Design With Community in Mind

Tonja Adair ’92

A photo of Tonja Adair '92

Photo by Ola Wilk

Photo by Ola Wilk

Tonja Adair ’92, co-founder of Splice Design, an architecture firm with offices in New York City and Atlanta, says her experience at Wellesley still shapes her career. During her time at the College, where she majored in architecture, Tonja learned the importance of active involvement in the community, she says. She was in Ethos and was also immersed in the College’s diverse international student community, which helped her learn to facilitate conversations with people from a variety of backgrounds.

“I valued the opportunities Wellesley provided me to collaborate with diverse peers and professors to shape, challenge, and change conversations, which has helped me do the same in my field,” Tonja says.

After Wellesley, she earned master’s degrees from Georgia Tech and Columbia University and worked at large corporate architecture firms in both Atlanta and New York. In 2008, she was laid off. Wanting a change, Tonja partnered with a friend from her corporate architecture days and another from her Columbia master’s program. All three were interested in varying scales of design. “We launched Splice Design in 2008 to combine—or ‘splice’ together—our unique visions about experimental city planning and for designing residential and commercial spaces,” Tonja says.

Tonja’s design process engages community context and client narratives. She helps transform unused spaces into welcoming public areas that invite conversation. That has included creating an outdoor “lobby” in Atlanta and transforming a bebop-era building in Harlem into a Black-owned restaurant.

Active in leadership for the New York chapters of the American Institute of Architects and National Organization of Minority Architects, she is committed to increasing diversity in the field through mentoring. She also advocates on issues of equity, sustainability, and urban challenges like gentrification. “I want to show future architects they can shape environments and policy conversations around development in communities through civic engagement,” Tonja says. She studies infrastructure, energy policy, and their social implications and seeks opportunities to revitalize existing homes and communities without displacing current residents.

“Design done intentionally and linked to policy can positively transform lives,” she says.

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