Success by Design Shares Compelling Stories of California Architects

Success by Design: Revealing Profiles of California Architects, written and photographed by Jenn Kennedy, provides a detailed overview of the careers of 25 successful architects in California. Kennedy profiles a diverse group of architects from variety of firms based throughout California who have worked on projects ranging from residential, commercial buildings, educational institutions and public arenas. She does a compelling job of telling the stories of architects through interviews, portraits and photographs and includes renderings from each firm, discussing their beginning work until current work.

The book is accessible and illuminating. Kennedy has a unique approach in telling each innovator’s story in an authentic and sincere manner. Each innovator shares their personal history, how they got started, their challenges, lessons learned and other aspects of their journey that make this book a must-read for anyone who aspires to pursue this profession.

Success by Design is a helpful resource for architects and designers new to the industry or for anyone looking to work for or with these firms, but it would also be useful for architects who are seeking to start their own firm and need perspective on how to build a practice.

Notable architects profiled include Steven Ehrlich, principal and founder of Ehrlich Architecture, Art Gensler, cofounder of Gensler, Ray Kappe, educator and founder of SCI-Arc, Stephen Kanner, modernist and founder of the A+D Museum (Kanner passed away in 2010), and Lauren Rottet, an internationally recognized interior architect.

Architects profiled in the book:

Barry Berkus of Berkus Design Studio Boris Dramov, FAIA, President of ROMA Design Group Steven Ehrlich, FAIA, Design Principal of Ehrlich Architects Richard Emsiek, AIA, President and COO of McLarand Vasquez Emsiek & Partners Elisa Garcia, President of Garcia Architects Art Gensler, FAIA, Chairman of Gensler Craig Hodgetts, FAIA, Creative Director and Hsinming Fung, AIA, Director of Design at Hodgetts and Fung Design and Architecture Michael Johnson, AIA, Design Principal of Carrier Johnson + Culture Stephen Kanner, FAIA, President of Kanner Architects Ray Kappe, FAIA, President of Kappe+Du Architects Hank Koning, FAIA, Founding Principal and Julie Eizenberg, AIA, Founding Principal of Koning Eizenberg Dan Meis, FAIA, Senior Principal of Populous David Mourning, President and CEO of IA Interior Architects

Barton Myers, FAIA, President of Barton Myers Associates Ed Niles, FAIA, President of Edward R. Niles Architect Juan Diego Perez-Vargas, Principal of KMD Architects Simon Perkowitz, AIA, CEO and President and Steve Ruth, AIA, Executive Vice President of Perkowitz+Ruth Architects Randy Peterson, FAIA, President and CEO of HMC Architects Michael Patrick Porter, AIA, President of Michael Patrick Porter Architect Beverly Prior, FAIA, Principal of Beverly Prior Architects (now HMC Architects) Lauren Rottet, FAIA, Founding Principal and Richard Riveire, AIA, Principal of Rottet Studio Don Sandy, FAIA, President of SB Architects Rob Steinberg, FAIA, President of Steinberg Architects Erik Sueberkrop, FAIA, Chairman of STUDIOS Architecture Allison Williams, FAIA, Principal of Perkins + Will

For more information on Kennedy and the book, check out where Waltercomms blog readers receive a 20% discount by using the code Blog20.

The Generosity of the Thinking Man (or Woman): Managing, Sharing and Leading Through Knowledge

Image Not everyone is comfortable being generous with their knowledge. Many choose to hold it close to their chest hoping that their exclusive ownership of it will somehow be a competitive advantage. But people won’t know you have this knowledge if you don’t talk about it … and talk is cheap.

In order to convince people that you know your subject thoroughly, you have to show it. What better way to do this than to give it away?

Firms like HMC Architects and SWA Group are putting their knowledge to work in the form of educating the general public. (Full disclosure: Walter Communications has worked with both firms on these projects.) In both of these cases, young people are the knowledge-sharing conduit. SWA’s Matt Baumgarten notes, “Kids can spread information very effectively. Once they understand the concepts, they go home and teach it to their families.”

HMC’s godfather of sustainability Pablo La Roche recently led a workshop series on sustainability at a local elementary school. This initiative was made possible by a grant from the firm’s Designing Futures Foundation in an effort to contribute to the next generation of environmental stewards.

SWA is organizing two events in Houston, Texas for this fall that aim to open the public’s eyes to the real danger of living in a floodplain by calling their attention to the 100-year floodline and the natural infrastructure of the City’s bayous. The first is an art installation and the other is a series of presentations to public schools and an organized two-mile student walk along the 100-year floodline. These initiatives effectively build stronger connections with their communities and garner kudos from the press, but they also reinforce their reputation as experts – and as an added bonus, they keep employees happy and engaged.

Another firm that has impressed me by their know-how generosity I learned about at KA Connect –the single event where all the AEC industry innovators hang out. Through their strict focus, client list, research and services, Ayers Saint Gross has built a solid reputation and positioned itself as a resource for anything related to campus planning. The firm and its website is the single place a university need look to compare their campus with other schools, to access an image resource library, to find research and whitepapers on the latest trends and to hire top tier planning and design services.

Yes, this could be seen as a risky move since the competitors of Ayers Saint Gross can also access this resource, but the gamble pays well. According  to Principal Jim Wheeler, the firm’s policy is “give it away” and even goes so far as to require all employees to demonstrate knowledge through research, speaking and publishing. When firms set an expectation like this internally, it raises the bar and challenges staff to clear it. It may not be the right environment for every professional, but for those who want to take part in shaping their profession it is the place where they will thrive. What firm doesn’t want this type of person working for them and representing them to the public?

Ayers Saint Gross has it right.  They are creating a culture of learning, thinking and testing. Through this culture, they have created a reputation for stellar services and a continuous cycle of encouraging staff to exceed expectations, communicating findings and winning new challenging projects where they can put their research to the test.

You don’t always have to be the originator of an idea to have a reputation of being knowledgeable about a topic. I ran into Anthony Flint at the American Planning Association conference last week and learned about a new resource that his organization has created. In this case, The Lincoln Institute for Land Policy isn’t sharing its own knowledge (although they do frequently publish their own research and findings), but instead it has aggregated and organized all the scenario planning tools that are currently available in order to help planners learn which tool is right for them, how to use the tools, and to support further development and refinement of scenario planning tools. The Institute’s report “Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools” and corresponding website establishes The Lincoln Institute as an authority on the technology that is pushing the industry in new direction without building a tool of their own.

If all of this sounds good and you are thinking that you’d like to start spreading your firm’s knowledge, make sure you look inside first. If centers of knowledge and leading experts can’t be easily found and accessed internally, then start with addressing this problem. If your firm already has a strong process for knowledge management, then what are you waiting for? This is the stuff of marketers' and communicators' dreams.

We’d love to hear how your firm is using its knowledge, leave us a comment.

THE Marketing Event

I had the good fortune to be invited to moderate a panel on social and media for 8th annual The Marketing Event hosted by the New York chapter of SMPS expertly organized by Lauren Hlavenka, Nancy Kleppel.  This year they teamed with Chris Parsons of Knowledge Architectureand expanded the topic to include technology, knowledge management and a focus on the economy. There were three tracks for the event so I can’t speak to the full event, but the sessions I sat in on were really useful.  Chris kicked off the event with his keynote address that set the stage for the remainder of the day.  Chris is half way through a research initiative studying the social media efforts of the top 500 AE firms.  At this point, he’s looked through all the blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook and LinkedIn pages and he is now in the early stages of interviewing each firm for insight into why they chose their path.

If you have the chance to see him present – and he seems to be speaking everywhere these days – I highly recommend it.  This guy is smart.

He talked about types of content that firm’s are putting out there and pulled out some of the strongest examples and examples of firms that are trying something all together different – like Perkins + Will’s approach to Twitter where just about every office has its own Twitter account to better track and connect with local people and topics that relate to their local services. (As someone with a background in big firm corporate communications, this idea makes my palms sweat as visions of every office, business line, practice area and knowledge center going public with their own brand of social media.)  As Chris says, “This is either crazy or genius and I’m still on the fence.” If you want a front row seat to his research, be sure to attend his conference KA Connect in San Francisco this spring.

The other memorable speaker that I listened to was Nancy Egan of New Voodou.  I’d been hearing about Nancy from several people for quite some time now, so it was really good to meet her and to hear about the work she does. Nancy’s session “Between Now and Next” focused on how firms are managing the recession and the bold moves that have made some more resistant to this downturn – the “keep your knees bent approach to life” as she describes it.

Nancy aims her spotlight on idea- and issue-based firms and accurately conveys that the successful firms will be marketed through a combination of the strategy, content and relationships. I especially liked hearing about Albuquerque, NM architect Van Gilbert (perhaps because Albuquerque is my hometown and not a city often associated with innovative architects).  She described how he parlayed his zoo and aquarium design experience to spearhead collaboration with representatives of some of the top zoos and aquariums in the nation to consider and publish their aspirations for the future of these institutions.  He and the others are now presenting their collective vision at industry events.  He’s also shepherding a partnership between the Albuquerque Zoo, the Albuquerque Aquarium and a high school in Bernalillo, NM to support the science curriculum development in a time of budget constraints.

In my session “Picking Your Path in Social Media”, I shared the podium with Tom Abraham from elemental architects, Jim Kent from Thornton Tomasetti and Harry Kendall from BKSK Architects  who each represent a firm of a different size and a different approach and different level of experience in social media.

Elemental has been blogging and posting on their Facebook page steadily for more than 3 years with their own defense of architecture from the cable TV do-it-yourself and Design Star impression that many Americans have of the profession and its craft.  Their blog is syndicated on at least three other blogs and they’ve amassed more than 10,000 Facebook fans.  Their profile is a testament to the accumulative effect of a consistent social media strategy.

Thornton Tomasetti’s program is driven by a strong internal communications engine – repurposing the best and publicly consumable content as tweets and Facebook posts.  They are continually exploring ways to get staff involved and shared some tactics for opening eyes of the technical staff to the type of content that would be interesting.

BKSK just started their Tumblr that is guided by the wisdom that “if it’s interesting to us internally, it may be interesting to others”.  In a few short months, they are already starting to understand the type of content that gets staff excited and compels them to contribute.  They also realized that the process of updating the Tumblr may in fact be the process that makes the firm more aware of its most interesting aspects.

The remainder of my afternoon was spent in smaller breakout sessions designed to be free form conversations on a particular topic, like “Social Media Tactics”.  I attended three of these and by the third, my creative energy was draining and I wish I’d attended the session on “Navigating the Ocean of Professional Possibilities” instead.

I left for the airport directly after the last session with a handful of new contacts and a head full of ideas.  If you have the chance to attend the 2012 version, I recommend it.

Mega-firms and Giants: The new landscape of large-firm practice

John Parman is one of those people who can turn casual conversation over a cup of coffee into a polished analysis of a current trend in our industry. We were chattting about our experiences within two of the largest and fastest growing firms in architecture and engineering and before I knew it I had agreed to collaborate with him and his former boss, Ed Fredriechs on an essay about our assessment of the firms behind the consolidating A/E industry for the ZweigLetter. Mega-firms and giants: The new landscape of large firm practice