The Architect: Artefact’s Lucienne Di Biase Dooley brings a European sensibility to land use

Brian Pedersen//December 20, 2019

The Architect: Artefact’s Lucienne Di Biase Dooley brings a European sensibility to land use

Brian Pedersen//December 20, 2019

Lucienne Di Biase Dooley, principal at Artefact Inc. in Bethlehem. (Submitted) –
  • Organization: Artefact
  • Position: Principal
  • Hometown: Italian, born in Switzerland
  • What book are you reading right now? : “Fantastic Beasts” by J.K. Rowling, and I’m reading an Italian book about the fascist rise in Europe — “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” and “Engineering the City.” I’m learning about urban infrastructure, how you distribute power on the grid. The book is about how it’s done.
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, what three non-necessity items would you want with you? : An iPod to listen to music, a Polaroid camera, a watch.
  • What person in your life influenced you the most and why? : My maternal grandfather. He was a farmer and I witnessed the old way of being a farmer in Europe. My grandfather was very respectful of the land. He was respectful of the season cycles and that’s something I always think about to keep me in perspective.
  • If you could pass on one piece of advice to a younger you, what would it be? : To be more patient. I still have a tendency to be impatient.
  • If you could bring one thing to the Lehigh Valley from anywhere in the world, what would it be? : A train. Also, I would go and reserve a zip car. I miss that.
  • Are you a print person or digital? : I am in between. I need to print plans so I can review them. I like to have a book in my hands. But I like to read newspaper articles online.
  • Something your co-workers don’t know about you? : I actually enjoy reading period books, romantic books like Jane Austen.
  • When you were a child, you wanted to be…: An astronaut. It’s the period of Star Trek. I wanted badly to do that. I wanted to be Han Solo [from Star Wars] and be on the Millennium Falcon. I also find it fascinating how the architecture is expressed in these futuristic movies.
  • What’s your dream vacation? : I want to cross Canada from east to west and go in the open spaces. And I want to do it in all four seasons. We cannot experience big spaces like that in Europe.
  • Who are your fantasy dinner guests? : Darth Vader. I want to really find out why he’s so dark. Han Solo. He needs to teach me how to fly the Millennium Falcon. And Indiana Jones.
  • When you brag about the Lehigh Valley to people outside the area, you say…: That it’s a wonderful place to be because there’s a real sense of community. There’s a feeling when I go to the Chamber of Commerce events or LVEDC events, you feel there’s a lot of strength among the people there. Businesspeople help each other too.
  • Guilty pleasure: Dark chocolate.


These days, sustainability is a big buzzword in architecture, engineering and construction. But for Artefact, an architecture firm in Bethlehem, it’s been central to the core of their mission since their inception in 1986.

The small firm specializes in adaptive reuse, effectively saving old historic buildings from the wrecking ball and, when possible, putting them back to work. This respect for history, coupled with a focus on the potential for renewal is reflected in the work and vision of Lucienne Di Biase Dooley. She’s been a principal of the firm for many years and is directly involved with several projects the firm has taken on in the Lehigh Valley.

She recently sat down with Lehigh Valley Business for this Interview Issue to share more details about her career.

LVB: Why is sustainable development so important to you? :

It’s important to us because it has an impact on the building. We have to be mindful of the construction that is proposed. If you notice, too, we do a lot of existing buildings and adaptive reuse. It doesn’t always make sense. Coming from a different background in Europe it’s very expensive to build [and pay for] land and resources.

LVB: What have been some of your favorite projects and why? :

My favorite project is in Africa, Sierra Leone. I was asked to design a recovery center. I was contacted by the Swiss branch of the organization [Mercy Ships, an international charity]. I designed a 33,000-square-foot-hospital that was organized around two courtyards. It’s very humid. The center had a prosthetic center where they made prosthetics. They had a research center with a computer lab for the local team. At the back of the building, we had a farm prototype. They needed everything re-built. To this day, the reason why it is my favorite project is it has taught me humility and how to do a project with minimal resources. All the domestic animals were killed. All the infrastructure was demolished. This was a very special project to the point that that my husband and I are still involved.

LVB: What do you enjoy about architecture?

Just the fact that I can make a project immediate, but also it’s constant. The research for how you do it and you never know where it will end up. You are constantly in a learning process.

LVB: What are some of the challenges that you face?

You have to educate your clients about the limitations of things they want to do. Managing clients’ expectations I think, in general is the biggest challenge. Everything takes time. You are constantly mitigating time challenges.

LVB: What trends do you see happening in the industry?

We see more contemporary designs for residential units. Streamlined cabinets for kitchens, streamlined trim work, minimal lines. I think the project of ArtsQuest [an arts center designed by Spillman Farmer Architects in 2010] is a good indicator that the Lehigh Valley was shifting toward more contemporary design. We did the Lehigh Valley Charter High School of the Arts that also shows a more contemporary design.

LVB: What got you interested in architecture?

I’m Italian. One of the things you are constantly exposed to [in Italy] is art and architecture. I remember the day I decided to be an architect. I was 14 and one of my summer retreats was to visit this archaeological site. [I thought] I want to be able to design and build and be an architect. This was in Paestum, south of Naples. I visited with my family and saw a Greek archeological site that had been standing for 3,000 years.

LVB: If you could change something about your industry, what would it be?

I think it would be very good if there were more collaborative efforts. In Europe, I could call other architects and work on projects. I was the director of an architectural gallery and I would discuss urban issues, architectural issues and urban issues related to architectural design. I prepared and organized lectures and exhibitions. Here it is more of a competitive feeling. It would be beneficial to the industry to have more of a collaborative approach.

LVB: When designing a building, what’s the most important step?

If it is a new building, it’s really how the building is sited and also how the orientation of the building can maximize solar gains or light views. Pretty much the creation of a facility that responds to the conditions of the site. Generally, all of our clients that come to us, they come with a program for the building. Generally, they already know what they want.

For existing buildings, it’s about respecting the history and what is there. I’m not going to change the structure to make it work. You use the constraints of the building. It is a good challenge but the results are unique. It is cheaper to take an old building with the existing infrastructure and go from there.

LVB: What projects are you working on now?

We are doing 601 E. Broad St. [in Bethlehem]. A third-floor conversion of a building that’s going to be 57 apartments. We did the Quakertown Trolley Barn for the public market.

We are the architects of The Commodore [a mixed-use project in Easton.] We are adding a new piece around the Kaplan Building.

The former Turn & Grind building [an ArtsQuest project in Bethlehem]. That’s another one that’s adaptive reuse. The challenge is with very tall buildings; the heat rises. The good thing is that with old buildings, the energy code has some latitude. Generally, we restore the windows.

We started a program, we are buying buildings where we are in the process of creating in Allentown urban healing hubs. With those projects we are experimenting with green technologies and implementing construction methods that are less wasteful.

We are recovering five existing buildings and we are looking at prefabricated systems to reduce cost, waste, and construction time.

The Commodore project is looking at the bigger scale of how to do that.