Architecture professor authors urban housing series, attributes success to travel

Before joining the University of Miami two years ago, professor Eric Firley was busy working as an architect and a world-traveling author.  After entering academia, the frequent traveling stopped, but the writing continued.

This spring, “The Urban Masterplanning Handbook,” the third in a series co-authored by Firley, will be released in the United States. The book explores the complexities of planning cities and shows readers how buildings fit together in the intricate fabric of the urban landscape.  The book can be used on both the professional and academic levels.

“At the time that I started, I was working in an architect’s office in London,” Firley said.  “An idea that I had for several years was to explain how the architectural element relates to its neighbors and to the public realm.  How does one building relate to the next one? And how do those buildings relate to the street?”

Firley said that he has been a full-time author since 2007.  After joining the UM faculty in 2011, he has taught classes on every level as well as graduate studios. UM architecture alumna Quixgin Yu praised her former professor for his work ethic and ambition.

“It is important to have students perceive the real world while they are studying,” Yu said.  “There are so many aspects ignored in the academic world, but they could be a crucial part as soon as we step out from school.”

The handbook delves into Firley’s fascination with cities, urban housing and tall buildings.  His first book, “The Urban Housing Handbook,” highlights different home dwellings all over the world as well as explores the intricate details of the building process.  The second book, “The Urban Towers Handbook,” takes the reader back in time as well as around the globe exploring the evolution of the high-rise building.

Firley said exploring the “urban fabric” of an area has become increasingly easier over the last decade since the development of Google maps.  As a writing professional, Firley did all exploration and research on his own with a team of professionals and student interns.  The effort produced a book that explores everything from how land comes to be publicly or privately owned, the comparison of city layouts in places such as London and New York, and international city planning.

While traveling around the world shooting photographs for the books and interviewing architects and design professionals, Firley came to UM to teach in January of 2011.  The plan was to start teaching earlier here in Coral Gables, but the amount of traveling that he was doing delayed his start.  He said that he wrote most of the third book after he began teaching at UM, but had already completed the process of travelling and collecting photographs.

Architecture students say working with professors like Firley who have professional backgrounds enriches the educational experience.

Firley has plans for publishing more books in the future, but for now he is working to encourage his students to pursue their dreams and to equip them with the knowledge to do so.  In the future, it may very well be one of his students writing their own books and teaching full time.