I was introduced to Daniel at the Grand Opening of Dr. Chow’s Surgical Clinic in San Francisco. He kindly showed me around and explained the architectural details and the challenges involved in this project. I have always been interested in architecture and interior design, so I found the conversations very exciting. Daniel’s open minded and easygoing personality allowed us to become friends. I have visited a few more grand openings of his projects and feel very proud of his hard work. I would like to introduce Daniel to you and share an interview for the Creative People in Business Project.
Time you wake up: 6:00 am
Morning routine: My alarm is set to classical music so that I can wake in a peaceful mood. I shower, eat breakfast, and comb NYT, WAPO, Politico, and the Guardian to see what is happening around the world.
Best habit: Swimming and yoga
Worst habit: Drinking a lot of beer at my weekly softball game.
Personal philosophy: Live each day to the fullest and do to others as would have them do to you.
Book you are reading now: We are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Most used apps: NYT, KCRW, NextBus, & Uber
What you do before going to bed: Brush my teeth, floss, pray, and try to count my blessings.
Time you go to sleep: Usually 11:00 pm but sometimes later.
How and why did you decide to pursue an architecture career?
I was one of those kids that knew I wanted to be an architect since I was seven years old. I used to draw house floor plans and elevations for my sister’s girlfriends that I had crushes on. At the age of 10 my family briefly moved to Illinois. I recall going on a tour of the John Deere headquarters designed by Eero Saarinen and being in awe of the building. I didn’t know anything about Saarinen at the time but I recall thinking about how beautiful the building and the landscaping was. On television shows that I watched as a kid Mike Brady of the Brady Bunch and Elyse Keaton in Family Ties were architects. The architecture storylines on these shows weren’t particularly inspiring but it made me think this is a profession I could really pursue. I took a drafting class in high school and then applied to the architecture program at Arizona State University.
What are the biggest challenges in the architecture profession and how did you overcome them?
The path to becoming an architect is a very long road. There are the educational requirements; I spent five years at Arizona State University earning an undergraduate degree and another two years at Berkeley earning a Master’s degree. Three years of apprenticing under a licensed architect are required before you can begin to take the licensing exams to become a registered architect. At the time I took the exams there were nine exams plus an oral exam here in California. I passed five of the nine exams in my first sitting but it took me a number of years to complete the remaining exams. I have been a registered architect for sixteen years. Along the way, there have been personal challenges like physics or structures classes I found difficult or taking exams three times to pass. I overcame these challenges by learning from my mistakes and failures. My undergraduate physics classes at ASU had 500 students. I decided to look for class sections that were smaller in size and where more individual attention was available. I took calculus classes as a summer class at a community college in Idaho with twenty-five students and got straight “A’s”. For exams that I was having difficulty with I took seminars or looked for tutors to learn the material. I learned that if at first, you don’t succeed look for ways in which you can succeed.
In your opinion, what does it takes to become a successful architect?
Architecture is called a noble profession but it takes more than passion to succeed. Education is certainly an important aspect of learning to become an architect but schools do not teach everything that is necessary to become a qualified professional. Many architectural programs are heavily design-oriented. Design is important but there are so many other aspects of the profession that are important for preparation to practice. Some schools are more well versed in providing more well-rounded learning. Learning about building codes, construction law, marketing, contacts, business, and communication are also important, especially for someone considering being a sole-practitioner. Some of these skills can be acquired in the workplace and this is where it becomes important for an individual to determine the best workplace for themselves. This is certainly where mentorship becomes important. The profession has a long history of apprenticeship and this is where individuals can become successful by finding good mentors. When I completed my undergraduate degree I moved to New York City. I decided that I would work for three years before continuing with a Master’s degree. I worked for small firms, medium-sized firms, and for a large corporate firm. I decided that for me I liked working for a small and medium-size firm because it allowed me to wear more hats. Ultimately this is what gave me the confidence to start my own business. The work hours are long in the architectural profession so having a personality that enjoys doing what you do is useful. It is also useful to have a personality that can strike a balance in professional and personal life. As with anything in life, a little bit of good luck never hurts. I consider myself lucky for finding a profession I enjoy.
What motivates you and keeps you to stay active running a business?
I love learning and this is my overarching motivation for running a business. I didn’t know everything I needed to know to run a business when I first started so a dose of naiveté was also useful. Every year I have learnedand continue to learn about something new. Whether it is marketing, bookkeeping, invoicing, or employee management there is always something new to learn. I don’t necessarily enjoy every aspect of running a business but this is where you can hire someone that is equipped and enjoys doing those tasks. Being a member of the American Institute of Architects requires that continuing education units are fulfilled on a yearly basis. This is an opportunity to continue to learn about emerging technologies, best practices, materials, etc. The profession of architecture continues to evolve so as a business owner I need to continue learning.
What habits do you need to create to be able to deal with high stress?
Architecture is about solving design problems from a multi-faceted approach. I have adopted this idea of problem-solving to life in general. I analyze what is causing the problem or stress and then determine what are plausible solutions for resolving the problem or mitigating the stress. I have found physical exercise extremely useful in dealing with stress. I find working out at the gym as therapeutic and while it may not directly resolve stress, it helps me to better cope with a stressful situation.
Risk taking to improve your career: any secrets you would like to share on how to deal with fear and insecurities taking risks?
I survived the biggest recession since the great depression as a sole-practitioner and I give myself a pat on the back for that. My office has been in operation for nearly eleven years. When I started my office I had a thought that if I had to go back and work for someone after running my own ship that I would make a better employee. Being a sole-practitioner has given me better insight in the risks businesses take to stay in business. I find the problem-solving approach I mentioned earlier in dealing with fear and insecurities in taking a risk. In think the best approach in dealing with fear and insecurities is to take them head on.
Talk about your mentor, current or past, and how they affected your life?
My father is one of my first mentors. He began immigrating to this country when he was eighteen years old without knowing a word of English. He taught me through his words and actions that if you put your mind to something you can and will succeed. Throughout my education and in the work place I have had mentors that have guided me along the way. Architecture has a strong history of mentorship in the profession. I have had many mentors and continue to seek mentors in my life and to also be a mentor. I am a committee member for the AIA SF Mentorship program and was co-chair of the committee for two years. This program groups 5-7 professionals at all stages of their careers to meet over the course of a year for dialogue and professional exchange.
How do you balance your personal life and career?
This is a daily challenge and admittedly I have been better at it sometimes and not so good at it at other times. This is where I have to remind myself to live each day to its fullest. It is a work in progress and I have to say this year I am having better success in striking that balance.
Your way to “recharge” after a busy work week?
I go for a swim on Friday evening or Saturday afternoon. I also enjoy hanging out with friends and getting some form of exercise.
What advice would you give for those who want to pursue a career in architecture?
I was recently asked this question by the parents of a young man while I was on vacation on the Galapagos Islands. His parents were concerned about his ability to support himself financially as an architect. I told him that architecture is not one of the highest paying professions but if he really loved architecture, had a passion for it, and liked working really had then he should pursue it. I also advised him to make good friends with people studying business, law, and computer science. These folks will be his future clients.
Best advice you ever received?
It is an oldie but a goody. If at first you don’t succeed then try, try again.