Season 2:

Episode 46

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Today, I’m chatting with another next-gen architectural designer at Michael Graves Architecture and Design, Jack Whalen. We discuss his time as a mentee in the ACE Mentor Program, how his work at dRemodeling in Philadelphia helped prepare him for his role at Michael Graves, and his vision for sustainable architecture.

Jack also shares the spectrum of what his days look like and what he enjoys most about working at Michael Graves. He says that one day he might be working on a project locally in Princeton or New York City, and the next he’s on a call with clients in Egypt or Qatar. One of the things that excite him most about Michael Graves is that he can make an impact on sustainability efforts and be on the cutting edge of new technology in the field.

We discuss possible solutions for making sustainable architecture more readily available and affordable. We also talk about the possibility of phasing sustainable practices into architectural code to update the industry standards and the responsibility that we have in the global north to slow carbon emissions. Listen in to hear more about Jack’s journey to becoming an architectural designer and his innovative ideas for making sustainability more mainstream.

About Jack Whalen

Jack Whalen is an architectural designer at Michael Graves Architecture and Design. He joined the firm in 2021 after completing his Bachelor of Architecture degree at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. As a student, he ran his own business doing architectural visualizations, and also made models for dRemodeling and Designblendz in Philadelphia. Outside of designing, he worked for the ACE Mentor Program.

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, and Princeton, New Jersey. Check out this amazing space for yourself at the Michael Graves, architecture and design YouTube channel.

Now let’s build. Today on this special episode, our guest is Jack Whalen. Jack is an architectural designer at Michael Graves, architecture and design. He joined the firm in 2021 after completing his bachelor of architecture degree at Thomas Jefferson university in Philadelphia. As a student, he ran his own business doing architectural visualizations and also made models for.

D remodeling and design blends in Philadelphia, besides the design Burke, he worked for the ACE mentor program. Thank you so much for being here with us. Check. Happy to be here. Absolutely. Yeah. So let’s get started. What was your path to working at Michael Graves architecture?

[00:02:23] Jack Whalen: So my path was more atypical to that of, I guess, typical architecture students.

One thing I really tried to do when starting my career going from high school to college from college to the professional field was being as open-minded as possible to the experiences that I would take on. So some of the experiences that I took on such as the ACE mentoring program or D remodeling, weren’t actually typically.

Architectural internship positions. They allowed me to grow skills that you wouldn’t per se always take on, uh, right away as a typical architectural designer. So with the ACE mentor program, I actually did a lot of admin functions with them and ran a lot of finances for them. Coordinated. Donors and sponsors.

And it really allowed me early on to really grow my connections and talk to a lot of industry leaders that I really wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to contact, especially working for the president of the ACE mentor program. And then similarly with fewer modeling as well. Um, that was a high-end interior design firm.

So not only for the modeling I was doing for them, I was also doing a lot of graphic design and promotion for them and estimate. As well for some of their projects. So early on, I was getting a lot of these different facets of the industry that, you know, I might not be working in every day as an architectural designer, but it was really helping me build a grounding foundation.

For transitioning into my position that I’m at now as an architectural designer. Um, one of my biggest things that I found helpful with some of those other, you know, career paths that I did have a traditional architectural, uh, internship is really seeing what the other facets of the industry do. Cause I think the more you can understand that the better you can coordinate with people in class.


[00:04:19] Atif Qadir: I think that’s a, that’s an excellently interesting path. And I think I can say this from having met so many architects and perhaps even different developers that don’t know that much about finance and actually the, the money behind things. And I think whether it’s a firm like yours, Michael Graves, Or a firm like mine, Redis, or, and those of any of our guests, if you don’t understand the money that is happening behind the scenes, you’re setting your firm up for failure.

So I think that that is a terrific path that you were able to carve for yourself and that you were able to recognize has value, uh, regardless of what role that you take within a design firm. Definitely. So that said, tell me what your day-to-day looks like.

[00:05:07] Jack Whalen: So the day-to-day, that’s not, you know, a typical question that could be.

Straight, but that’s, that’s something I love about the job, actually, because it can, it can vary so much in what I’m doing. One of the fun things with being an architectural designer is just, I mean, there’s so much to learn, but with that, there’s so many opportunities of different stuff you get to do. So, you know, I could write.

Out on site surveying, taking 3d scans with some of our really high tech equipment. You know, I could be working on high-end renderings for any one of one of our projects. Um, I’ve done a lot of, you know, with my graphic design experience, I’ve done a lot of custom material modeling and whatnot. We have a bunch of other fun projects we do outside of the firm.

When I started, we had a summer charrette we did for a Jewish school. Competition. We got to design this like structure and we actually got to build it and construct it. But I also get a lot of the important tasks that a typical architectural designer would get such as construction administration, um, and working on submittals.

And RFAs some of the more concrete stuff to building your knowledge base up, to work yourself towards an architect and preparing for your exams. So. As I said, you know, it really changes on a day-to-day basis. I could be working on something that, you know, is local to Princeton one day and then, you know, we can have another pot project pop up.

That’s in new Yorker, I mean, around the world. Um, and I could hop on that. So it’s, it’s honestly really exciting because it really, you know, things change up. It’s fast paced, but if you like that sort of thing, I like it. Cause it, it doesn’t get old. So

[00:06:45] Atif Qadir: I wonder though that the funny question. Who does it like sort of thing, right.

To get interesting, uh, things that change every single day, if there are people like that, I don’t want to be friends with them. So that’s for sure. I would say what I particularly like about your farm is exactly what you described is the range of projects to those. There are many that you do in the New York and New Jersey area, but you’re also doing projects, uh, for example, in color right now and in Egypt.

And I think that that allows those same. Well trained skills of observation and understanding and working together towards a brilliant, beautiful end result to be applied in different

[00:07:26] Jack Whalen: contexts. Most definitely. Yeah. It’s I mean, it’s quite an opportunity. I just, from, you know, for, for the viewers out there, you know, Considering their future professional opportunities, especially coming out of school, you know, working at Michael Graves.

That was something that was great for me. I didn’t see that anywhere else in terms of just the amount of opportunities to work on all these different projects, it’s not something a lot of firms do. So it’s definitely something unique about Michael Graves that I really.

[00:07:56] Atif Qadir: Perfect. And since you do qualify for being in your early twenties, since they’re less than 25, what do you hope to accomplish?

That’s this long arc of a career that you have in front of you? What is. So

[00:08:10] Jack Whalen: for me, you know, there’s a couple things, one, you know, in the long run as a main goal, leave the world better off than I found it. But there’s, you know, there’s a couple of ways I want to do that. One of the biggest for me would be through sustainable.

So that’s something that I care deeply about and one to get better specialized in throughout my career. I’m more focused about, you know, creating that foundation. Like I talked about originally right now, but one of my biggest things would want sustainability to become more readily available and affordable, especially.

You know, to affordable housing and whatnot, you know, right now, especially with a lot of high-end design and whatnot, you know, it’s, it’s something that is often considered, but it’s not always something that is, is mainstream. And until we can get it to that point, you know, it’s, it’s really hard to implement sustainability across the board.

So if I can have any kind of positive impact. On that movement and acceleration, then I would, you know, I would love to become a part of that as a designer. Um, I feel responsible, especially a part of my generation to make an impact sustainably. And then another thing, because it’s been so beneficial for me early on, um, I, I didn’t mention it with working for the president of the ACE mentor program, but I was actually in the ACE mentorship program in high school.

Um, and for those of you that don’t know what the ACE mentorship program. It is a high school program that gives high school students early on experienced to coordinate with architects, engineers, and specialists in the construction industry to work on, you know, a simulation of some form of project. So you can get an idea of, you know, whether what career path would be right for you, whether that is something in MEP field or actually, um, and it’s a really great early on experience that you would not normally get and also a great way to start building your connections.

But, um, once. It really taught me was how powerful mentorship could be and not just in my professional field, but just in my, in my personal life. So having that kind of person for me meant so much, especially transitioning from college to the professional field. I had a, a friend who was a mechanical engineer who made a world of a difference in how I evaluate myself and grow professionally.

So in terms of my career goals, I would love to be. For someone else, because I know how much that meant for me. And you know, that can happen in different stages. You know, I’m qualified to do that for, you know, a college student now, but as I grow, I would love to do that for, you know, architectural designers coming into the field and people moving their way up the industry.

Cause it’s something I greatly enjoy it. So. I think that’s

[00:10:50] Atif Qadir: a terrific example, terrific organization that you mentioned. I had the opportunity to be a mentor for, uh, AC New York when I worked at Turner construction. And I actually am, I’m definitely friends with a number of my colleagues that were, uh, mentors, and they are at least four of them that will be appearing on the podcast towards the end of the season, and then to season three.

So. 10 15 years ago. So I think that shows how much fun folks have in the program as well. And I think I want to touch on what you mentioned before mentorship, which was sustainability. So I think that there are positives to how ubiquitous the terms like green building and sustainability. There also is a certain cynical perspective that perhaps a lot of it is talk and not necessarily action, which tends to be the way that generations like mine and older ones operate versus I think your generation tends to be a lot more sincere.

So if you had the opportunity to do something in particular to advance sustainability faster and actually make it a bigger game changer than it is. What would you recommend that our industry does or an improvement that we could do to make, makes us inability happen and be taken up

[00:12:15] Jack Whalen: faster? Well, I mean, at the end of the day, you know, sustainability right now, at least legally is optional.

So I think implementing, you know, phasing in sustainability into, you know, architectural code in the long run would be the game plan in terms of. Optional. This is essential in order for our buildings to operate functionally. Otherwise, you know, we’re going to have these, you know, other issues, uh, another big thing, um, just from, you know, the, the precedents I’ve studied and whatnot is really getting stuff like embody.

Carbon carbon sequestering structures implemented more into the mainstream. I think we tend to rely on older building methods a lot more often than we should. Um, Become increasingly outdated, especially with certain developments. But I think if, especially if you know, America invest in that kind of education for creating, you know, timber frame, sequestering, carbon structures, Just for an example, having that knowledge is going to allow for a lot more development of those structures, as well as having those resources available.

You know, for example, from speaking to a few firms down in Florida, that I was considering post-grad, they were very interested in doing a lot of timber frame construction because of the sustainable benefits, but the closest vendor was in, I think, Alabama or something like that. So the difficulty of them getting that material.

That actually increased the embodied carbon of those projects, um, because of all the transportation required. So it actually made it less sustainable. So, you know, investing in making these resources more available as well is just as important as having the knowledge base to create these more sustainable structures.

On top of putting into code or, you know, inventing new devices. Um, but I would say the most fast track way at the moment is to, you know, start meeting those 20, 30 goals, 20, 35 goals and make it less optional because I, you know, at least for my generation, I don’t think it will be. I think it will define us.


[00:14:35] Atif Qadir: I think you’re absolutely right. And when you were talking, it reminded me of a fantastic article recently in New York mag. Cause I can’t handle mainstream. I can use, I can only get my news through New York magazine and I typically read it like two months late. So. Nervous when I read these things, I’m like, oh yeah, that happened like two months ago.

So I can’t commit, not that I couldn’t do anything about it anyway. That’s how I consume. So I’m about two months behind on New York magazine. Just, it is. Yeah. And I just read one, it’s called the guilty and the dam is the name of the article. And they’re talking specifically about what you’re talking about, which is carbon emissions, where they come from.

Who is responsible for them and who is suffering and what, in particular I read in this, there are many amazing things, but one in particular, 60% of all historical carbon emissions were produced in the lifetime of me. So the average average American is age 38 or 39. Right? So 60% of all historical carbon emissions are produced in my lifetime that I think really.

Really brings to mind is how much of a hockey stick we’re talking about in terms of what we’re doing. And because of that acceleration how quickly we need to change because of the moment of a badness that we’ve, we’ve set ourselves up with already. And there, the article really goes on to something really provocative, which.

Perhaps something that you’ve touched on, but it’s this idea of who is producing these emissions and who are the ones suffering. And if there’s a lot of complications to that, but I think when you take the broader perspective beyond the United States, it’s generally speaking, the global north is producing all the carbon and the global south is the one that is suffering from all of it.

Right. And I think the, the more and more. The in many ways, I think the United States and its policies lead in terms of example, uh, in both good and bad. And I think if, for example, the AIA is able to codify and push for these types of regulations that you’re talking about to be more present throughout the IBC and local codes, um, throughout the United States, maybe that sets an example for Canada, for Mexico, for other countries that can then say they did it.

So why don’t we do it?

[00:16:57] Jack Whalen: Right. Yeah. I mean, I totally agree. I

[00:17:01] Atif Qadir: think there’s a lot of stuff to do and sometimes it’s, it’s hard to find a direction amongst all of it, but I really like what you, what do you describe the overall is. Focusing on the poor skills that you need, and then not losing sight of the bigger picture of what it is that you want to accomplish.

So, uh, thank you so much for joining us today on this special episode of the American building podcast, Jack, of course.

[00:17:25] Jack Whalen: Thank you so much for.

[00:17:27] Atif Qadir: Of course, I think you, uh, and 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 anchor, Stitcher, or wherever you like to listen, rate and review us on iTunes and help us reach a wider audience by following us on Instagram at American.

Podcast. My name is author there, and this has been American building.

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