Photo Credit: Rachel Gomez
The Art District on Santa Fe (ADSF) has an eclectic member mix and we’re proud of it. A variety of galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and small business owners enjoy the creative energy that percolates throughout our community and we’re delighted to attract architecture and design firms to the area, as well. Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mark Raeburn, Principal at Hangar 41 alongside Principals Buddy Poppit and Frank Malek, to learn more about their uniquely creative firm with a lot of integrity and heart.
1. First and foremost, what inspired you to become an architect?
I didn’t know I wanted to be an architect until I attended college. Then it became very obvious that it should have been my goal in life because I always enjoyed creative endeavors and building things. I grew up just south of London and loved visiting the modern architecture and historic buildings in the City. I was also fortunate to travel around the world as a child and experience many diverse cultures and styles of architecture. I also used to build a lot of Lego models and did a lot of drawing and designing, but never really put it all together that I wanted to be an architect.
So you were interested in design from an early age?
Yes, I just wish somebody had mentioned it! Or provided me some information about being an architect. I think I would’ve jumped on board with it at an earlier age.
2. Hangar 41 works differently from most architecture firms with the lines of authority being more horizontal than vertical. Your firm embraces an open corporate structure where your entire team shares in the profits, decision-making and successes while promoting collaboration and a think tank environment - that is, according to your website, “founded on trust, integrity, open communication, diligent research, and a commitment to creating architecture that inspires and enhances the lives of all those touched by our work.” What else makes Hangar 41 unique to work with?
We’re very open and have no pre-conceived notions. When we meet a client for the first time, we like to listen to what their ideas and needs are—even if we don’t have experience in that project type., we feel like designers design and that we can take on any kind of project because of that approach. We listen very intently to the client and try to analyze their needs to create a program and design around those ideas…we like to help our clients dream.
The other difference is in the way that we collaborate in the studio. As you’ve said most architecture firms have a very strong hierarchy and corporate ladder, but we’ve tried to eliminate the word “corporate” from any description of our firm because we are more of a studio. Although we have Principals—it’s mostly just in name because a lot of clients expect to talk to a Principal because they’re used to dealing with that corporate structure, not someone who is lower down on the ladder. Once we bring a project in we utilize the whole team through brainstorming and design activities, nobody gets bookmarked as a “Renderer” or a “CADD” guy (which stands for Computer Aided Drafting/Design, which is a technique that’s replaced the antiquated pen and pencil). Everyone’s doing the marketing, promotion, design and involved in all aspects of our firm.
3. Hangar 41 believes that “people are your most important investment” and that’s a truth I’ve come to realize while working alongside creatives. Why do you think this an important ideology in the world of architecture?
People bring a lot of different experiences to the table, especially in creative types of environments, and it’s really important to get everyone’s input. Even somebody right out of college can have just as important of an impact on a project as someone who has 10 or 20 years of experience.
4. When did Hangar 41 settle into the Art District on Santa Fe and what attracted your firm to the area?
Hangar 41 started in September of 2010 and was created by a group of architects coming together at the height of the recession. There was very little work available, people were getting laid off and we just decided we wanted to start a new firm. We wanted to be neighborhood-centric and help with developing the area. Of course the Santa Fe Art District is a very creative district and we wanted to be around that high energy and art for creative inspiration. Plus, the Art District needed some design and we felt we had the vision, skills, time and ability to really help out.
5. Which segues nicely into my next question. The last few years haven’t been ideal for young architects just coming out of school. The A/E/C industry has been hit hard by the recession and budget cuts across the board on statewide and corporate levels. What advice do you have for young architects and designers who are just launching their careers?
Diversify their skills. When we started Hangar 41, the unemployment rate for architects was about 50%, which obviously makes it very difficult for fresh students out of college to find work. So a lot of people looked to different areas, but most architects do architecture because they love architecture, and find it difficult to focus on some other aspect of their life that’s not related. I know a lot of people who left the profession temporarily just to make ends meet. My advice is not to lose heart—if that’s where your passion lies, it’ll turn around eventually. Just keep your hand in and keep practicing.
Have you felt it starting to pick up?
Yes. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen a lot more RFPs and RFQs coming out. Most of the people I’ve talked to in the profession are seeing more projects start to arise. It’s good to hear but a lot of firms have let so many people go that, as the industry starts to bloom again, firms won’t have enough staff to handle some of the projects. So there will be a hiring process, people getting used to their new jobs, where they work, procedures and things. Whereas at Hangar 41 we feel - because we already have 13 associates that we’ve managed to keep working through the recession - that we’re perfectly positioned to take on any sized project anywhere in the world.
6. That must be a nice feeling. Well, congratulations on your new Board position! You’re now the “Development and Planning Advisory” to the ADSF Board, which is a volunteer position but an important one as the community develops. What can you tell me about future plans for the development of the District?
Hangar 41 has been working on a “Vision Plan” for the Art District for about 10 months now as a community outreach project. We’ve done a lot of research in the area, analyzed building forms, zoning, previous plans and a lot of other information. We’ve generated a vision that we think is attainable for the District and we’ve also presented to the City Planning Department, the Mayor, and other VIPs around the city; including developers we feel could help push the ideas through and kick-start the redevelopment process. In general, we feel the sidewalks are too narrow to comfortably accommodate pedestrians and don’t feel that the Art District and commercial district along Santa Fe can really reach their full potential until those sidewalks are addressed; which in general means narrowing Santa Fe Drive or removing a parking lane. Part of this issue needs to be addressed with CDOT (the Colorado Department of Transportation). We’ve been working with the communities in the District to gain consensus as to whether this is something everyone wants to do and so far everyone’s really excited about it. From that standpoint, we created models, booklets, research boards and presented to the people who garner the power to make those changes. With the area’s new designation as an official Creative District, we feel there will be some economic stimulus and funding available and maybe tax incentives to help keep artists here and kick-start development. If the artists get pushed out because of higher rents we will lose the authenticity of the art district so we are trying to create scenarios that will keep the artists in the district. These are exciting times and we are happy and excited to be a part of the Art District on Santa Fe.
7. LEED is a popular term and an accreditation in the field of architecture today—in fact it’s becoming more of a standard. Can you explain what LEED criteria are and what it means for those who aren’t familiar with the term?
LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is basically a standard that many new buildings are trying to achieve where buildings use less energy, are better insulated, utilize low-flow water products like toilets and faucets to help conserve water. I’ve designed 6 LEED buildings. None of them with Hangar 41 but with the previous firm I worked for, including: 1 LEED Platinum (and probably the first Transportation Maintenance and Administration Facility in the country to be LEED Platinum in South Bend, Indiana), 2 LEED Gold, 2 LEED Silver and 1 standard LEED building.
8. I stalked you on LinkedIn and discovered your specialties lie in pre-design research, programming, master planning, site planning, concept design and building design. Out of all of these phases, which is your favorite and why?
I actually have two favorites. I really like the research phase because it’s very enlightening and it’s what makes architecture so fun because every project is completely different. It’s a different site, user group, client and function; even the same building type can have different user groups, site and functions. I enjoy learning more about my clients businesses and the countries I’m working in. We research in great depth all of the cultural influences as well as functional needs requirements for a specific building - we call this the building program. I also really love the design aspect of architecture and if I could only do one thing ever it would be to design, that is my passion.
9. Have you heard of Delicious Designs?
No, I haven’t.
It’s a program put on by the AIA (The American Institute of Architects) where architects in Colorado pair-up with local pastry chefs to celebrate architecture through dessert. The idea behind it is to draw attention to the important role that architecture plays in where people live, work, play and eat—and restaurants are a part of that. This goes on during Colorado Architecture Month in April.
Sounds neat! I’ll have to check it out.
11. Is there anything else you’d like to tell people about Hangar 41?
Just that we’re a multi-faceted firm. We primarily perform architecture planning and interiors services with a wide range of project experience. Our Principals alone have about 70 years of combined experience in addition to our other associates’ . We’re really excited about the Art District and can’t wait to see what comes of the Creative District and all the work we’ve done with the Vision Plan.
We have a special event coming up in April for Colorado Architecture month. We’re hosting a class/workshop on Digital Fabrication with some international companies coming in and teaching. Uunfortunately this class will be rescheduled. One of our goals is to help support local artists, so we clear out our studio and make room for a gallery in our space for the First Friday Art Walks so please drop by and introduce yourselves and take a look at our model of the Art District.
12. On a final note, are you guys hiring? I’m sure after this interview a lot of architects will be interested.
I’d like to say we are hiring but currently we are not. We’re trying to maintain our staff and make sure we can all survive as well, but we’re always looking for really good resumes. Everybody we’ve taken on has been multi-faceted and very talented. We’re always looking to make contact with those kinds of people so when the opportunity does arrive, we know who to bring on board. We are also always looking for collaborative opportunities with other entities and firms.
What a cool company! For information on Hangar 41, check out their website.