op was at Elkus Manfredi, a large Boston-based design firm. While Laura learned a lot there, she wanted the opportunity to be more involved with the actual location where the building was going to be. At a major firm, this is not always possible – and architects may work on a project they have never visited or seen in-person. Her second co-op, however, was a perfect fit, working on a mid-size firm, Burrell Foley Fisher, LLP, in London. There, Laura had the opportunity to work on the construction of a new dance studio at an all-girls school that was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
“This project was interesting to me because I had a background in competitive dance so I really relished working on that project while also pursuing my architectural goals,” Laura described. “I would go to the site a lot and talk to the students, and build a certain trust with the students and teachers. Part of the thing I really valued during my architectural education and experience is connecting with the people who are using the space and working on it through their perspective.” This co-op allowed Laura to have the close relationship with the space and the people using it that she carries with her to her business and projects today.
Finally, her last co-op opportunity was in Brazil, where she worked with brick and concrete to build a community center in a favela.
“Masonry was a huge leap for me and that’s what most of the buildings are constructed out of. This was really my first construction job,” Laura said. “Working as a construction laborer was eye-opening and also super rewarding. I learned the value of spending all day working and stepping back and having a finished project right in front of your face. This co-op taught me that I could do construction in addition to design; I learned that I love working with my hands and I love the physical labor of it all.”
As a master’s degree student at RISD, Laura continued her love of working with her hands by spending time in the school’s full woodshop, taking as many classes as possible there and learning all the shop tools. This experience let Laura pursue the many avenues of architecture – design, construction, furniture (shop work), and more. Today, she still has the opportunity to pursue the hands-on side of the design field; Functional Aesthetic is equipped with a full wood and metal shop, including a full range of wood-working and metal-working tools. “I am always mixing it up. It’s a lot of work, but also engaging and interesting,” she said.
Beyond her work at Functional Aesthetic, Laura is the Secretary of the Board of Directors for Yestermorrow, a design/build school that allows students of varying ages to learn, think, and practice at all different scales.
“If students are exposed to both sides of the project – design and build – they can be better at both. The two sides inform each other,” Laura concluded. “Yestermorrow is educating students similarly to the way we are running our business: in a holistic and informed way. This approach allows everyone to have more empathy for others in the field (moving away from the mindset of architects vs. contractors vs. engineers, etc.) – and encourages building a bridge between the trades.”
Throughout Laura’s career, she has truly become a champion for design/build education. It is something she values based on her own experience, and an approach that she lives and breathes every day as co-owner of Functional Aesthetic Design±Build, LLC.
Northeastern is proud of the work Laura has done so far, and we look forward to seeing what design adventures lie ahead!