Buildings are my passion. Always have been. I think it started with an aptitude for Legos, though I rarely followed the instructions (still don’t).
In high school I took my first architectural drafting courses under the guidance of an amazing teacher, construction guru, and friend, Tom Wentland. In fact, truth be told, my first building is not an inspired stadium or skyline defining high-rise, nope – it’s a small, two room, ticket booth and merchandise store at my high school football field. Oh, you don’t know it? Around this time I was hired by a prominent design firm in Chicago for summer intern work. I don’t remember if they paid me – but I loved every second of it – drawing details and getting model glue on a tie I likely stole from my Dad.
I “studied” architecture at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and spent the majority of the time trying to frustrate my professors with wild grandiose concepts. I discovered two things about myself during architectural studio that have become now invaluable. The first was my confidence. I was good at this. Never much of an athlete or stellar in the classroom but buildings, buildings, I could do. The second was how to communicate. Not how to talk, how to communicate. I figured out that people would almost always tell you, sometimes verbally other times visually, exactly what they wanted. That, with this advantage, one could hit homerun after homerun because they always had the ability to read the pitcher.
Now equipped with a dangerous combination of confidence and communication skills I march out into the “real world” and took my first “real” job with the Madison, WI based, Flad Architects. Flad is a talented and strategic design firm that focuses on science, technology, healthcare and academic project types. They foster an environment of learning and professional growth. In all honesty, I could have spun out of control here, with my confidence soaring, but a few incredible mentors at Flad were able to focus that energy into work that I am now very proud to have been a part of. After a few months in the home office I took a designer position in San Francisco, CA where I would work for the next four years.
After four great years with Flad in San Francisco, my wife (Betsy) and I decided to head for the Big Apple. Betsy had been offered a great job on the East Coast and we had always talked about returning to our family roots in Gotham. I was fortunate to land a few job offers myself with larger architectural firms, of which I decided to to take a designer position with HOK. To put it simply, my first summer at HOK was A) the hardest I’ve ever worked, B) the most fun I had ever had in architecture, and C) the period in which I produced some of the best design work I have ever done. The team I was fortunate to be working with was competing for several high-rise tower project in Asia. The pursuits were a grueling pace but I was learning more and more about design methodology by the second. HOK was also where I became driven to better understand building related sustainability. Within just over a year and a half with the company I had, become a sustainable leader in the office, was supporting several design projects and helped co-found a corporate social responsibility program for the organization.
During my time at HOK I started working with several building developers. I noticed a few things about them. First, hired us as building “designers” with the vast majority of the project already pretty polished. I don’t mean to degrade the practice of architecture in any way, it’s an art essential to a healthy society. Simply that there were a tremendous amount of decisions made before the design work was begun and additionally after the building had been occupied. I became fascinated with this larger timeline of a building’s life. I loved the idea of seeing land, evaluating its highest and best use, having my hand in its procurement and then managing its use as it came to life. As it turns out those Lego towns I built… well they really large scale developments.
To peruse building development I decided to go back to school for my Master’s degree. After exams, essays and applications to 5 universities I decided on a MS in Real Estate Finance and Investment from New York University. The logic here was simple. I know that I want to remain focused on buildings and this was the area of building development I knew the least about. By this time I had spent a good deal of time designing, drawing details, and onsite during construction. What I had not spent much time with was project finance and investment. I knew HOW to building a building but what I wanted to know was WHY and for HOW MUCH.
During my second year in graduate school I applied for a semester long scholarship-internship with The Rockefeller Group Development Corporation. I felt strongly that an internship in development would provide me with both real world professional experience and rare hands-on educational opportunities. It could be a stepping stone for my career from the architectural side of the industry to the development side.