Architect Lori Kupfer ’86 puts people first

Whether she is designing facilities for universities, re-envisioning a restaurant or renovating a private residence, you can be sure of one thing: Lori Kupfer ’86 is always thinking about “textures, color, lighting and to connect spaces to a greater social, historical or exterior context.”

Kupfer, as a New York City-based architect, says her goal for each of her projects is to create “a comprehensive vision… that is distinctive and creates a supportive and inspired environment.”

Plenty of people enjoy her approach – and the outcomes. Kupfer has worked on a variety of large-scale projects for clients that include Marymount Manhattan College, Nyack College, Metropolitan College of New York, Peninsula Hotel New York and Tavern on the Green. She knows that every project is comprised of a team of people working together to create something valuable. In both her work relationships and in her designs, she aims to “respect everybody involved in bringing a project to life.”

Before enrolling as an undergraduate at Cornell, Kupfer participated in one of the university’s summer programs for high school seniors. She took a drawing class with artist Zevi Blum, who took her under his wing and helped her find her direction. Kupfer says she “didn’t know how to take my love of art and drawing and sculpture and turn it into something professional.” Blum introduced her to the fields of interior design and architecture, and opened her mind to a world of possibility.

With Blum’s encouragement, Kupfer enrolled in the College of Human Ecology with a focus on interior design. What she found was an environment that was challenging, but also supportive. And she began to explore a college that molded her from a kid who loved art into a designer. Kupfer found her love of architecture at Cornell, but was advised to stay focused on interior design as an undergraduate, a recommendation she now appreciates. Advisors noted that she’d “never learn these things again. [She needed to] appreciate starting from the human scale, [working] from the inside out,” which was the core of the interior design program. Kupfer knows that the wide range of classes she took during those years gave her a broader view of the world.

After graduating from Cornell, Kupfer went on to earn a master’s degree in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University, then entered the professional world at a small architectural firm in Pittsburgh. After several years there, she returned to New York City to work with two large firms on projects across the U.S. and in Shanghai. Finally after more than 14 years of working for others, Kupfer founded her own practice.

Kupfer’s firm flourishes as one client recommends her to the next. She attributes much of her understanding and ideals of her work to her time at Cornell. “The foundation of my design perspective and philosophy was provided by Human Ecology,” she said. “All of the values and concerns of putting the human being first are what inspired me to keep going in my design education and… create [projects] for the benefit and welfare of human life.”

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