Back to Blog April 3, 2024

Back to the Nest: Tyler Architecture Alum’s Career Journey Comes Full Circle

Author: Alina Ladyzhensky
Left to Right: Stephanie Chace, Associate Director of Planning and Design, HSC Campus, Temple University; Aaron Bell (BArch ’11), Senior Associate, Architect, Strada LLC; Sarah Sterchak, Architectural Designer, Strada LLC; Christopher Kenney, Principal, Strada LLC; J. Todd Abrams, PhD, Executive Director, Innovation Nest

Tyler Architecture alum Aaron Bell (BArch ’11) has worked on a wide range of projects throughout his career– from a food hall in Nashville to a historic bank building-turned-hotel in Pittsburgh. But two recently completed projects have stood out for bringing his professional journey uniquely full circle: Bell had the opportunity to work on iNest, a new Temple University innovation center, in addition to serving as project architect for The Battery, a mixed-used complex that repurposed the very same structure that Bell studied for his thesis work at Tyler.

Temple’s Innovation Nest, known as iNest (an homage to the university’s owl mascot), officially opened its doors on March 19. The facility will support innovators in the Temple community, functioning as an event and meeting space as well as a startup incubator. Bell served as a designer and architect for the facility and designed a lenticular wall – a display in which an image moves and changes with the perspective of the viewer – titled “Discover Takes Flight” that mimics a bird in flight and greets visitors when they enter the space. 

“iNest presented a unique opportunity to design a space for an emerging community of entrepreneurs. It was important that the space felt sophisticated and functional,” Bell said. “We really made an effort to enhance the spaces where people gather in order to help foster that community, while also giving them the tools that they needed to invent new technologies with state-of-the-art lab and office facilities.”

Another recent, monumental project also took Bell back to his days as a student at Tyler. While completing his Architecture degree, Bell chose a long-dormant, nearly 500,000 square foot power station and industrial property on the Delaware River waterfront – then simply known as the Delaware Power Station – as the subject of his thesis project, with guidance from his advisor, Kate Wingert-Playdon, Tyler’s Associate Dean for Architecture and Environmental Design.

“My time studying abroad at Temple Rome's campus, and subsequent summer internship in Italy, drove my interest in adaptive reuse and ultimately to this power station as an interest for my thesis,” Bell recalled.

These dual interests soon proved to be professionally advantageous. After graduation, Bell went to work for Strada, a cross-disciplinary design firm. One day, a partner at the firm invited Bell to come on a client interview for a prospective adaptive reuse project at the Delaware Power Station.

“During the interview, I had the opportunity to bring up my knowledge of the building through my research project and design projects for the thesis, and the different ways in which I thought it could be utilized,” Bell recalled. “The owner got really excited about what I had to say and they hired us, and we've been working on this project since 2018.”

Bell, now a Senior Associate, Architect at Strada, helped transform the industrial relic into an innovative mixed-use complex now known as The Battery. The redevelopment includes apartments, office space, a large-scale event venue, and a hotel, in addition to hosting concerts and other events on the waterfront. The complex’s adaptive reuse design blends modern amenities with historic preservation, carefully maintaining a steel cistern from the original structures along with exposed concrete walls that recall the space’s origins. It also incorporates energy-efficient systems and smart technology that reduce The Battery’s environmental impact.

The high-profile project has already given a sizeable economic, aesthetic, and cultural boost to the city’s waterfront area, as well as the Fishtown neighborhood. A panel of local industry professionals selected The Battery as the winner of the 2024 CoStar Impact Award for redevelopment of the year for Philadelphia, and Bell was tapped to speak about the project at a recent Greater Philadelphia Preservation Alliance event.

Bell – who knew that he wanted to be an architect since the first grade – credits his time at Tyler with helping him hone and articulate his “design voice”, which has served him well when navigating prominent projects like iNest and The Battery from conception to completion.

“I really value the approach that we took in studio and with the education that we had, because not all programs are so design-forward and theoretically heavy,” Bell said. “Tyler taught me how to think like a designer, which translates into many different areas.” 

“You learn how to be an architect on the job in a lot of ways, and my experience at Tyler really allowed me to be a lead designer on most of my projects for the past ten years,” he continued. “I have a strong design voice, and I have the ability to have that voice heard and realized, and I thank Tyler for that.” 

Reflecting on his professional journey so far, Bell encourages current Architecture students to think broadly, and find ways to share the valuable skills and knowledge they gain with their communities. Bell volunteers with a community development corporation in his neighborhood, where he helps develop grant narratives and seek funding for capital project improvements.

“The things you learn as an architect are so useful, even beyond your immediate company. You really get to know everything, from design to construction to contracts to everything in between,” Bell said. “Volunteering is a really great opportunity to expand beyond your day-to-day work life.”

Images: (left to right) Stephanie Chace, Associate Director of Planning and Design, HSC Campus, Temple University; Aaron Bell (BArch ’11), Senior Associate, Architect, Strada LLC; Sarah Sterchak, Architectural Designer, Strada LLC; Christopher Kenney, Principal, Strada LLC; J. Todd Abrams, PhD, Executive Director, Innovation Nest;. Image courtesy of Aaron Bell. Before and after riverfront view of The Battery. Image courtesy of Strada, LLC.