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Credit: Don F. Wong

In 2010, after 13 years with the well-known Midwest firm SALA Architects, Meghan Kell Cornell, AIA, founded her own practice, Kell.Architect(s), in St. Paul, Minn., focusing on comfortable and welcoming residential architecture. She is proud to follow in the footsteps of her semi-retired father, Duane Kell, FAIA, who was active in the AIA throughout his career and in whose old offices Cornell now runs her firm. She currently is the president-elect of AIA St. Paul and recipient of AIA Minnesota and Midwest Home magazine’s 2011 Emerging Talent award.

I believe that home is about comfort and security, and my designs are about welcoming and sheltering. That’s intended through proportions that are familiar or even vernacular. One trend people see in my work has to do with the simplicity of the massing. But there are opportunities to punctuate that simplicity with special moves, like color or materials, or a tower, or an extension to the landscape that is unexpected.

I work on a lot of historic homes and feel a great drive to make something new feel like it’s a part of the original house. Yet there can be nuances that address modern living. Context is so important. Whether it’s a new home on an empty lot or a house that’s in a dense urban neighborhood, I’m always looking to use what the property has to offer, like sunlight or shelter.

Sunlight is the most important consideration, because in our region we just don’t have a lot of it. We want to grab as much daylight as we can. You can also address the landscape by how you extend the structure from inside to outside with plantings or floor materials, or how you ascend or descend into the main-level space. There’s always a sequence of events that tells the story of the house.

I have found great value in the fellowship of colleagues that I met through AIA. As president-elect of AIA St. Paul, I want to keep up our member participation and continue to promote the benefits of participation. We have a program called Unauthorized Design, in which we take a project within the Twin Cities—usually St. Paul—and completely redesign it without any barriers or constraints. The general public is always invited. Our Unauthorized Design charrette this summer explores the reuse of an old juvenile detention center on valuable riverfront property in downtown St. Paul. It could lead to other projects.

I was blown away by the Emerging Talent award, especially in this first year of being a sole practitioner. I know this annual award will continue to garner really good visibility for architects and for what architects can do for residential design. There’s some great talent out there. As told to Kim A. O’Connell.aia