December 20, 2023
black and white photo of Garth Schwellenbach, a middle-aged man wearing a plaid shirt

Over the past couple of years, graduates from the UMass Master of Architecture program have assumed leadership roles as presidents in three of the seven New England chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Dorrie Brooks ‘11 MArch leads AIA Massachusetts; Garth Schwellenbach ‘13 MArch is guiding AIA Western Massachusetts; and Kathryn Wetherbee Wise ‘13 MArch headed AIA Maine. This remarkable accomplishment is particularly noteworthy considering the relative newness of the Master of Architecture program and the substantial number of architecture schools in the Northeast. In a special edition of the UMass Department of Architecture newsletter, Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture, Stephen Schreiber, FAIA engaged in interviews with all three accomplished alumni. Here is Schreiber’s interview with Garth Schwellenbach. 


Schreiber: Before you pursued your MArch at UMass, you had a non-architecture undergrad. Tell us a little bit about your background, and why you pivoted to architecture. 

Schwellenbach: I majored in anthropology as an undergrad then bounced around the country playing and teaching music, among other things. After an extended trip around the world with my wife Liz we settled in Asheville, North Carolina. In Asheville I worked as a carpenter for a few years until I was lucky to get a job with an Architect that had designed a project I built. After working for Keith Hargrove Architect for three years I decided to pursue a master's in architecture, which eventually brought me to UMass (with a baby and renovating a house in Maine in between). 


Schreiber: And why UMass Amherst? 

Schwellenbach: I was attracted to UMass primarily because of the friendliness, openness and flexibility I saw in the program. I had the sense the program would be supportive of both my academic goals and my personal well-being, which turned out to be true. I was also drawn by the location and the idea that our family would be happy living in the area. The tremendous value of public education was also important in my initial interest and final decision.  


Schreiber: What were some of your leadership positions at UMass, if any?  

Schwellenbach: I was the vice-president of the Graduate Student Senate for two of my three years. I really enjoyed that role and the opportunity to better understand how the university functions. The role allowed me to meet a number of different people from all areas of the university, some of whom I have worked with as client groups in my role as an architect. 


Schreiber: What are you doing now? What was your path since graduation? 

Schwellenbach: Following graduation, I was lucky to get a job at Coldham & Hartman Architects in Amherst, which is where I still work, now as a partner.  


Schreiber: How did you get involved in your local/state chapter of AIA? What have been some of your accomplishments during your tenure as president? 

Schwellenbach: I was drawn into WMAIA by my partner Tom Hartman, and convinced mostly by the free lunch, but have stayed for the great people. My presidency has been driven primarily by trying to understand our role as an organization following COVID. Like everything else, what we do and how we do it has been impacted, specifically involvement. Where there used to be member involvement trends for programs and events, we are now left guessing. The way we all structure and prioritize our time is so different now, and we’re trying to figure out how we best fit and support our members within this new paradigm.