WRNS Studio’s New Senior Associates and Associates on Leadership and the Future of Design
Our new Senior Associates and Associates share their thoughts on leadership and what makes WRNS an incredible place to work.
WRNS defines its work as being about beauty, sustainability, and a positive contribution to the public realm. What do these concepts mean to you?
Alexander Key: Beauty in architecture is not an abstract notion; it is inherently tethered to the material and the experiential. Scale, reflection, tactility, framing, weight, form, sequence: these are the tools at the architect’s disposal. Beauty engages the inhabitant and the visitor. It is—it must be—a moment of pause, of beholding. Beauty is sensing, perceiving, taking in. It is, above all, presence of mind and being. In an increasingly digital and often distracted age, I find solace and grounding in being part of a practice which grapples with the questions of beauty and seeks to manifest it in the material world.
Stewart Green: Making architecture is an essential act of solving our needs with grace and efficiency. Our future demands much of our talents, as we rise to tough challenges. Our work reveals an optimism that our problems are solvable, our cities are vital, and builds a vibrant, decent future, while meeting immediate needs. Beauty and sustainability are integral to good architecture, as a source for inspiration, advocacy and knowledge, for a better public realm.
Abdel Qader Tarabieh: Architecture has and still is being perceived not only as the interaction of all the above mentioned but also as a holistic entity. Coming from a region of ancient civilizations, I always relate to design from a perspective of nomads & natives. They built intuitively, accompanied by a profound sensibility to context and nature. Buildings like the Roman theater of Jerash are still standing and act in harmony with light and nature. It is still a prime inspiration source for architects and people. As the contemporary world has become flat, countless opportunities emerge from learning about other cultures while staying rooted to its direct context.
Goetz Frank: It becomes clearer each year that we are on the brink of grave ecological challenges. These will put unprecedented strains on our societies but also on us as individuals. With its multifaceted field of contextual relationships, architecture is uniquely positioned to address climate change in a variety of ways. With the large footprint that construction has on the environment, better, greener buildings can make a real impact. But more so, creating architecture and building cities is an immensely engaging and productive human experience and the outcome, in an ideal case, can be enlightening and empowering to all involved. The process and result of creating architecture can be a powerful force in helping our society to master the challenges ahead.
What do you think makes a good leader?
Rochelle Nagata-Wu: A good leader leads by example, gets involved and knows their trade. They respect their team members for their individuality and strengths and treat everyone how they want to be treated in return. They are good listeners. They inspire and make their team feel valued. They teach and provide guidance while allowing freedom to learn and grow. They inspire others and push others to be better. They take responsibility. They accept criticism and use it to make better themselves.
Stewart Green: A good leader draws on a diverse set of skills, but ultimately acts to serve others. It starts with inspiring people with a shared vision and interests, developing knowledge, motivating people to achieve their best work, and realizing beautiful and essential designs. Strong leadership is an act of sharing goals, knowledge, responsibility, and making a better future. By leading with empathy and discipline, we realize our strengths and limitations, we support joy in creativity and ultimately our best designs.
Edwin Halim: A good leader should be able to elevate the quality of work of everyone around them and to provide a good foundation for everyone in the team to grow and to be available to support others.
Prairna Gupta Garg: A good leader wears many hats, all at once. Here’s a few key attributes to successful leadership in my opinion:
- Inspiration: Creating a vision and being able to motivate a team to meet that goal. Being inspired and able to follow others.
- Strategic Planning: Thinking at different scales—long term/ short term—to develop a workable plan.
- Scalability: Being able to zoom-in & out/ think in multiple contexts at the same time.
- Story-teller/ Public Speaker: Being able to articulate ideas into words in a tactful manner.
- Empathy: Understanding the opportunities & constraints to connect at a deeper level.
- Trust/ Responsibility: Trusting yourself/your team and taking ownership of not only your work but of your team’s work.
- Self-Awareness: We are not all perfect. Understanding your limitations and asking for help as required!
- Adaptability: Learning how to deal with tough situations and coming out stronger.
- Mentorship: Sharing knowledge/ expertise and sponsoring opportunities for growth/ development of younger staff.
What are you excited about in architecture right now?
Jason Halaby: I find recent developments in mass timber to be inspiring. Wood is such a beautiful material and the fact that it is now starting to become a viable replacement for steel and concrete gives me hope for a low-carbon future.
Prairna Gupta Garg: Architects are creative problem solvers and architecture is not about buildings/ objects in space, it’s about people and how they interact with each other and their environment. With the growing trend towards sustainable, parametric, and community-based design, I’m excited about ‘Architecture as a means of Social Innovation’ that ties it all together. It’s not just about form and function any longer, but about data-driven beautiful design that is a catalyst for change, creating opportunities for public realm, cross-cultural initiatives, environmental awareness, non-institutional education and economic independence.
Abdel Qader Tarabieh: The interrelationship between nature, light and architecture as well as distilling its basic principles. I’ve been traveling during the last couple of years to examine these notions in person. It’s a profound feeling to experience the interaction between great buildings and people in different cultures, from the Alhambra of Granada to the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Beyond the idea that architecture is a source of shelter, it defines its status as a poetic pocket for inspiration and sentimental.
Goetz Frank: Green building standards have raised the consciousness for potential health hazards of building materials. With this shifted focus came a renewed appreciation for natural authentic materials. I am excited about our increased use of wood as structural material and also how we expose natural materials like wood, steel, natural fabrics and stone/ceramics in our interior designs.
How do you hope to make an impact within WRNS in the years ahead?
Kelly Shaw: Mentorship. When I joined WRNS 4 years ago there were only about 90 people in the office. Since then we’ve tripled head count and added offices in Seattle and New York. Without the mentorship of other leaders and friends within this office I never would have grown professionally or found fun in what we do as a studio. I believe that motivation and dedication to our practice comes from feeling that not only are you working on a project you find meaningful but also in feeling that you are a valued asset to your team. As WRNS continues to expand, I hope to be able to offer the same support and guidance I have been lucky enough to receive to other colleagues and future WRNS employees.
Susanne Susheelan: Through nourishing curiosity for the process! Technology, deadlines, and budgets too often narrow vision. I hope to encourage a search of how we can translate and make the human experience a crucial part of our work, to instill calmness, to create an identity, before balancing real-world constraints.
Goetz Frank: I would like to foster the relationship between our Studio and the Academics. Inviting WRNS members to design reviews and having desk crits for students in our studio can foster a lively and engaging architectural discourse in our Studio culture.
If you weren’t in the studio, where would you be?
Kelly Shaw: If I wasn’t in studio I would be traveling. Outside of continuing to see projects developed and realized, travel makes me a better a designer. It makes me more open-minded, reinvigorates creativity and helps me to better understand the world we’re designing for.
Rochelle Nagata-Wu: I would be spending time with my family. Having kids and aging parents has made me value my family time more than ever.
Goetz Frank: Out on the bay on the boat with my wife and dog Jako, or in the wood shop tinkering…
Prairna Gupta Garg: If I wasn’t in this studio, I’d have my own studio.
Alexander Key: My toddler has lots of books with happy animals around. This upsets me. We need to stop lying to our children. If I were not in the studio, I would write and illustrate a children’s tragedy called “Where did the animals go?” on extinction and the impact of the human species on the rest of life. The book would contain neither animals nor pathos.
Edwin Halim: Home with my family. Try to do my best to maintain the work/life balance. And reading Alex’s book called “Where did the animals go?” to my kids once it gets published.