In Melissa Farling’s third year at UNC Charlotte, architecture professor Eric Sauda challenged his students to combine architecture with another passion. Melissa’s other passion was psychology, and she wanted to study a restrictive environment to see what relationship there might be between design and behavior. She began to look at prisons and the following year, in current College of Arts + Architecture Dean Ken Lambla’s studio, continued that work in the most restrictive of environments, death row. Those two studio experiences profoundly shaped Melissa’s career.
“It was my introduction to understanding the impacts of architecture on the individual,” she says. “I have never looked back. I have continued to pursue research regarding the impacts of the built environment, and I use that information to inform design on all different building types.”
A registered architect in Arizona, Melissa is the managing principal of HDR’s architecture studio in Phoenix. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in architecture from UNC Charlotte in 1988 and her Master of Architecture degree from the University of Arizona.
Much of the work of Melissa’s 28-year career has been focused on large-scale public projects, applying research to designs for correctional facilities (including low to maximum-security adult and juvenile facilities), courthouses, K-12 and higher education facilities, and behavioral health hospitals.
“The biggest lesson from these efforts is understanding my responsibility as an architect,” she says. “It should be to make a positive impact, whether the goal is rehabilitation in a prison, enhancing learning in a school, or providing respite in a home.”
Melissa served as co-chair of the AIA Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ) Research Committee from 2006 to 2016, during which time she co-organized and co-led the first series of criminal justice neuroscience-architecture workshops. She co-chaired the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Women's Leadership Summit in 2013 and served as president of the AIA Central Arizona Chapter. In 2014 she was named to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) College of Fellows and this year, the School of Architecture named her the 2017 Distinguished Alumna in Architecture.
“I use my education at UNC Charlotte as a benchmark professionally and personally,” Melissa says. “UNC Charlotte offers one of the few architecture programs in the United States that you can enter in your first year. Not only does this give you more opportunities, but it allows for students to immediately learn to work with and from each other and make lifelong relationships. The instructors are amazing. It was a very intimate and powerful experience.”