Tim Morshead Named Partner: A Conversation on Design-Forward Practice

Tim Morshead Named Partner: A Conversation on Design-Forward Practice

When WRNS Studio promotes new partners, we look five, ten, fifteen years into the future and ask who will be at the helm, carrying our legacy of site-sensitive, sustainable design forward. Tim’s critical, layered, hands-on approach helps ensure that WRNS Studio remains a design-forward firm as we grow in numbers, regions, and markets. We sat down with Tim to talk about his life in design.

How did you get into architecture?

I spent the summer of 1994 studying the delicate protein folds of a little virus called P22 in a refrigerated laboratory in Massachusetts. After a miserable day in the cold room, I would spend my evenings walking around the humid streets of Boston and marveling at a built environment that was about as different as could be from the urban fringes of LA where I had grown up. By the end of that summer, my interest in microscopic protein had been eclipsed by the textures of Sever Hall, the hush of Pinckney Street, and the shape-shifting simplicity of the Hancock Tower.

What's your approach to architecture? 

Multivalent. I tend to triangulate design problems in a way that is almost clinically straight-forward — listing out all the criteria for success, iterating design concepts, and testing those concepts against the criteria. I say “almost” because the criteria can range from highly objective (cost per square foot, FAR, net-zero water use) to totally subjective (“lightness,” “fun,” “views to the sky”). What matters is, first, that these criteria are meaningful to our clients and to the larger community, and second, that we satisfy the criteria in a way that is elegant, timeless, and seemingly effortless. 

What are you excited about in architecture right now?

All the latent design possibilities of emerging construction technologies such as cross-laminated timber, hybrid rammed earth, and 3D-printed concrete are exciting to me in that they fuse analog and digital approaches to craft. These technologies help compress the distance between architect and builder. Similarly, the use of tactile regionally-specific materials and building processes can help us engage more directly with the work we do and the places we make.

I remain excited about hand drawing and physical modelling. We do our best work when we can collaborate in a direct and visceral way during the design process. At the same time, I am excited about the coming shift to an all-digital workflow for design review and construction. Plan checkers, field inspectors, general contractors and the construction trades will very soon be working off the same 3D computer model. Apart from saving reams of paper, this will simplify communication and streamline pre-construction.

How do you hope to make an impact at WRNS in your new role?

I want to foster a scalable studio culture that can grow as the firm grows and keep that special sauce that makes WRNS, well WRNS. That means putting design first. That means promoting innovation around both project design and project delivery. And that means approaching every problem from the standpoint of a novice: with an open mind and critical eye. 

What do you want to teach the next generation of WRNSers?

We are at a moment of generational transition: from architects trained to draw by hand to modeling exclusively on a computer; from an enmeshed ownership economy to spawning a sharing economy; from valuing individualism and status (the age of the “starchitect”) to authenticity and connectedness becoming design bellwethers. I think the next generation of WRNSers has much to teach the firm.

As one of the younger partners at WRNS, I hope to be a transitional figure, building bridges between these groups to keep us moving forward.

New Partners Tim Morshead, Russell Sherman, and Lilian Asperin