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Making a Difference in the Built Environment

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Making a Difference in the Built Environment

The influential architect John Portman once said: “Many can build, but it is the dedicated Architect who breathes life and spirit into the creation of place. When architects can develop a design that arises out of its unique circumstances to better its surroundings and grow from that uniqueness, they are making the contribution for which they have responsibility.”

As a design student in the school of Architecture at Cal Polytechnic State University, I was initially inspired by a focus on pure design. However, the deeper I went into the field, the more fascinated I became with the performance and influence of the building process itself, rather than simply the design. I started to diversify my education as a double major, adding Construction Engineering (now known as Construction Management) and taking as many classes in real estate, finance and business as I could squeeze in.

While these disciplines, namely architecture, construction and business, may seem starkly different on the surface, I came to realize just how much they depend on each other, almost like three legs of a stool. Each discipline is integral to ensure the success and performance of the project as a whole. Architecture is an essential catalyst in the development of any project; however, it can’t stand alone and ignore the other factors. For me, architecture was not about design preconceptions, it was about understanding relationship and context. Bringing feasibility, economics and constructability into that context improves the performance and impact of the architecture within the built environment.

Over the course of my career, I have learned that real estate development is fundamentally a process that brings together a group of diverse skilled professionals in design, construction, finance and business management to create and implement a project plan to achieve a desired objective over time. Not coincidentally, my path into the profession as a tenant representation real estate advisor has resembled integration of these processes.

Inspired by John Portman’s early success as an architect and developer, I decided to closely examine the way Portman controlled the design and development process for many of his mixed-use projects, such as the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles (1977) and Embarcadero Center in San Francisco (1980). Portman was a pioneer in his day of incorporating the user experience as a critical function of his architecture. Today, despite advancements in building technologies, the factors that drive design decisions are still rooted in the interpretation of basic human needs. I became determined to live up to Portman’s standard that architects are measured by the difference they make in how the built environment is created and delivered and to allow your architecture to find not just what fits but what enhances the situation..

Post-college, I obtained my professional license in architecture while working as a designer in Orange County, California. Driven to understand more about how to integrate architecture with performance, I sought a career move into the development industry. I began working for a developer that brought development, construction and asset management under one umbrella. This enabled me to gain a lot of diverse skills within a single company, as my positions ranged from construction engineer and development manager to analyst, leasing agent and tenant-improvement coordinator.

This is where my career shifted.

Having gained confidence in my ability to manage the development process, I pursued other professional licenses, first obtaining a general building contractor’s license and then, after some time as a property and asset manager, earned my Certified Property Manager (CPM) designation from the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).

Empowered by my development experience and added credentials, I decided to start my own full-service real estate venture. Lending institutions in the early 1980s were favorable to real-estate businesses, offering the perfect timing for me to launch my new company.

As an owner/investor, I focused on investment yields, costs and impactful design, but I consistently remained mindful of how the real estate functioned for the occupiers of the space. I found that offering programming and design services for tenants accelerated the deal process and site selection and resulted in more accurate budget forecasts. I later added construction services to the design platform, which allowed my team to mitigate much of the delivery and cost risk, helping ensure the performance of the terms of a deal. This tenant-centric approach, which was created as a tool to fill my office buildings, helped me focus on the “occupier experience” and how to make that process much easier and controllable. I credit my education at Cal Poly for helping me understand this crucial factor, through a class about relating human behavior to the built environment.

As the real estate development cycle turned sour in the early 1990s, I began to change my focus from development — the “supply side” — to focus exclusively on the tenant or occupier experience — the “demand side.” Realizing how important the occupier experience was at the time, and seeking to get closer to the people advising the occupants themselves, I decided to join the tenant-focused brokerage firm of Julien J. Studley Inc. This move started my evolution into a real estate broker with a consultative approach to advising occupiers of space. The brokerage industry was starting to expand its service offerings and this seemed to be a perfect time to put my skills and credentials to good use.

The firm’s foundational belief was in creating flexible, creative workspace for its clients. I embraced this notion and began considering how each workspace would impact my clients’ talent recruiting and retention, as well as their human interaction within the space on a daily basis. The goal is to help companies create an environment that will allow their employees to be the most efficient, collaborative and successful in maintaining a positive atmosphere that produces the best business results.

The insights I learned along the way are even more impactful now, in a hyper-conscious working world. That is why I continue to be passionate about the integration of the design process and the built environment. And am proud to be in a position to influence the built environments at a micro and macro level.  

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