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Friday Feature: Wolf

Aug 13, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
Wolf Saar. I’ve been an architect for about a quarter century and am the new Director of Practice for VIA Seattle. I’m also on the City of Seattle’s Design Review Board for Capitol Hill, the neighborhood that I live in together with my wife Leilani, an interior designer, and 3 teenage kids. I recently joined the Board at AIA Seattle as Treasurer and have served on the Professional Advisory Board of my alma mater, the School of Architecture and Construction Management at Washington State University, for over 10 years. I’m born in Argentina, grew up in BC and went to college and eventually settled here in Washington.

What made you decide to go into your field?
I originally had a passion for drawing cars and considered going into automotive design but, after my dad leased office space in his building in downtown Cranbrook, BC to an architectural firm, I saw that I could pursue my love of drawing and design in an area that probably had wider opportunity and more depth. Thus, my passion for architecture began to grow but I still doodle car designs when in meetings and have an interesting collection of die cast toy cars at home.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They embraced it. My mother, an artist and former art teacher, loved the drawing side and my dad was constantly looking for opportunities to expose me to things architectural. Not an easy feat as, by the time I was in high school and getting serious about career choices, we were living in Creston, BC. The grain elevators weren’t exactly the best inspiration!

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Dave Scott pops to mind. As my senior year design professor at WSU he taught me a lot about passion and the profession and showed me how to think like an architect. But, I have to say the most influential figure for me has been my mentor and friend, Roger Williams, who typifies the “total immersion” approach to architecture and design.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
After my first year in college, I struggled with whether I should go through the remaining 4 years of education or go back home and find a more immediate opportunity to start to make a life for myself. I decided to take a year off and worked as the advertising designer for our local newspaper in Creston and then for thelocal brewery. After a year of working and seeing my friends who worked at the brewery or the sawmill do it all year round, I happily returned to WSU, totally re-energized! To this day, I haven’t lost my taste for Kokanee beer though.

What inspires you?
My inspiration comes primarily through travel and collaboration.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
Typically, the educational goal is a professional degree such as a Masters of Architecture (M. Arch) which is a 6 year track; some schools still offer a 5 year Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch) program but this is becoming increasingly rare. Schools are accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Many attributes are applicable to architecture as a field. I tend to focus more on the ability to juggle many skills and the architect’s role as orchestrator of design, regulation and construction.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Things happen for a reason.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
Architecture has been greatly impacted by the economic situation so, currently, there is a huge group of architects without work in the field.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
My advice to someone considering a career in architecture is twofold: 1. Follow your passion—if this is what you were born to do, by all means, pursue it. 2. An education in architecture is a great foundation for all sorts of pursuits and can lead to careers in related and seemingly unrelated fields, primarily because it involves taking a holistic approach and combines diverse skills and disciplines.