Success By Design reveals personal stories that drive California’s leading architects
Photojournalist and Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy had a blueprint in mind for a book about architects. But she added a deeper dimension to her project when she decided to tell the stories of their business philosophies, decision-making and challenges. The result is Success By Design: Revealing Profiles of California Architects, and the profiles paint a personable portrait of some of the leading architects in the country.
“I didn’t write about architecture; I wrote about people in business who happen to be architects,” Kennedy said. “I’m trying to understand what makes people successful, what makes them tick. I’m trying to understand their approach and getting them to fess up to their mistakes.”
Choosing to write about architects over other types of business people was a strategic decision because of architects’ built-in support network.
“When you’re going to sell a book, it’s important that you have associations or organizations that can partner with you or give their blessing to your project and disseminate information,” Kennedy said. “I knew a few architects and (the subject) came up as an option. Every city has its own AIA (American Institute of Architects) chapter.”
Kennedy interviewed 29 architects, representing 25 firms, in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Francisco. She said she strove for a diverse group of interview subjects as well as a diversity in specialties. The architects in her book work on projects ranging from residences to commercial buildings to civic structures to sports arenas. Local architects Barry Berkus and Elisa Garcia are included in the book.
“I wanted to tell stories about people, and I was looking for a segment of the population with diversity built in,” Kennedy said. “I was looking for men and women from different ethnic backgrounds.”
The architects she interviewed took very different paths to success, but Kennedy said she found having a direction was an important ingredient in their stories.
“A lot of information I heard (from the architects) was in direct opposition to what other architects and business people had said,” she explained. “There’s more than one way to be successful and run a business. I learned that you have to be consistent and have a plan, but some people were incredibly safe, and some people were total mavericks.”
Kennedy noticed that, regionally, people in Santa Barbara, Orange County and San Diego tend to rely on local architects, while many architects in Los Angeles and San Francisco often have a national and international clientele. Another trend she observed: hiring too many employees then being forced to scale back.
“A lot of people didn’t realize going into business that you try to obtain clients, track down clients and do bookkeeping; you don’t only do your trade,” she said. “A lot of the successful architects understand how to delegate.”
Older architects appeared to wear more hats in their smaller firms while younger architects often hired people to fill their marketing and financial needs.
“A lack of marketing know-how surprised me the most,” Kennedy said. “Things have changed in the world. Twenty or 30 years ago, architects would have a couple of articles written about them or take people out to lunch here and there, but most architects aren’t that savvy with marketing.
The traditional world of architecture has changed, with a growing number of women in the historically “white, wealthy profession,” she said.
“Architecture was one of those professions you couldn’t necessarily make a lot of money in,” Kennedy said. “People who went into it had family money and it was prestigious. There are a lot more women in the field, but the most successful architects are high-ranking men.”
Kennedy said her book fills a niche for architects and other business people.
“There’s nothing like this out there,” she said. “There are classes you can take about the business, but architecture schools offer nothing. There are never classes on how to get and manage a client. Architects want this information.”
Kennedy is working with the AIA to put on panels on the business of architecture. The first such forum will be held March 3 in Santa Barbara.
She said she is applying the lessons she learned while writing her book to her own life and business.
“I’m writing and shooting (photographs), which is already a lot,” she said. “I can diversify as well, and turn the business lessons I learned back around and be clear about my own direction.”
Click here to purchase Success By Design: Revealing Profiles of California Architects online.