Dallas-based design leader D. Alex John, Jr. joined LPA Design Studios earlier this year to continue the growth of the Texas commercial practice. In an interview, he discusses the importance of ensuring all voices are heard, creating better experiences in projects and making the process more fun.
What’s going to be your focus at LPA?
I want to create memorable experiences in architecture for clients, no matter what form that might take. That’s the interesting part to me about commercial mixed-use projects. Often people think these projects can be somewhat prescriptive, but they actually have personalities onto themselves. When you can find a way to capture that, then you have something that’s more successful than anybody dreamed.
What do you want to bring to a project?
First off, it’s got to be fun. I think you get the best work when you have a really pleasant environment. The shortest projects we work on are about a year-and-a-half. Why would you want to work with somebody you don’t care for? Also, it’s about the environment that you create. I’m an extremely collaborative guy.
You’ve worked across many sectors, including hospitality and commercial. How does that affect your work?
My background across a lot of different sectors allows me to crib from different projects in different ways to craft a solution that is perfect for an individual client’s project. The definition of “creativity” is typically found in using known techniques in a new way to yield a new point of view.
I’ve also learned how important it is to bring people together. You can’t really find proper solutions or ways of looking at projects unless you have the key voices feeling comfortable enough to weigh in and share their ideas. I spend a lot of time working with people and actually giving them, in some ways, license to speak and license to share.
Do you have a design philosophy?
Early on, I think most designers are too quick to walk into a room for the very first meeting saying, “this is what I’m thinking.” They throw the idea right out there without listening. They don’t have the confidence of conversation. When I go into rooms, it’s about trying to find out from a client why they chose to buy that piece of property. What do you want this project to be? What are your definitions of success? I want to start to talk about hierarchies of values for them.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
Architecture is the line between the exterior and the interior. We want to blend those two spaces to create something memorable from an experiential perspective. Most people think about architecture from the postcard, from the still shots and all of that good stuff. But when you ask somebody, what do you like about a space? they talk about how spaces make them feel.
I want to bring a sense of excitement on every project. I hope to build an environment where everybody on the team feels like, I can’t believe I get to do this. I want people to come to work each day feeling like they don’t want to miss out.
You’ve also done a lot of work with governments.
Cities in general are becoming smarter about the potential for P3s and new ways of developing assets. They’re hiring the right types of people and understanding that the biggest chip they have in shaping neighborhoods and communities is their ownership of the land. They have become wise to the level of power they have and they’re not just looking for the quick money grab. They’re looking to be an invested player in that space.
What did you like about LPA?
In our initial conversations, a rapport was built that’s not something you often come across. To succeed in this work, you need a lot of people who actually want to work together. You have to have people who want to go out and engage with clients and communities. That spirit seemed to be consistent across many of the people that I spoke to at LPA.
What do you feel like your contribution to LPA is going to be?
I want to bring a sense of excitement on every project. I hope to build an environment where everybody on the team feels like, I can’t believe I get to do this. I want people to come to work each day feeling like they don’t want to miss out. It’s that feeling of working with people you like and respect to create something you really believe in.
I want our clients to say, “I love working with LPA. Their designs are so cool and they are fun to work with.” That level of energy and fervor is what I see happening here.