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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.

by Naomi Buell, Marketing Assistant for VIA Architecture

Last Friday, we here in the VIA Vancouver office were very fortunate to welcome Jarrett Walker. Some of you may know him from his blog, others may know him as a transit consultant, or here in Vancouver, you may know him from the work he has done for TransLink or the great presentation he recently gave at SFU to a sold out crowd of 240 people.

However you may know him, you know that he has extensive transit experience (20 years) and has worked all over the world. With his first degree being in theatre art, as he says on his blog, “he is probably the only person with peer-reviewed publications in both the Journal of Transport Geography and Shakespeare Quarterly.” He also holds a PhD from Stanford University and grew up in Portland.

His presentation began by discussing branding, maps and signage. Specifically, he referred to ways of differentiating transit lines through the use of colours and the different types of information that can be displayed on transit maps. He referred to a few maps he had seen or had consulted on, suggesting that there is no real need to have a map that differentiates by transit type. For example a map should show both bus and SkyTrain routes.

To take this even further, Berlin’s public transportation map outlines routes without showing whether they consist of buses or trams or both. In many European cities, the trams are supposed to be indistinguishable from buses, they have the same branding and upholstery to create a cohesiveness among transit types. This, as Jarrett pointed out, assumes that the average public transportation user is looking to reach a destination rather then being specific to a specific type of transit. “Are they a tram rider or just someone who wants to get to where they are going?” Jarrett asked.

I believe that in the ideal world, no one would care which form of transit they were taking if all were equally as fast, efficient, scenic or clean (depending on what a commuter’s criteria may be). However, as this is not the case, I think that people still want to know what transit type they are taking.

In Vancouver for example, I know there is even a distinction between the Canada Line and older SkyTrain lines. The new Canada Line is often seen as bright, shiny and new. Also because the trains are slightly different dimensions with a different layout, it feels like there is more room and things like bikes and baby carriages can be easily placed out of the way so that they are not barriers to people coming on or off the trains. Furthermore, taking a bus and dealing with traffic versus taking the faster ALRT (Advanced Light Rapid Transit) alternative is a definite factor for commuters.

I agree that ideally all forms of transit should be efficient enough that no differentiation is needed but in the meantime, I think that showing complete routes on maps (which include multiple types of transit) is important, but so is differentiating between the different modes one will be using.

As for places using colour codes to differentiate between bus lines, Jarrett referred to Seoul as one of the best places for this. He suggested that colours can convey quite a lot of information to a user that makes the user’s experience much less stressful. For example, it could be used to show the frequency of a bus or the number of stops and speed of the bus. The colour codes can answer a number of questions, including whether or not someone should wait at the stop they are at. Does the bus come frequently or infrequently? Does the bus stop at every stop or is it an express? Similarly does the bus take a long time or short time to arrive at the destination?

Rather than using numbers on the front that people need to memorize and are easily forgettable, it is much easier to say take the blue express line rather then saying take the 312 or the 414. It is also much easier to find a bright blue bus stop or bus sign then going to every bus stop on a street and looking for a specific bus number.

One of the reasons Jarrett thinks that transit branding and advertising are often poorly done is that the transit agency’s marketing departments don’t understand how to market transit but only how to market general products (or as Jarrett joked, “they can sell soap”). He thinks that as transit is an integral part of our infrastructure, one of the things that defines it is that it is a necessity, a public service that must be provided and is often taken for granted. He argued that this means that it cannot be marketed like any other product.

Although I agree that this is the case for the current users, who understand that transit is integral and use the service already, I think that for non users it would be fine to assume it can be marketed like any other product by following the AIDA model, a typical basic marketing strategy. Raise Awareness, create Interest, increase Demand and cause Action.

Of course people may be at different stages of the model. Those who already know about the product may be at the stage where we should be creating interest. Not that one can describe the service as you would describe a bar of soap, it’s not going to moisturize or clean you, but you can still market the benefits to people, as you would any other product. You would find out what some of non users apprehensions are and show how you have addressed those.

Transit is reliable, it’s quick, it’s safe etc. Although my disclaimer for having said all this is that although I have been at VIA for a year and have some experience with transit, my background is more of a general business and marketing background, I have more experience selling “soap” then “transit.”

Another problem that he pointed out is that there are 3 messages that are all fighting to be conveyed on the bus. In order of priority there is

  1. the identity of the government funding agency in charge
  2. the identity of contracting operator and
  3. the usefulness of the service to the customer.

The last is often the most important but also the one that has the least priority so it often goes unnoticed.

Another issue is that buses receive so much revenue from advertising (either in transit stations, SkyTrain or subway stations or on the outside of buses or trams) that to push for them to advertise their own services or minimize advertisements to better display important signs for wayfinding is often difficult. Rather then being seen as a benefit or cheap self advertising it is seen as lost revenue.

All in all, it was a presentation that sparked some great questions and debate between Jarrett and our staff here at VIA. We hope to see Jarrett again next time he is out this way.

And remember, next time your skin is feeling dry simply grab for the nearest transit and hop on for the ride of your life.

Monday News Roundup

Aug 09, 2010

China to build ginormous buses that cars can drive under 

Daycare centre at SFU meets the living building challenge, it produces more energy then it consumes (Price Tags)

Smart city governments grow produce for the people (Grist)
The new attitude at forward-thinking city halls seems to be, in a tough economy, why expend precious resources growing ornamental plants, when you can grow edible ones?

How to turn a payphone into a library (GOOD)
Have an old phone booth in your neighborhood sitting empty? Fill it with books!

Urban farms breaking through concrete (Grist)

The beautiful game brings dignity to the streets (Kaid Benefield @ NRDC)
Street soccer is played in one fashion or another at least informally all over the world.  But, in this case, SSUSA “utilizes the power of soccer to turn the lives of homeless for the better,” says the organization in a press release.

TriMet’s Dirty Words Twitter Haiku Contest (TriMet)
We invited you to write haiku based on each dirty word TriMet is trying to eliminate from our civic vocabulary.

Cities are for People: The limits of localism(World Changing)

Who are you and what do you do?
I’m an intern architect working with VIA Architecture.

What made you decide to go into your field?
Good question…was it Lego? Maybe but too cliché
Was it Howard Roarke? Nah, too much ego.
Then what was it? Okay since you really want to know…Mike Brady and the fact that he worked from home in a low rancher…

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They were alright with it. They would have preferred a profession that was easier to pronounce when it came to telling their friends what field their son was in.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
A professor who said in a critique, “Show me, don’t tell me or I will smite you.”

What inspires you?
1. Art
2. Community. Relating with other people who share your interests, belief systems, can be amazing. To feel that you are part of something that matters no matter how small. It encourages you to make your contributions mean something. You become more creative in the process and perhaps in the end be a better person.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
Elementary school, Secondary school, post secondary school, travel, life experiences

What is the best advice you were ever given?
A professor who said (in reference to keeping things simple) “You can’t put 10 pounds of crap into a 5 pound bag.”

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Look at it as an opportunity to make the world a good place to live for everyone. Start with baby steps like in your own neighbourhood and community.

by Catherine Calvert, VIA Architecture

I recently had the opportunity to attend the American Public Transportation Association’s annual conference on Sustainability in New York City. I came away with a clear appreciation of how challenging these times are for transit agencies, particularly in the United States.

The ability to survive the economic downturn has moved very much to the forefront of many agencies’ agendas, and sustainability has had a tendency to fall into the “would be nice to have” category of considerations. As Jay Walder, Chair of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Agency expressed, “we like the concept of sustainability much more when our economy is robust”. And yet, treating sustainability as if it were at odds with financial responsibility is clearly short-sighted.

Sustainability has been described variously as being a three-legged stool that relies interdependently on the “three E’s” (Environment, Equity, Economy) or the “three P’s” (People, Planet, Prosperity). In applying these ideas to public transit systems, it’s often difficult to connect the concepts with the reality of a public agency, particularly in the realm of Social Sustainability (the “Equity” or “Prosperity” aspect). However I particularly enjoyed Mr. Walder’s description of public transit sustainability as a trifecta — Customer Service, Environmental Benefit, and Bottom Line.

What works well here is that transit agencies are already focused on customer service as a core mission, so equating this with Social Sustainability is an easy conceptual link to make. The other thing I like about this occurred to me once I’d looked up the word “trifecta” – not being a horse racing fan, I was unfamiliar with its exact meaning of winning by picking the first, second and third finishers simultaneously (1). What a great idea – sustainability can only be “won” by addressing all three aspects at the same time.

In North America the most common ways to include Social Sustainability in a transit agency’s operation is to focus on these issues:

  • Mobility – a connected network that allows users to move around a city using a combination of public transportation and non-motorized means of travel;
  • Accessibility – the removal of physical barriers in order to provide access to people with a variety of abilities;
  • Personal Safety – design using principles of CPTED, enabling the physical environment to discourage crime and undesirable behaviors;
  • Security – ability to resist criminal acts by screening technology, presence of security personnel, and physical design;
  • Community investment – the integration of public art into the urban environment, creating alliances with local business, and using station area design to support and reflect neighborhood values.

At the conference we learned that in Europe there is additional focus on education. Maybe we forget sometimes that children aren’t born knowing how to ride a transit system, or that older people have a hard time with evolving schedules and service changes. In Leipzig the LVB transit agency has a specific program that trains 11-15 year olds not only on the logistics of riding transit, but also on how to create a “better transit climate” through responsible behavior and ridership. This agency also provides outreach programs to senior citizens in order to ensure that their needs continue to be met as their own abilities change.

Additional ways to consider the Social Sustainability aspects of transit include the opportunities to connect transit agency activities with broader social concerns. Transit often suffers from the “last quarter-mile” problem, which refers to the distance that a person must travel in order to get to the nearest transit stop. For a variety of reasons, and despite how efficient the transit system might be, this last quarter-mile is often an insurmountable barrier to ridership. This may be due to problems such as missing sidewalks or hostile pedestrian environments, the absence of weather protection at bus stops, or areas which are threatening to personal safety. Brussels-based UITP – the International Agency of Public Transport — is looking at links between public health concerns like obesity and this absence of transit connectivity. If every trip started with a walk, how much healthier would we be?

Finally, there is opportunity for transit to directly support its communities by sponsoring the work of local charities and non-profit groups. Since 2003 the Dublin Bus Community Support Programme (2) has provided grants to any group that is located within its service network, funded by proceeds from long-term unclaimed change receipts.

Clearly there is much opportunity to expand our understanding of public transit’s role in the social life of our cities, and the ways in which transit can directly and indirectly support our health and values. One of the most interesting things I learned at the conference was that for the first time ever, the percentage of 16 to 19-year olds who are driving is on the decline. The reason – it’s hard to text while you’re behind the wheel. Maybe an oblique way to encourage transit ridership, but an interesting social trend nonetheless.

Image from

Monday News Roundup

Aug 02, 2010

Blueprints for a Better ‘Burb (NYTimes)
That the Murphys, the couple recently arrested for spying for the Russians from Montclair, N.J., were described by a flabbergasted neighbor as “suburbia personified” is telling, an observation that perfectly sums up our collective notion that the suburbs are chock full of white, middle-class families, both nuclear and normal.

But that prevailing vision contradicts the reality of suburbia today.

Another Step Toward Green Design (Forbes)
With help from star architect William McDonough, a ”green products” institute is born.

Small Shoots, Big Shades: Beautiful Tropical Bamboo Home (dornob)
A climate-specific design for Costa Rica by an architect for his mother, this is a unique dream home that combines local building traditions, modern techniques and an extreme sensitivity to connecting the interior with the wild and wonderful outdoors around the house.

The G-List – the top green buildings since 1980. Why so different from Vanity Fair’s “most important works of architecture since 1980“?

Frank Lloyd Wright the Villain? (The Overhead Wire)
The author talks about his belief that Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Ford were the greatest villains of the 20th century in their encouraged suburban development taking us away from the beneficial village community and pushing us to rely too heavily on automobiles and suburban development.

Saving Seattle’s trees one bird at a time(SeattlePI)
Seattle City Light contractors cut back trees to create clearance for power lines on the edge of Kiwanis Ravine on Thursday July 29, 2010 in Magnolia. The City of Seattle hopes to preserve the city’s tree canopy and preserving the nearby colony of great blue heron are part of the plan. No heron were nesting in the trees cut by the workers.

The future of cities and transportation (GOOD Magazine)
Bus rapid transit systems and “complete streets” are great. But to design urban transportation systems that are truly sustainable, we have to think much further ahead.

LA pushing to become nation’s mass transit leader (Associated Press)
The region famous for jilting the street car to take up a love affair with the automobile is trying to rekindle its long ago romance with commuter rail.

The Mark of a Great City Is in How It Treats Its Ordinary Spaces, Not Its Special Ones (Urbanophile)
But leave the tourist district behind and check out the average street, the average building, the average design. Too often you will find that those are of another order altogether. It’s as if there are two separate cities. One place is the city of special events and tourists, existing inside a cordon sanitaire (whose boundaries are marked with gateways perhaps?) indicating its unique status. The other place is the city as it is actually lived in and experienced in everyday life. This latter city, that is to say, the vast majority of the city, is too often neglected. The gulf between the special and the ordinary proclaims the hollowness of these places.

Superfront (UrbanOmnibus)
SUPERFRONT is a venue for architectural experimentation. Three and a half years ago, Mitch McEwen — a curator, urban designer and unlicensed architect — walked by a dilapidated storefront in Bed-Stuy in the shadow of the elevated LIRR tracks, and went about applying her passion and energy into transforming it into a gallery and project space devoted to “promoting architecture for an interdisciplinary world.

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian O’Reilly, and I’ve just officially joined the Via team. Since beginning as a contract employee in April of this year, I’ve primarily provided architectural design support for the SR99 Vent Buildings.

What made you decide to go into your field?
In retrospect, I am surprised it took as long as it did for me to settle on architecture – it seems so obvious now. It fulfills my need for both an artistic and arithmetical outlet – a balance of qualitative and quantitative. My sketchbook page should be filled with both formal explorations, as well as a few rough proportioning calculations, hopefully the buildings I have a hand in will reflect that.

Or, this could all simply be a means of carrying on my childhood obsession with fort-building.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
I happen to be on a long drive from Vermont to New Jersey with my entire family, so here are a few quotes:

“Damn proud”
“Right up your alley”
“All those Lego kits paid off”
“A little surprised you didn’t go into landscape architecture”

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Professor Don Corner at the University of Oregon taught me the importance of intent. Such a simple way of evaluating the success of a design, but often overlooked – What is your intent? What is in support of this intention, and what detracts? Easy.

Also, quick shouts out to Tim Simpson for chemistry, John Padden for jazz, and Carl Straub for poetry.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Doubtless, it was my lack of direction during my undergraduate. I certainly value the liberal arts education I received; all the same, I suffered a bit of anxiety when, with contemplating my future, I drew a blank. Once the possibility of a career in architecture dawned on me, I was finally able to focus my efforts and feel confident in the direction my life was taking.

What inspires you?
Complex puzzles with simple, elegant solutions. Mid-century Danish furniture. New England barns. Non-repeating number patterns. Scarpa details. Moment diagrams.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
There are several areas of knowledge I consider essential to success in architecture – how you go about getting the knowledge is of less importance (NCARB does not share this opinion).

  1. How to design. Really, this is a way of thinking. It’s the means by which you generate an idea, and proceed with this idea to a final design. The most popular choice for getting this knowledge is going to school – that’s what I did, but I’m sure it’s not the only path.
  2. How to build. Knowing how a building is actually put together is invaluable. Being able to zoom in and carry your concept through construction makes the difference between a nice sketch and an exceptional building. Putting in at least a year or two pounding nails and actually building things is the best way to develop this understanding.
  3. How to communicate. No matter how brilliant a design or elegant the detailing, it will never be built unless you are able to effectively demonstrate to a client that the design is aligned to their needs. The ability to relate to others, and successfully communicate with them is crucial to realizing a project.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Those with a left/right brain balance – a healthy mixture of artistic creativity and arithmetical ability. A knack for three-dimensional thinking. Persistent enthusiasm for exploring new ideas. Obsessive attention to detail. Clarity of vision. And, supreme confidence.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Professor Don Corner, University of Oregon, relating a story from his stint in architecture school:

Student (defending his project): Well, I wanted my building to be different.
Professor: Why not make a good building? That would be different.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
As became all too clear in recent months, our profession is subject to fluctuation. When I completed my graduate degree in the summer of 2008, I would have been hard put to speak with optimism in regard to job prospects. However, two years later, things are slowly improving, and I’m confident they will continue to do so. For now. The market will, some day, go down again. The question then becomes, how do we position ourselves to weather times of economic bust, while also reaping the benefits of the boom?

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Surround yourself with people who share your passion and enthusiasm for the field. You will propel each other to a develop innovations, a greater breadth of knowledge, and a deeper understanding of the subtleties of architecture and design.

Oh, and avoid all-nighters – outside of providing you some mild bragging rights, they generally make you over-tired and stupid.

New Separated Bike Lane for Downtown Vancouver

by Stephanie Doerksen, VIA Architecture

On June 15th, the City of Vancouver officially opened a new separated bike lane on Dunsmuir street, continuing the lane recently opened on the Dunsmuir viaduct, and connecting the popular Frances/Adanac bike route with the downtown core. Cyclists from all over greater Vancouver are calling this a huge success in terms of cycling infrastructure.

Without a doubt this separated lane will provide a much safer route into downtown and go a long way towards encouraging potential cyclists who are uncomfortable biking in city traffic. So far the lane runs to Hornby street and the City has plans to connect it to a future north – south lane, also separated from traffic, which would provide a connection with the Burrard street bridge. Currently, there are several options on the table for the location of the north-south lane, including Burrard, Hornby and Thurlow streets. The city plans to hold a round of public consultation on potential routes beginning this summer.

Although the majority of press surrounding the opening of the new bike lane had been positive, there has also been a certain amount of controversy. Most notably, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association has made some negative comments surrounding the lack of consultation prior to the installation of new bike-related traffic signaling and the implementation of the bike lane itself.

Similarly, some drivers are angry about several new right turn restrictions off of Dunsmuir, as well as the usual complaints that reducing the area of road surface given over to cars will cause irreparable traffic snarls and general mayhem. Although there may be validity to the DVBIA’s claims of inadequate community consultation, it is too early to tell what the effects of the new bike lane will be on traffic patterns.

However, plenty of far more significant examples have recently proven that motorists have a lot less to worry about than they often claim when it comes to traffic problems. The pre-emptive panic over the Burrard st Bridge lane closure, which came to nothing, is one of the more high profile examples. Similarly, it’s tough to claim that closing a single west-bound lane over the Dunsmuir viaduct will lead to traffic nightmares when the entire viaduct, both east and westbound, was closed for the duration of the Olympics with no visible effect on traffic entering the downtown.

The City did meet with both the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and the Downtown Vancouver Association prior to the construction of the separated bike lane on Dunsmuir and I’m happy to report that, based on my own observations (and I use the new lane regularly), all the concerns raised at these meetings were more than adequately addressed in the construction of the lane. In general, these concerns were:

  • That the bike lane and its physical separators be aesthetically pleasing. (As in, no the concrete jersey barriers like the ones used on the Burrard street bridge. Along Dunsmuir medians, bollards, and planters have been used to separate the lane and they appear well thought out and attractive.
  • That bike parking be provided for cyclists. It seems that more and more businesses are acknowledging that many of their patrons are cyclists and that you can fit a lot more bikes into the space that one car parking stall takes up. This is great news for cyclists as the lack of suitable bike parking has been a major issue in this city for years. There is bike parking provided along the new lane, and it has been well-thought out and placed so as to prevent conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians.
  • That potential conflict points between cyclists and pedestrians (ie. bus stops and cross-walks) be properly designed for and signed.

This last point has been achieved as well as can be expected, although it’s still quite common to see pedestrians wander into the bike lane without looking around. Hopefully, this is the type of thing that time and increased awareness will help to resolve.

Similarly, most of the complaints of drivers stem from a change to their habits and sooner or later these changes will, themselves, become habit. The bottom line is that the more cyclists there are on the roads, the more drivers and pedestrians will be aware of them and the more all modes of transportation will learn to co-exist. The Dunsmuir separated bike lane is definitely a big step towards creating a more cycling-friendly city and a more pleasant urban environment.

Friday Feature: JP

Jul 26, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
My primary role is as the Director of Practice for the Vancouver office which involves much of the day to day running of VIA as a business in terms of tackling issues related to projects, budgets, legal and staffing as well as the computer systems and most general operational issues. I also head up (with Matt in Seattle) the mixed use and major projects sector. So I’m quite busy.

What made you decide to go into your field?
After a failed attempt to join the Royal Navy (not quite British enough apparently) and the Canadian Navy (“sorry we are full”)I thought what would be better than spending all day drawing (we were still on drawing boards then). Also I felt that I needed an occupation where at the end of the day I could stand back and see something tangible as the outcome of my work.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
They were all for it providing that I stuck at it. I had a habit of getting bored quickly. I also think that they were just pleased that I was going to college.

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
There are two actually:

Tim Baker was both my Engineering tutor and my Professional Management tutor. He was great in turning what could have been dull subjects into ones that I found the most exciting. We always knew when Tim was going to talk about concrete as he would appear pipe in mouth, hands rubbing together. He taught me the importance of not just learning how to detail but to physically build stuff to understand the implications of my designs. I went on courses to learn how to build with brick, concrete and timber as well as roof building. I’ll never forget learning the “slump test” nor building my first brick arch with no mortar, taking away the formwork and seeing it remain standing even when I stood on it. I actually wrote to him after graduation thanking him.

David Green, one of the founding members of Archigram was my first post grad tutor. He taught me that if I believed in my ideas to stand up strongly and to not back down. Ironically and by mutual agreement I left that particular college shortly after mastering this.

What was the biggest hurdle you have faced or are facing along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Actually sticking at it. It’s a long and expensive process. I left a couple of times to work in related fields. I’ve done everything from exhibition and theme park design to detailing fire protection systems for Historic Royal Palaces in the UK all of which have been great experience.

What inspires you?
People that make a difference

What schooling is required for success in your career?
I went to college in the UK which involves a 3 year undergraduate degree in Architecture followed by a year working and then a further 2 years of postgraduate Architectural studies, a further year working then professional exams. Generally however it takes a bit longer. It’s a different process in North America and a MA in Architecture would be a good starting point.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
I rarely generalize about success as I think that it is entirely personal how you judge your own. Specific attributes however that can be advantageous are an ability to problem solve, be a great team player and communicator, recognize and embrace change and above all to do what you say that you will do when you say that you will do it.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
To listen more than I say and to facilitate rather than dictate solutions. Most often if a task that you set is not completed correctly (or how you had expected it)it’s because you have not communicated clearly enough. This was a real eye opener for me and I’m still working on it.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is currently growing, like many fields architecture reflects the economy. As always however it is changing. The projects are generally getting larger due to economies of scale and more complex due to technological advances and financing constraints. Sustainability is only going to become more important but on a larger picture. Strategies around cars and parking will be key. Roles are changing to match and a new breed of Architect is emerging. The list of specialist consultants is increasing The “starchitect” is hopefully on his way out. Building Information Modeling (BIM) is leading the way for a more integrated design process. This collaborative approach needs to be embraced by anyone thinking of a career in Architecture.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
First drop the ego, there really is no place for it any more. I have seen too many professional relationships come to ruins due to over inflated egos, second is to get some experience before college if you can. I did and it was worth its weight in gold. Also get lots of different experiences early on in your career when you can. This will help you find your place. Architecture is a huge discipline with lots of different options, you need to find your own place not one that is selected for you.

Great Upcoming Event

Jul 20, 2010

A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels

Where: GGLO Space at the Steps, 1301 First Ave., Level A (Enter through door located about 1/4 of the way down the Harbor Steps (click for map)
Date: Thursday, July 29, 2010
Time: 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm

Great City and Streets for All Seattle are co-hosting Jarrett Walker, who will explore the intense and often bitter quarrels that crop up when cities try to decide what kind of transit to build or operate. Working from his 20 years of experience as a transit planning consultant, Jarrett will discuss some of the most common confusions that emerge in debates about transit, and offer suggestions for how to increase clarity in these conversations by recognizing the difficult choices that arise from transit’s intrinsic geometry and costs.

Jarrett currently posts his thoughts on public transit planning and policy on his blog Human Transit.