Eli Forta
Eli Forta

For now, Eli Forta is gaining experience in a wide variety of projects.

Eli Forta has plans to use his architectural skills to better the community.

The 23-year-old recent Lawrence Technological University undergraduate, who is now pursuing a master of architecture degree at the same school, is working on a thesis about using advanced digital fabrication methods to alleviate financial devastation in Detroit.

“It’s a huge urban zone that suffered tremendously through various waves of movement and social change,” Forta explains. “Now that it’s working its way back up, how can we utilize new technologies in a way that benefits the existing community?”

It’s one area of architectural design, among many others, that Forta is currently learning. His role as assistant project manager at Ferndale-based architectural firm Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas Inc. (FSP), is also giving him firsthand experience in numerous aspects of architectural design, his favorite of which are the smaller, finite details.

“I love looking into details,” Forta says. “When you really zoom in on something and you put it all together … sometimes it’s very generic and there’s a way to do it and then it’s done, but sometimes it requires a very thoughtful solution.”

For example, like working with elements that are one-quarter inch by 2 inches, Forta says, which isn’t uncommon in his line of work, which also includes keeping water out of windowsills or fitting door jambs into a wall. It’s completing and figuring out these little details, he explains, that make the job rewarding.

The Ins and Outs of Architectural Design

Since being hired at FSP during his junior year of college after working with the company as an architectural intern, Forta has steadily increased the types of projects he’s taking on.

“When you start an architectural job, you start doing much simpler things because school teaches you a very theoretical side of the profession,” he explains, “and not so much the practical. Those are skills you’re intended to pick up as you become a professional.”

It was a learning curve, but one that Forta enjoyed. He began his career by working on fencing for parking lots and simpler tasks that were more detail-oriented, understanding along the way exactly how everything comes together. 

Jim Pappas
Jim Pappas

“As you pick up skills and as you learn these things, then you can start transitioning into bigger projects,” he says.

FSP owner Jim Pappas says Forta is catching on quickly. “Eli is an outstanding employee and future architect,” Pappas explains. “He has progressed further and faster than any intern in recent memory. He has shown the ability to handle projects to a level I would expect from someone with much more time and experience in this field.”

A “sharp intellect” paired with a “real drive for the profession” is what helps Forta succeed, Pappas continues. “We look forward to working with him and being able to contribute to his professional development.”

Giving Back through Activist Architecture

For now, Forta is gaining experience in a wide variety of projects. With a busy summer season ahead at FSP, he begins his day at 7 a.m. Throughout the week, he’ll work on anything from figuring out roof drainage to maintaining fire safety compliance. “There’s a decent amount of code work that has to happen,” he explains of architectural design.

Yet, each scenario he handles, no matter how unique, boils right back down to the details that make the job interesting. 

“In the professional world, it’s something that has to be considered in every single job in every single scenario,” Forta says of details.

Working at FSP is also rewarding to Forta, who has a history of community involvement and activism. He calls FSP a company that prides itself on activist architecture or using architecture to give back to those in need. One way they do so is by partnering with local nonprofit organizations to build housing for homeless or at-risk individuals. 

“You don’t get to see it that often,” Forta says of activist architecture. “The fact that it’s right here in Michigan in Ferndale near where I grew up, that’s just something that really appeals to me, that they’re willing to help people.”

The firm recently did work at both campuses of Jewish Senior Life.

Finding a New Perspective

Growing up in Oak Park, where he continues to live today, Forta never truly considered architecture until his father brought up the idea to him. It sounded promising, Forta explains, so he decided to pursue the field. Little did he know, however, that he would fall in love with architecture. 

“I really enjoyed the scale of it and the focus,” he says.

Yet before diving into architecture, Forta finished high school in 11th grade and spent the next year-and-a-half in Israel, studying at a yeshivah outside Jerusalem.

“I wasn’t really sure where I stood after high school as far as religion and Judaism,” he says. “While I was there, I found how [Modern Orthodox Judaism] could relate to my life.”

With a renewed perspective on Judaism in his pocket and after spending time volunteering at Shalva National Center for Children with Disabilities, Forta felt ready to take the next step in life back in Michigan at Lawrence Technological University.

There, he worked with Hillel of Metro Detroit to build a Jewish community at the school. However, as COVID-19 impacted both onsite programming and student organizations, Forta instead helped direct people toward other Hillel college programming in the area.

Now busy with graduate school and building his career in architectural design, Forta is looking forward to continuing to positively impact the community through his work.

His goal is “to raise the quality of life and the quality of neighborhoods without necessarily raising the prices of the neighborhoods,” Forta says. “That’s where my interest landed.” 

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