Mentors: An Essential Part of an Architect’s Training

By Lance Bird, FAIA
Principal, LCDG

I had a mentor. I had many, but one stands out. I went to work for him 18 months out of school. He was director of design in a large A-E firm, leading a group of 6-8 designers. 

I learned there are many good solutions to a design problem. I learned to first understand what the “dumb” solution was. The dumb solution solved the essential challenges of the problem. Good design went beyond the obvious.   

In our design department we were inspired to do our best.  We worked long days and nights. He did not. He was our critic. Through questions and suggestions, he guided us to creative solutions. I learned solutions to problems are often found in unexpected places. By having rested eyes and distance from the office, my mentor often discovered solutions we hadn’t thought of. 

I learned that gaining a client’s trust requires exceptional communication. While English was his second language, he often explained his intentions with metaphors. He spoke in plain talk, not above our clients. With simple examples, he communicated. 

He didn’t gossip or reveal confidences, so we learned to trust him with our own personal problems. As he earned our trust, he gained commitment and loyalty from each of us. 

He let us grow in our own way. As we grew, our responsibilities also grew. Gradually, each of us became mentors as well. 

My mentor loved his family, his wife and two sons. He spent evenings and weekends with them. And he cared about each of our families. I learned the importance of family. 

My mentor was Cesar Pelli. My mentor, in turn, also had a mentor, Eero Saarinen.

To “mentees” in our profession: Finding the right mentor for you depends on a thoughtful search and some luck. Early in my career I interviewed with many architects. While I was looking for a ‘star’ firm, I also looked for leaders in sync with my own aspirations. It’s unlikely your mentor will be a highly published star. By that time, most likely they have built a team of lieutenants that intercede on his/her behalf. Ideally your mentor will have time for you, to teach and inspire you along the path uniquely suited for you.   

Epilogue: NCARB’s Intern Development Program (IDP) depends on mentors and supervisors to grow interns. If you are a licensed architect, volunteer to be an intern’s mentor or supervisor. See NCARB’s website for more information.  

IDP supervisors and mentors play crucial roles throughout the internship process. Their knowledge, guidance, and support are invaluable to the development of an intern and add to the long-term quality of the profession. 

Violence Intervention Program (VIP)

For the VIP, LCDG has submitted the North Hall renovation project for plan check. The Violence Intervention program (VIP) offers around-the-clock medical, forensic, mental health, support and advocacy services to children in foster care and other victims of child abuse and neglect, domestic, violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and dependent adult abuse.

This 13,340 SF three-story building focuses on the youth segment of service. Built in the 1920’s, the building has been gutted and will be brought up to code, with replacement of all building systems. A compact addition accommodates the central mechanical system, stairs and elevator. A new outdoor deck is planned adjacent to the “grand room “where youth initially arrive.

Phase 1 Completed

Since 2012, LCDG has worked closely with the Our Community School, a remarkable community-based charter school in Chatsworth, California. The 440 student K-8 school leased a vacant LAUSD space and modernized the campus, and LCDG partnered with the board, administrators, teachers, children and parents to create a nurturing environment for the students.  A comprehensive plan was prepared addressing critical repairs, code issues, and improved teaching spaces.  Needs and costs were organized into three priority levels enabling the team to make informed choices for improvements.  Following design and DSA approvals, the selected contractor proceeded in two phases, coordinating with the 9-month school year.

Phase 1 was completed Spring 2016 and consists of accessible pathways, and improved parking, landscaping, play equipment, Multi-Purpose Room, restrooms and classrooms.

Phase 2 will be completed in September 2016.  Further restroom improvements are planned, a new changing room and fire alarm system added, and the remaining classrooms enhanced.

Andrew Sidler Wins Birdhouse Competition Award!

At the annual Pasadena Community Gardens and the American Institute of Architects Pasadena & Foothill Chapter joint fall picnic and raffle, LCDG designer Andrew Sidler received an award for his “Ply-Sphere”. The amazing form was modeled in 3D, deconstructed to 2D, laser cut and cleverly interlocked to form a rigid, outdoor never-seen-before birdhouse.

Scott Brady Appointed Design Director

Architect Scott Brady has been appointed Design Director for LCDG. During his 25-year career as an engineer and architect, he has won numerous awards with the AIA and other professional associations. Scott is recognized as open-minded, thoughtful and innovative.

When asked “does good design cost more?” Scott responded with “Good design is based on good ideas. Throwing money at a project doesn’t necessarily translate into good design.”

In response to fears of Global economic instability Scott recently said “A design that gives a sense of purpose and a truth that people value will transcend the lows within an economic cycle.”

Scott has extensive experience as a master planner and designer of healthcare, government and education projects. Certified LEED AP, he has designed large, sustainable facilities for higher education. With a previous firm, Scott designed the Pierce College Maintenance & Operations Net Zero Energy Building with offices, shops, vehicle maintenance and other support facilities. The $30 million project achieved LEED Gold. The project was recognized by the National DBIA Design Build Merit Award in 2012; and the Association of Energy Engineers 2011 Award of the Year.

Scott recently completed design of a $5 million, 3 acre civic plaza that has been called the Zocalo for the City of Baldwin Park. The plaza is a model for sustainability and water conservation. Just 4% of the park area is planted in grass, with the remainder drought tolerant ground cover, decomposed granite and paving. Rocky swales are strategically located to capture 100% of the rain water. The design includes a retail building, pavilion, veteran’s memorial, and a fountain. Scott has also successfully led community outreach, presenting to businesses and residents using 3-D modeling and animation to illustrate the design.

He is currently designing innovative upgrades to clinics for Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services. With color, form and light, the playful and inviting designs are creating a sense of calmness for patients.

Robert Lawson Promoted to Vice President

In March, LCDG promoted associate and architect, Robert Lawson, to be the firm’s Vice President. Robert is a key member of the firm’s executive committee, as a voice for technical excellence and the full utilization of state-of-the-art software. He has a wide range of experience with many project types and is highly regarded by numerous long-term clients, including the City of Burbank, Southern California Edison, and Metropolitan Water District.

Robert has just completed a major garage expansion for SCE at their Ontario Service Center. The facility is used to service the largest vehicles in their fleet. With oversize service bays measuring 25’ x 85’, an overhead bridge crane covering the entire floor area, a three-post lift with an 80,000 lb. capacity, support spaces and provisions for controlling hazardous materials, the new facility is a model for SCE’s “garage of the future”.

Robert celebrated his 20th anniversary with the firm last October.

Renovated Edison Administration Building

LCDG has announced completion of Southern California Edison’s Ontario Service Center administration building renovation. The lobby has been expanded and enhanced. A rich colored wood grille on the ceiling and wall brings focus to the reception counter. Safety and sustainability for the entire 30,000 SF space is improved. The building is now fully sprinklered and lighting has been replaced with LED fixtures and automatic controls to meet CalGreen standards. A new, free-standing restroom and large canopy to shade the assembly area for field crew was also built. Construction was completed in seven phases in a period of just three months, minimizing the impact on nearly 100 staff.

Slavko Vukic Advances to Associate

LCDG is pleased to announce the promotion of Slavko Vukic to Associate position.  He is honored for his enthusiastic, positive and inspiring nature.  His exceptional commitment and technical knowledge is demonstrated in the design of the new MWD Service Center in Yorba Linda.  Beginning shortly, Slavko will be responsible for construction phases for the improvements to the Norwalk Transit headquarters site and building, and the Our Community School modernization in Chatsworth.