As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Laubenthal, Principal of Aline Architecture Concepts.
With a philosophy rooted in sustainability, Brian Laubenthal designs healthy spaces that are in harmony with their environment, bringing a heightened awareness to even the simplest of projects. His love for eco-conscious and humanitarian architecture was instilled at a young age, leading to a career in commercial, residential and hospitality design. Motivated by a passion for design and an obsession with organization, Brian feels a strong desire to help people and the environment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this particular career path?
I have pursued architecture from a young age. In 7th grade, a teacher asked me to write a paper about what career I wanted to pursue and how it could help the world. I wrote about wanting to be an architect and using my career to help people and the environment.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away, you took out of that story?
In 2007 we had just completed a new restaurant project. Shortly after, I came across a national design award submittal link and thought “why not?” I made the submittal and didn’t think much of it. A few months later, I received a phone call with the news thatAline had received 1st place for the national hospitality design award. We were flown to New York to receive the award and I gave a speech to a room full of people in our industry. The award was a confidence builder and a reminder to not hesitate in putting our work out there for others to see and be inspired by.
Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?
When I worked for other firms, the owners would use the quote “It is what it is,”accepting the way things were without challenging it. . The more and more I heard that, it inevitably made me want to challenge that concept. So I scrapped it and changed it for myself to ‘it is what we make it.’ I never wanted to accept working for someone else and being in an office environment where employees were not respected or treated well. While in school we’d hear that the office expectation in the architecture industry is to work long hours and not be paid well. My business part Brian Krob and I wanted to change that at Aline and not say “it is what it is,” rather challenge the industry norm and build an office culture centered around respect. As a result, we’ve had very little turn over of employees because this is an office where people feel comfortable, are well paid, are expected to only work 40 hours a week, are told to use all their vacation time, are given bonuses, and taken on company inspiration retreats. Forget the “it is what it is!” We’ve turned passion into action and are proud of what we are creating as a firm in our industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Currently, Aline is giving new life to an exciting strip center called Trail West in Scottsdale that will be a hub for the surrounding neighborhood. With the design focused around a building that had been saved from demolition a few miles away, we were able to relocate and repurpose the building into a new restaurant. A project we just finished is Rosie’s House School of Music, which is a non-profit giving kids in underserved areas the opportunity to learn and play music. They are an incredible group and we are happy we could donate time to design their new school. Aline is also working on Northside, a new development in Gilbert, Arizona that will have 6 new buildings centered around a common space. The development will be centered around restaurants and the common space will be activated with amenities that will be a hub for the community. To work on a project that supports local and gives a nearby place for residents to walk and ride bikes to is rewarding.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We believe in listening to our clients and collaborating with them to develop a well crafted and quality project. When my business partner, Brian Krob and I started Aline, we received the compliment several times that we listen. We thought that was odd because why wouldn’t we listen? Then to hear stories that other firms would just push their own agenda of what they thought the project should be and had an ego driven approach made us realize why clients were impressed by our approach to put them first. We want our clients to take as much ownership in the design of their project as we do, and to hear them say “I designed this with my architect,” because their vision is just as important as ours in the design process.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In 2011 we met Tom Frenkel, a well-known developer in Scottsdale. We were looking to lease space in a building that Tom owned and as we started to talk, we learned that he needed an architecture firm to collaborate with. He also had space in his own office that we could share. That chance meeting led to us working on all of Tom’s commercial office and restaurant work since 2011. Sharing that initial officehas turned into us taking over the office space next door and meeting with him daily. . Not only has Tom has inspired me to work hard, but he’s also inspired me in my personal life to build a future for my children. He has also been there for me when needed for support, business knowledge, and encouragement. He has become a mentor big part of our success at Aline.
You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I believe you have to put passion first and think less about recognition and money. If you are passionate about your career and love what you do, that becomes incredibly rewarding and evident to the people who want to hire you. . As we have grown, we have met and formed strong relationships with other business professionals that are as passionate about their craft as we are for ours. Respect and collaboration are two things we highly value, which has led us to take on projects and clients that fit our values. When naming the firm Brian Krob and I chose not to use our names because our focus is on our team and people we collaborate with that make us successful, and not just with us. And most importantly, being a support: a support to our community, local businesses, non-profits, kids looking to their career paths, and the environment… and then we offer architectural services. Architecture has become the medium we use to craft positive solutions that help people, the environment, and build a stronger community.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about architecture and the Real Estate industry in general? If you can please share a story or example.
One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of working in architecture is the ability to bring communities together. As mentioned before, being able to center our projects around gathering spaces or creating new hubs in the community for people to enjoy is something we continually strive to do with our restaurant and hospitality designs. Another exciting aspect of the architecture industry is the overarching goal of creating more environmentally friendly designs. Adaptive re-use is something we’re passionate about as a firm- being able to reuse structures and materials that already exist to reduce the amount of waste created. This is especially prudent in the Phoenix area, where we have to be more conscious of environmental factors; heat, water, etc. One final aspect of the industry we’re excited about is creating dynamic spaces. Designing spaces that can be experienced in new ways when revisiting (such as restaurants where we can create devisions of space, enabling customers to experience something new every visit), creating office spaces that improve efficiency, and healthier environments for people that can improve their daily life.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.
Architecture and construction methods are slowly changing. We look forward to the continued changes in technology, efficiency and reducing waste created from construction. We want to see improvements in technology for how we interface with the built environment.The hope is that technology can streamline efficiency, and we hope that in turn, efficiency can reduce waste. When new buildings are constructed, there is a lot of material waste generated and when we remodel or teardown buildings, we send so many resources to landfills that could be recycled or that could have been reused in the project. When Aline designed the headquarters for Chasse Building Team in Tempe, Arizona, we took an old warehouse space and found clever ways to repurpose the building for the new use while limiting the amount of waste. We implemented solar tubes to bring in natural light throughout the space, a high efficiency mechanical system that can sense rooms unused and not condition them, we used solar panels and high efficiency lighting design, as well as renewable and recycled materials. The building can be NetZero, which means it can generate all its own electricity. The design uses smart technologies to make the building efficient and use less materials. We also repurposed the building to limit construction waste. We hope that these practices become more of the industry norm.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share with our readers the “Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect?” If you can, please give a story or an example for each?
1. Be prepared to eat sandwiches. Success takes time and you have to build relationships and your authority in the industry. Before we started making money, Brian Krob and I survived on eating simple sandwiches our first two years in business, lunch being the sacrifice in our budget. As we grew our network and authority in the industry, our lunch options have grown as well.
2. Love it. You have to love architecture and the industry. Showing people passion should mean more to you than money or recognition. Those things will come once you establish yourself. In our first year in business, we met with a restauranteur who has worked with well known architects. At the time, the two of us both shared a small cubicle in an engineer’s office, taking turns buying deli meat for our sandwiches. The client sat with us for an hour and talked about architecture, what it means to us and him, how we could help with his project and about inspiration from other great work being done. At the end of the meeting, he stood up and said “I’ve had good meetings with architects, but this was a great meeting.”He understood our passion and respect that we have for the industry, and that meant more to him than what our office looked like or for the cheap mustard we could afford.
3. Put others first. We would not be successful without our clients, team, consultants, and many others who support us. We show them our appreciation and help them be successful. Our first few years in business were about reaching out and growing our network. Knowing the more people we reached out to and made an impact on would result in people calling back on us for opportunities or referring us to others who need us is what has grown our business. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people.
4. Learn from others. One of the first things we did in 2010 was meet with other architects who had been in the industry and weresuccessful. We called them and asked if we could meet with them for 30 minutes and they were happy to do so. We asked each architect 2 questions:what did you do that was successful and what did you do that failed. Knowing what they saw as failures helped us from making the same mistakes. They also referred us to people in the industry who could support us, from CPA, Insurance, to lawyers that were experts in our industry and were likeminded people that we still work with today.
5. Find likeminded professionals. A project is not worth having if the client doesn’t respect you or your craft. The same goes for our employees: An employee isn’t going to work out if they just want a paycheck and don’t take pride in their job. You can’t do it all, so you need people around that will support lift you higher. During my youngest son’s 3rd birthday party, I had a client call me. I answered the call and he just wanted to complain and put me down for reasons out of my control. He didn’t want to listen or be respectful. I learned that day that I wouldn’t let a client treat me that way again. I am the professional and I work hard to make projects successful but that can only happen when the client or team that collaborate with you also make it successful.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
UPCYCLE. I would like to see cities incentivize companies to repurpose or upcycle buildings and materials so we keep our areas activated and not just build new and let areas become run down until they are torn down and redeveloped. We live in Phoenix and there are many unused buildings that sit vacant while new buildings keep going up.
Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.
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