AIA grants Lehigh alumnus Montalbano architecture award

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Moto Designshop started in 2003 as a bar conversation between Adam Montalbano, ’00, and co-founder Roman Torres when they were graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, it has grown to an award-winning architecture and design practice that executes a variety of projects.

“Most of our clients come to us when they want a higher level of design, maybe an alternative solution or approach to what may be sort of standard in the marketplace,” Montalbano said.

Montalbano, the principal of Moto Designshop, received a 2017 Young Architect Award from the Philadelphia branch of American Institute of Architects. The competitive award recognizes individuals who have exemplified excellence in their professional work and in the community.

Courtesy Lehigh University website

Montalbano was chosen as the award recipient because of the already well-established reputation that Moto Designshop has gained and the passion that helped it grow.

“They’ve won more than 20 design awards,” said Rebecca Johnson, ’98, the executive director of the American Institute of Architects. “Architects become architects largely because they love design and because they love to create things, and so I think that has made Moto rise above the fray.”

Montalbano and Moto Designshop also stand out in their community development program. They are heavily involved with the Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit group that partners with schools, businesses and people that need design services but do not necessarily have the means to execute them.

One of Moto Designshop’s most recent projects with the corporation was the renovation of Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, which aimed to attract more students and grow the school.

“The intent is that you’re helping these community organizations better their local neighborhoods and communities,” Montalbano said.

Montalbano’s leadership and commitment to Moto Designshop helped the company find success.

Fields such as architecture, building and construction can be stressful to clients, Torres said, and having somebody who exemplifies leadership is important, especially for a small company like Moto Designshop. Torres describes Montalbano as a “jack of all trades,” though he points to Montalbano’s leadership as his distinctive quality.

“I think his steady hand and his steady leadership has been the single most important thing to this company and this company’s growth,” Torres said. “He has always been one who can steer the ship and calm the crew down when they need it most. It is one of his best qualities, and that extends to clients.”

It wasn’t only Montalbano’s leadership what made him deserving of the Young Architect Award this year — Johnson said his approach to work and entrepreneurship made him stand out even more.

Torres said the idea for the company began as a knack for building and using their hands to create. Today, the company is more focused on helping people make things and finding ways to do it cost-effectively. Moto Designshop creates high-quality designs while staying relatively affordable, which is a more entrepreneurial business approach than what other architecture and design companies do.

Although the company has only expanded from two to five people, its ideology and clients have grown enormously.

Its small staff has proved to benefit the company, especially in an industry that requires a lot of hands and ideas.  The co-founders are happy with their small staff, which allows for an intimate and client-friendly practice, and they find ways to use it to their advantage.

“I don’t think any of us are looking for a 100-person firm,” Torres said. “But I think, ultimately, (our goal) is to be a practice that produces work that is timely, and relevant, and critical, and important and that we attract similar talent.”

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