WRNS Studio’s New Senior Associates and Associates on Sustainability, Leadership, and Getting Back to the Studio

WRNS Studio’s New Senior Associates and Associates on Sustainability, Leadership, and Getting Back to the Studio

Our new Senior Associates and Associates share their thoughts on sustainability, what makes a good leader, and what they look forward to most about returning to the studio.

WRNS Studio defines its work as being about beauty, sustainability, and a positive contribution to the public realm. What do these concepts mean to you?

Tim Jonas: I hope these last 18 months have made us think more about our need for real sustainability and a beautiful public realm. I think architects have a responsibility to guide our clients, sometimes through lots of digging and iteration, to achieve high marks in these things. For the former, we cannot simply accept a project won’t be WELL or LEED certified, so therefore it need not be sustainable. If it is a project then it will be as sustainable as we can make it, whether it’s for certification or not. It’s not a “this or that” proposition, it’s a “this and” proposition. For the latter, we have the unique ability to give beautiful design, and sometimes real spaces to the public realm with just the stroke of a pen. I think it’s important for the initial concept and gesture of a building, even if it is a private building, to offer the public realm something meaningful. Oftentimes, this is to the benefit of the public as well as the owners and tenants of the building. Especially now with the public/private divide blurrier than ever, and social space constantly redefining, I hope we have seen how much we need real sustainability and a quality public realm.

Jon Kershner: Ultimately these are more than concepts or guiding principles for our work; these are mandates for the architectural community at large. What is worth creating if it is not beautiful? What is worth building if it is not sustainable? And what place is worth creating if it doesn’t improve our public spaces? My ultimate hope is that WRNS Studio can be leaders in the architecture community by example. When we strive for these goals, we set the bar higher. Further, these ideas are fundamental to our success not just as architects, but as citizens, as humans, shaping our world and creating better futures. We owe it to future generations to create a better planet earth because that is all we have.

Emily Jones: I am constantly challenging myself to think about, and consider, beauty beyond my own subjective (or even what I may consider to be “objective”) definitions of spatial or experiential beauty. I firmly believe that it is our obligation as designers to do so, both for our clients and their users, but also for the public at large. I am grateful that WRNS Studio’s stated goals – to achieve beauty, design sustainably and otherwise contribute to the public realm – require each of us to consider, and then re-consider, functional and experiential beauty in architecture. So for me, these concepts “mean” and translate into a firm culture that allows us all to constantly expand our understanding of great design in order to elevate not only our individual practices, but also the quality of our firm’s projects and the impact our projects have on our clients and the world.

Arman Hadilou: I think Architecture is a process of discovery that is never preempted by some image of a photogenic product. Each project should embody the client’s original aspirations but also, through the very process, recognize the possible contributions that architecture can make to the social contract, to the making of places conducive to participation and reverie.

What are you excited about in architecture right now? 

Christopher Hunter: Architecture is exciting now because technology can allow us to capture the spontaneity and vision of an initial sketch and bring it to reality. The ability to quickly iterate ideas both physically and graphically makes architecture more accessible to the client and easier to share with our teams. I’m especially excited about new advancements in construction and fabrication, allowing us to use materials in new and surprising ways. Architecture can now be more responsive both environmentally and spatially.

Jeremy Shiman: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” These prescient words carry more weight today than they did when The Lorax was published 50 years ago. The implications of the climate crisis become clearer with each passing year and we are no longer able to ignore the global consequences of our collective decisions. As architects and designers, we are uniquely positioned to influence so many different fields and people due to the nature of our work. The profession as a whole is stepping up– demanding more transparency from manufacturers and fewer toxic chemicals in products, asking for and making better tools to understand the environmental impacts of buildings across their whole lifespan, banding together with other architects, engineers, and builders to influence local, national, and international policy, and still making beautiful buildings. Climate change is not a small problem and can leave even the staunchest climate optimist feeling more than a little dispirited at times, but I am heartened and excited by the knowledge, passion, and resolve being brought to bear by architects all around the world who, like me, care a whole awful lot.

What do you think makes a good leader?

Branden Harrell: Good leaders are empathetic and patient while also showing strength and conviction. They show a great understanding of challenges, current and looking ahead, and continue to learn through experience and exposure. A good leader also empowers teammates at all levels and encourages a collaborative environment where growth for the team is inevitable.

Rudy Letsche: A good leader does the right thing, even if it is hard. As architects we negotiate the public and private realms and to know what is right we have to understand where different stakeholders are coming from. We are at our best when we carefully consider those various interests and find creative solutions that are uplifting and even surprising for everyone involved, including ourselves.

Ninoshka Henriques: A good leader collaborates, listens and empowers their team. To ensure a successful creative process, engaging diverse perspectives and expertise is critical. Architecture is not a solo sport, it is a multidisciplinary field and requires us to make space for ideas, dialogue and critique between disciplines so we can design better. 

Lily Weeks: Vision & empathy. Knowing where to lead your team and having clarity of mind to find a path to achieve our creative goals to make great spaces and keep our clients excited about our work. Being connected to the design team to assure everyone feels invested and has ownership over the work, then we are all moving together as a unit. 

Natalie Kittner: Good leaders are good listeners who approach challenges with tenacity, curiosity, and a little bit of levity. They guide with care, but also provide space for the  team to take ownership and learn through their own process.

How do you hope to make an impact within WRNS Studio in the years ahead?

Dale Diener: As I continue to grow as an architect I realize more and more how lucky I am to have found a career that I enjoy so much. Architecture demands so much of us and is at the same time so extraordinarily rewarding. It insists that we continually hone our skills and never stop learning. As a younger architect I was fortunate to have been mentored by many accomplished and creative senior architects. To that end, in the years ahead of me, I’d like to pay it forward by taking some of the inherited experience and knowledge that I’ve gained and share it with younger staff.

Branden Harrell: In the years ahead, I hope that my leadership is impactful on many different levels. I also hope to continue to grow through my own work experience as well as learning from others. In my career I’ve been lucky to have worked with a number of very smart people who’ve been extremely patient with me, investing their time in my development. I hope to be able to provide the same kind of support as a mentor to teammates as well as through the recent programs and initiatives that we’ve established at WRNS Studio, pushing the needle to grow representation of those who are underrepresented in the profession of architecture.

Milena Kim: I hope to make an impact through fostering curiosity in the studio. Curiosity in life results in happiness, when applied to architecture it results in finding joy in one’s work, translating into beautiful buildings. As a leader it is critical that I not only continue to be curious but to encourage the younger colleagues to pursue their curiosity. What is that unexpected element of surprise that we allow our pen to make, to bend where it has repeatedly been straight? How do we leverage the latest technology to make beautiful drawings or conversely the simplicity of an exacto and museum board? How do we make our buildings more sustainable than they already are? Walking through the studio, one can frequently overhear the phrase “What if…” during meetings. The beginning of that sentence holds the power of possibility. Our what if’s hold the power to shape our environment and require us to continuously make them bolder than they’ve been.

How do you connect what you do with broader social issues?  

Christopher Pfiffner: There is this idea that post-pandemic and post-recession we will need to “build back better.” I think that as architects, we are uniquely prepared to lead conversations about what “building back better” might really be. Modern architectural concepts of Gesamtkunstwerk, Baukunst, Metabolism, Structural Expressionism, and the more recent imperative of Sustainable Design are essentially different flavors of a holistic approach to architectural design. When architects think of buildings and sites holistically as integrated and adaptable systems, it is then possible for components of that system to be further tweaked, refined, or upgraded over time so that these environments will continue to be truly functional and engaging for users for many years to come. So in the broadest sense, architects have always been advocates for resiliency. And resiliency will be critical for our recovery as an economy and as a society. I am looking forward to working with our clients and design partners to develop successful projects that will also elevate our cities and communities.

John Schlueter: We are fortunate to be both listeners and storytellers who connect architecture to the greater social good through our projects and partnerships. I am excited, humbled and energized by our opportunities to build community, support sustainable action and develop healthier and more equitable places.

Arman Hadilou: I think of architecture as a living, breathing organism that plays a significant role in how we interact with the world. I believe that architecture needs to be understood as a social act, as a tool with which we can connect to politics, economics and aesthetics, and to ideas around smart growth. In this way, it can promote social equity, human interaction, and cultural evolution.

What are you most looking forward to about returning to the studio?

Lily Weeks: I am most looking forward to the energy of the studio. Feeling connected to one another, walking past a drawing, a sample, a reference image and having an impromptu conversation that leads to new ideas and thoughts. 

Kayleen Kulesza: I am most looking forward to the vibrancy of the office–face-to-face interaction and the passive sharing in all the ongoing work by nature of “office osmosis.” Not to mention, the real-time celebration of studio wins, colleague achievements, and project milestones!

Ben Mickus: After working from home for this long, I’ve realized that in-person collaboration can’t be taken for granted.  Coming back to the studio won’t be a return to the way things used to be, but rather a change to reexamine how we work “together” and take advantage of different modes of working that are only possible when we are face-to-face.