01 August 2013

Michele Bertomen, In Tribute

Earlier this week I received news that Michele Bertomen passed away on the evening of Friday July 26, 2013. Michele was a professor of mine throughout my time in architectural school at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), starting in 2001, for Design Fundamentals, through my Thesis in 2006.   I am taking time to remember her here since she was such an influence on me throughout this time in my life and since.

Professor Bertomen was tough, frank and often brutally honest, during design critiques she definitely wasn't sugar coating anything, and you couldn't get anything by her, you had to be able to defend your work, no coasting.  I witnessed many students change majors and even drop out partially due to these rough times.  Looking back I realize that she was very passionate about the architecture profession, believing it isn't for the weak of heart, and wanted her students to push themselves and learn for themselves, she would never just tell us an answer or give us a solution.  After-all, how do you know what you can do until you try and, sometimes, fail?

Michele was largely responsible for NYIT's entry into the 2005 Solar Decathlon, of which I was a team member.  This project changed the course of my career as an architect, as I'm sure it did for many of my colleagues.  It was during this time that I first got to know Michele as more than a professor.  She had a passion for thoughtful design, and believed life was meant to be lived and to get things done, not to just let pass by.  I remember her once saying that there will be plenty of time for rest once we die.  These qualities were inspirational and contagious.

After graduation I stayed in touch with Michele, serving as a guest critic for some of her design studios at NYIT, socializing after, and seeing her at some Solar Decathlon team reunions along with her husband David Boyle and dog Zero.  I felt that she was always rooting for me to better myself and grow through my career, offering letters of recommendation, recommending me to teach at NYIT, and offering critiques of my own projects.  Michele was one of the few people I asked to review my first book, "A is for Architecture", before sending it off to be published.  She was always kind to me and asked how my life and career were going.

She recently completed her house in Brooklyn, along with her husband David, and I'm happy that she was able to enjoy it.  This was one of her last projects along with a KickStarter campaign for The SodaBIB Project which she was also passionate about.  These two projects offer a glimpse into how she thought as a designer, what can we do with what we have, with as much positive impact and as little negative impact as possible.  These are some of the values she passed onto her students, myself included.

I will miss Michele, she was an important part of my life, I feel fortunate that I knew her as I did and will always remember her fondly.

Michele with her husband David