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Friday Feature: Brian

Feb 05, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian Kenny and I’m an architect in our Seattle office. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and moved to Seattle in ‘97 after graduating from Virginia Tech. I consider myself a suburban refugee – during summer jobs I spent 2-3 hours driving each day around the D.C. Beltway. That “drove” me (ha ha) to find a livable city where I didn’t have to do that and Seattle passed with flying colors! VIA is the fifth office I’ve worked in since moving here. My wife Lori is also an architect.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I was doomed from the start with a classic architect childhood: drawing all the time, unhealthy Lego obsession, treehouses, etc. Growing up in the 80’s I was always the “art kid” but also loved to take apart lawnmower engines, build models, launch rockets, and devour Popular Mechanics articles about the “World of the Future in the Year 2000!” (Are we there yet?).

What did your family think of your chosen field?
My dad worked for NASA and my mom was a librarian but they always supported my interests. While I’ve never asked, I’d bet they were relieved when I switched from being an Art major to the Architecture program.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Virginia Tech had many fantastic professors who pushed us to find our own path in design and in life. But I continue to be influenced daily by my second-year studio professor Jay Stoeckel. Our very first day he shocked us by stating that he didn’t care if we ever became architects – his concern was our education. We learned of numerous alumni who’d used their design training to thrive in a wide variety of other careers and professions.

On our last day he said he’d tried to instill an attitude towards, and a habit of, self-education and pushing ourselves to our limits – this would serve us the rest of our lives. We hung on his every word because most were pretty profound…

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
School was competitive so it was essential to learn to listen to what’s inside and not measure yourself against others. Also, as a generalist I seem to find everything interesting but in college I had to learn to focus.

What inspires you?
The world! People! Art! Science! Any and everything! (see above). To narrow it down, I love how wildly unrelated ideas can cross-pollinate to generate new ones. I try to encourage this when my mind is chewing on a problem but then picks up the scent of a solution when I’m not working on it…

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I earned a five-year BArch degree so I didn’t need a Masters, but there are also 4-year undergrad degrees where a Masters is required to get your license. Many people do a 3-year Master’s program after undergrad in something else. And then you have to earn a number of years of experience and take a plethora of exams before you can acquire your license and legally be considered an architect. But I feel that if you’re training, thinking, working, and acting like an architect then effectively you are an architect, just not a licensed one which is an important distinction to make in public.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Stubborn but open-minded people! Also, architects have to work with a huge variety of trades and professions, not to mention your clients. This means your most brilliant idea won’t go anywhere if you can’t communicate it effectively.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
A few quotes I’ve internalized:

Advice is cheap.

Resolve to always be a beginner.
~ Rilke

The best place to be an architect is at a cocktail party…
~Ron Van der Veen, Seattle architect

Is your field growing? (i.e. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Unfortunately opportunities have shrunk dramatically during this mother-of-all-recessions. Many architects are still out of work which has increased competition for new graduates. But before getting too gloomy, I’m very optimistic about the long-term demand for creative people to solve the challenges of of an urbanizing world.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Architects make plans – that’s what we do. But to drop another quote, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. So by all means pour your heart and soul into your efforts, but also know that things will rarely turn out how you expect. And that can be a good thing!