Season 2:

Episode 43

March 15, 2022

#43: A Day in the Life of an Architect with Austin Crowley of Michael Graves Architecture & Design

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Today, I’m joined by Austin Crowley, a design architect at Michael Graves Architecture & Design. We’re giving listeners a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to build your career at such an iconic firm and share our advice for listeners who are looking to break out into the field.

Austin joined Michael Graves Architecture & Design in 2016 after finishing his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. From a young age, he was always interested in drawing, nature and music, and was encouraged to channel that into architecture.

On today’s episode, he shares what drew him to working at Michael Graves Architecture & Design and gives us a peek into what his daily life is like at the office. We also discuss his career aspirations, Michael Graves’ legacy and what the future of architecture looks like.

Topics Covered:

  • Austin’s career path so far

  • What Austin loves about architecture

  • How he knew that Michael Graves Architecture & Design was the right fit for him

  • What Austin hopes to accomplish in the career that he has ahead of him

  • My advice for younger architects, real estate developers and investors

What goes into making an iconic building in America? What are the stories and who are the people behind the next generation of architecture? If your work touches the real estate industry in any way, or you’re just curious about what goes into one of a kind cities and towns all across our country, join us on the American Building Podcast.

In season two, we learned about everything from skyscrapers to single-family homes from the famous and soon-to-be-famous designers and developers responsible. This season focuses particularly on the pandemic and how our buildings will change in response. Our sponsor is the iconic design firm, Michael Graves Architecture and Design. And now, your host award-winning architect-turned-entrepreneur, Atif Qadir, AIA.

[00:01:09] Atif Qadir: This is American Building, and I’m your host, Atif Qadir. I’m the CEO of REDIST, a technology company focused on innovative public financing for real estate projects. We are recording from the historic home of world renowned architect, Michael Graves, in Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves Architecture and Design YouTube channel. Now, let’s build something.

Today on this special episode, our guest is Austin Crowley. Austin is a design architect at Michael Graves, architecture and design. He joined the firm in 2016 after finishing his bachelor of architecture degree at the New Jersey Institute of technology in Newark. He entered at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and present architecture in New York.

Interestingly, he has also worked as a construction. He has a licensed architect having completed the process last year. Thank you so much for being here with us, Austin.

[00:02:13] Austin Crowley: Well, first of all, thank you. I TIFF it really means a lot to be a part of this podcast. Having listened to a lot of the episodes that have come out so far, it’s, it’s really exciting for the whole industry and the profession.

And, uh, I’m excited to contribute.

[00:02:28] Atif Qadir: Thank you so much. So Austin, tell us what was your path to working at this amazing firm? Michael Graves, architecture and design. Great

[00:02:36] Austin Crowley: question. So starting from the very beginning, you know, I never really knew what I wanted to do in life, but I did know that it would eventually be something that was creative.

I found an amazing amount of inspiration. From music from nature, from drawing, even when I was very young, but I never really knew what exactly it would translate to. And so after high school, I, I dove into architecture school at NJT, and I was fortunate enough to have really fantastic professors who pushed the way that we.

Really creatively really freely. And I was really able to apply this inspiration into conceptual design. So it was funny. I really just kind of fell in love with architecture, not really knowing what I was getting into out of high school. It just kind of aligned and really worked out perfectly for me. So in the later years of school, I really started becoming obsessed with, with architecture and not singularly as a college major per se, but really as a way of.

I found myself entering into many design competitions, anything I could really get my hands on, even if it meant doing competitions in my off hours from, from studio and from internships, but I was hooked. And what I really loved is that every project, no matter the scale, no matter the location really had its own set of challenges and variables.

And through that, I was kind of able to apply my creativity to every different project in such a new way. So that was through school. And then once I came close to graduating upon many applications and, and looking around at different firms, I was fortunate enough to get a very unique opportunity that really caught my interest.

And that was interviewing here at Michael Graves. At the time of my interview, Michael had passed away about a year before I had interviewed here. So unfortunately I was never able to meet him, but during my interview, one of the partners spoke about how the firm was really in search of their future. And that stuck with me and still sticks with me to this day.

You know, there were many other firms that I interviewed at and applied. You know, knowing that I could come in here and really explore what the future of the firm was was, was super fascinating to me and making this a little more widespread. It was really, you know, trying to think of who they were from an aesthetic standpoint, uh, from a culture standpoint and even from a brand standpoint.

So it was a lot more than coming here to do architecture. It was kind of this multi-disciplined, you know, family here that I could come into and, and really explore and work towards what the future was. So again, being a part of this kind of identity rebranding effort was something that totally drew me in here.

[00:05:18] Atif Qadir: And I think that really liked what you were, you were talking about towards the end of your answer about affirm in search of its future. And I think at the, uh, now towards the end of season two, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to almost 40. Really amazing practitioners in our field, either as designers or developers.

And I think the common thread amongst all these very different people and they’re very different work that they do is this idea of reinventing themselves every day and making sure that what they are producing and what they’re working on is reflective of. The conditions and the clients at that time.

And I think that too often, what our industry has celebrated are these ideas of a singular senses of genius that come down from heaven and are independent of the time or the context in which they’re in. And I think that model is dead. So I like the model that you described much better. So tell me, so you’re Michael Graves.

What does a day-to-day look like for you?

[00:06:22] Austin Crowley: So again, coming here and being a part of this kind of working on the rebranding, working on who we actually are today has been a lot of my day to day since being here, I am very heavily involved with a lot of the conceptual design, a lot of, kind of the early storytelling that leads us to, you know, the later phases of a project.

Then essentially making everything run smoothly all the way to completion. But what I try to do day-to-day here in addition to the architecture work and design work that we get to do. Remember that we have to go back to these principles of Micheal. It’s very easy to sit here and design projects that look far in, or are matching contemporary needs that you see from around the world.

But I think what’s critical about our firm and what’s very unique about our firm is we have this really elaborate legacy of work from Michael. Which we try to take these principles. We try to take his, his use of light, his use of forms and apply that to architecture. That aesthetically looks a little bit different today.

And again, going back to your point, it’s due to, you know, the world is constantly evolving and changing, right? And I think as designers, no matter what you’re doing, Uh, in the world of design, you really need to adapt and evolve to meet those needs, right. For, for what people need and what people want today.

But we always make sure that we’re bridging that with this amazing legacy and this use of innovation and storytelling that Michael was always really wonderful at.

[00:07:50] Atif Qadir: I think that’s a really, really great way of answering that question in a. Uh, motivational way as opposed to a vocational way, because I think maybe a too easy of an answer would be, so I wake up at nine o’clock, eight, o’clock go to the office, draw stuff and go home.

But I think that that would be selling your role, uh, very short, but just so people that are perhaps looking to get into a position like yours do give us a frame of reference of what does like say perhaps a morning and afternoon and early evening. Look like what are the things that you’re doing?

[00:08:27] Austin Crowley: Sure.

So, uh, one thing about our firm, which is another reason that it drew me into to work here is we’re smaller. But as working here, you get to wear many hats, which I find really interesting. So what I’ll do first thing in the morning, I’ll come in. Usually we do a brainstorm session right away when we come in, there’s always multiple projects going on, but we’ll sit around a table, bring out some trace and say, you know, all right.

You know, this project hasn’t started yet. It hasn’t totally kicked off, but how do we, how do we brainstorm the brainstorming session? Right? How do we, even before we get there and talk to the client, how do we come up with a story that puts the conversation in the right direction? So my, my mornings are usually consisting of that, but again, we have other projects that are in CDs and CA right now.

So usually I’ll hop in and do some submittals in some CA in the afternoon. But I would say 90% of my time is, is really working on these concepts and these stories and being a part of that really initial phase and the projects that gets the clients excited about something and really, you know, allows them to, to join in on the conversation and make it collaborative.

[00:09:35] Atif Qadir: So it sounds like there are. Many people involved different perspectives in order to progress a project from one stage to the next.

[00:09:47] Austin Crowley: Oh, absolutely. And you know, the other voices that come into the projects and the shareholders, the even neighbors of the community who are interested, that makes architecture so exciting.

And I know it does to our team here too. It’s, it’s trying to echo the voices of, of making a project. That’s not egotistical, right? Not something that’s in our mind and put down in built, but something that’s collaborative and, uh, it means a lot to the community.

[00:10:16] Atif Qadir: So in the context of what you’ve said, this idea of envisioning and changing what your firm is, and as a relatively young person, you’re in your early to mid 20.

[00:10:29] Austin Crowley: Mid to end 27, 28,

[00:10:33] Atif Qadir: mid twenties goes all the way to 29. So relatively young in a career, but you have a powerful hand in a relatively small firm size. And you have a really interesting day to day in the context of, of all those opportunities, all those things that you’re doing looking forward, not just for branding your firm, but branding you, like, what do you want to accomplish in the career that you have

[00:11:00] Austin Crowley: ahead of you?

It’s funny because, I mean, I feel like when you graduate college and I know from talking to a lot of my colleagues, we, we know where we want to get to, right. At some point, and then you start off as a professional. And so many paths are there for you specifically in architecture, there’s really the technical path.

There’s the project management path. And then there’s that design path. I always kind of aligned very well with that design path. It was always, you know, echoing my interests for my whole life and, and what I’m really passionate about. But I do hope to continue on that role, hopefully to continue as a design leader, you know, in the world and, and continue that conversation.

But. Right now, my real passion is specific to this firm and really trying to continue down that path of echoing Michael’s Michael’s storytelling and innovation and tying it with new things that we’re seeing, right. Lead and well are things that are meeting the needs of people today. But, you know, how does our brand tie into that?

So, You know, continuing along that path again, it’s exciting. And I have a great team here to work with, and that supports me. So

[00:12:11] Atif Qadir: I love your answer. And I think that what is sometimes lost for folks that are their beginning of their career is how much time they do have. And I think that what I really encourage younger architects and younger, um, real estate developers or investors to do is take the time.

Slow down, observe, ask and learn because when you get into your thirties to your forties, like, so for example, I’m 39. And at this point, my role is to produce in terms of clients and investors for my business for free. And it’s meant to make sure that the or my primary role is to make sure the company doesn’t go off the rails.

Uh, so in order to do that, I need to have learned and observed so much in the 15 years before that things become obvious to me. When I look at them within like 10 seconds. And I think oftentimes if someone’s eye is. Too far towards the future and not looking at what they’re doing right now. You won’t give yourself the benefit of taking an, all that information that allows you to then become a really, really good competent decision maker when you’re in a leadership role.

[00:13:25] Austin Crowley: I really couldn’t agree with that more. And I try to be a mentor here now. There’s there’s people here who were younger and. Taking those first few years and just kind of be a sponge, right. Just kind of listen to how people interact with certain situations, you know, interact with some of the more difficult clients.

You can really learn a lot from just kind of absorbing that in your first few years. And then what I found personally is, you know, I sat there and I listened to the mentors that I thought would be really great to work with. And that’s kind of the path that I aligned myself. So I, I, again, I’m super passionate about it and I really look forward to the future.

[00:14:02] Atif Qadir: Terrific. So, thanks so much for joining us today on this special episode of the American building podcast.

[00:14:10] Austin Crowley: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure. My

[00:14:13] Atif Qadir: pleasure listeners. If you want to hear the behind the scenes stories of how I conic buildings in our country were designed and built.

Subscribe to this podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google anchors, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen, uh, rate and review us on iTunes to help us reach a wider audience. And please follow us on Instagram at American Building Podcast. My name is Atif Qadir, and this has been American Building.

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