Interview conducted and edited by Chelsea Ross
What is your role at Valerio Dewalt Train?
I manage the Palo Alto and San Francisco offices. The people, the projects, the clients.
What does that entail?
Part of my job is to get the VDTA brand out there through market leadership in the region, especially for higher education and corporate opportunities. I also spread word about the firm through involvement with local industry organizations like the Urban Land Institute, AIA, SCUP, and IIDA.
You’ve also led projects for several large tech companies…
Yes, the Adobe San Francisco offices was one of the first. We focused on providing ample support spaces for their workers beyond offices and conference rooms, to less defined spaces like lounges and break rooms. That project was valuable because we learned that providing a variety of work environments supports individual working styles, which leads to higher productivity, creativity, and community. We brought that knowledge and approach to our work on Google’s Tech Corners.
I’m naturally an introvert. I’m not the center of attention, but I am thoughtful about building and nurturing meaningful relationships. I am also super passionate about what I do. I love architecture. I love this profession. I put a lot of passion and effort into it, and even though it kicks your ass a lot, it also gives back.
I try to work harder than everyone else.
How does architecture give back?
It’s all about building relationships. It gives back when I give back.
How do you give back?
I’m invested in supporting and mentoring younger architects. In my career, there were a couple principals who really shaped who I am. I also volunteer for the California Architectural Board, developing content and writing licensure exams.
What kind of architect are you?
I’m an architect that can connect mundane logistics of scope and budget with high-flying conceptual ideas.
Can you sum it up in one words?
I want to say visionary, but that sounds so…
That’s inherent to architecture, right?
Yes, it is.
Okay, how about three words?
Visionary meets rational.
How do you describe your personal practice?
It’s one part research and design, one part communication and relationships. The first part is marrying conceptual design with practical research. I love taking the data acquired from research and applying the art of architecture to produce a concept and design. I always tell younger architects to start with a concept. It could be anything–a poem, a shoe–that will guide design decisions. You can bring that idea to the client to sell and articulate the project. It helps them not only understand the idea, but also respect all the small decisions that support the overarching design.
And the other part?
The other part of the practice is communication and relationship-building. Each relationship with a client, consultant and co-worker is like a marriage. Trust must be developed. That happens through good communication, and the faster that happens, the quicker you can build a good rapport and get to work. One of my mentors told me early on: Communication is most important when you want to do it the least.
Can you give an example of how your practice has informed your work at VDTA?
Sure. With the Meriam Library Master Plan, we were able to leverage the research from the corporate world and apply it to higher-ed world. For instance, for companies like Adobe and Google, we developed a variety of collaborative spaces, both formal informal, that support collaboration and a sense of community in the workplace. The result is an evocative, well-diversified space that accommodates a range of learning and collaborative study areas throughout the library.
If you could pin two architects against each other in an ultimate fighting match, who would you pick and why?
Zaha Hadid and Bjarke Ingels. They’re two very visionary architects that are getting work built that doesn’t follow the mainstream.
Who would win?
Oh, Zaha would win. I wouldn’t want to go up against her.
Interview has been condensed and edited.