LSW President, Esther Liu once described Brent Young as “the person in everyone’s corner.”
This five-word summary perfectly captures the impact that Brent has made at LSW since rejoining the firm in 2015. As one of the most diversely skilled and experienced leaders at LSW, his role and influence cover the wide breadth of projects at the firm while his energy finds its way into almost every corner of the office as soon as he walks in.
Over the span of his career with the firm, Brent’s advocacy for sustainability and high design practices have bolstered our efforts across a diverse project portfolio. This includes the visioning and development of integrated comprehensive plans to leading some of the firm’s most cutting-edge designs to create a collection of our most ambitious projects to date.
Beyond his backstory, what makes Brent one of the most in-demand voices at both client and internal team meetings and presentations is his unwavering commitment to design excellence. As a mentor and guide, he has the full trust of teams across the firm and a passion for pushing the boundaries of design quality and vision for himself and those around him.
To get a sense for where he sees LSW and himself headed in the near and distant future, we sat down to talk about his reputation as the in-house renaissance man and his new role as a Principal.
Brent wears all hats at LSW: Principal, Architect, Interior Designer, Adjunct Professor, Creative Lead, Quality Controller, Planner, Holiday Party Troubadour. Here, he picks up a saw to join the team in constructing parklets in Downtown Vancouver.
What made you choose to pursue both architecture and interior design, as well as a host of other artistic ventures?
My father was a major influence in my life. He was an artist and looked at the world differently. He saw the form and figure of things first, no matter what the context. Something as iconic as a Coca-Cola logo was reduced to patterns and color.
I have always appreciated that about him and try to teach from the same objective vantage point. This really helped me loosen up my perspective and be less rigid. He was also the one who taught me, at a young age, to draw perspectives, vanishing points, and follow technical rules. I think that might be a part of the genesis of me being comfortable in having one foot in each camp.
Looking beyond childhood, my experiences have opened me up to new ideas, new ways of doing things and different approaches to solving problems. It has also forced me to be open-minded, which is critical in our field. No matter how dynamic or varied your skillset, recognizing other perspectives and points of view, cultures, and areas of expertise is always important. Art – and this includes the design of every designed space – should represent people, and this is never a one-person, one-skillset job.
For me, it can be difficult to distinguish where one interest stops and another starts. I see great overlap between design, construction, and architecture – and I see us all in each other’s lanes as true partners and champions of each other’s fields. Everything is connected, which is always exciting.
As designers, we have to think beyond the act of drawing a building and more into the mindset of knowing what is truly unique about a place and then being able to express it. For example, we live in a region with very rainy winters. It is our job to embrace this reality and then celebrate it in design through water management features that capture your senses: sight, sound (the tapping of rain on a roof or window), smell and touch. You can teach design, but to be a great designer you need to be artful, thoughtful, and curious.
The overlapping theme of dedicated spaces and connectedness is an important undertone that runs throughout the campus at McLoughlin Middle School and Marshall Elementary.
How does your multi-functional approach to design help you guide and lead teams on all of the projects you’re involved in?
I am used to putting myself in situations where convention doesn’t apply or there isn’t a clean-cut, obvious solution to a problem. My journey has been about learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable, without having the exact steps laid out at the start of a challenge. Being able to draw from a wide range of disciplines is very helpful in trying to find a pathway forward. This helps me to stay grounded in high-pressure situations and lead teams and client meetings from a place of confidence.
I’m also always learning to be more open to others; a core part of who I am is rooted in a passion for bringing other people and perspectives for design inspiration, debate, and consideration in ways that are open, inclusive, and engaging.
Brent Young led the design for the Masterplan of FC Mulhouse: a new football (soccer) stadium and community recreation site in Mulhouse, France. Pictured: The plaza is an elevated ground plain, concealing vehicular traffic and parking below and supporting a pedestrian friendly environment. The river walk will also be reenergized, adding features such as an amphitheater and new pedestrian connections to the stadium and restaurants, the hotel, and to the surrounding neighborhoods.
Can you speak a bit more to your experiences and how this builds your confidence when starting a new project?
I’ve been fortunate to work on a spectrum of projects, from security-intensive 250,000 square foot government buildings and campuses with large corporations to small and meaningful tenant improvement projects. Each one is its own puzzle to me. Developing a diversity of experience of the years on projects at both ends of the project spectrum has helped build my level of comfort in saying yes to things despite inherent challenges and obstacles. I have an optimistic sense that allows me to confidently empower the team to figure every problem out because of their inherent skills, ability to ask the right (sometimes hard) questions, and to stay flexible and open to find the right solution for our projects and our clients.
What keeps the work exciting for you?
Having fun is very important to me. I look at all the pieces of the work that I pour myself into and try to find and appreciate what’s inspiring and energizing about it. Design, drawing and creating is inherently fun – the conceptual, schematic, the story, concept and the kernel of the idea. It’s hard for me to consider it work.
With that said, I also love to see things made and built – the construction of projects. It’s still play, but with an understanding of how the rules work and how teams can come together to create something new where nothing existed before. It’s like a game where the rules are set up and everything you do has to fit within those parameters, and where can you push it? Are you following the rules and being consistent with them? Are you finding new and better ways to work, driving performance?
I think the other thing that makes projects truly fun is the collaboration. I really flourish in an environment where there is a lot of opinions, feedback, and energy. That’s something that truly gives me life.
The Hurley Office Tower is a 32,500 sf premium commercial condominium office occupying the triangular shaped lot located on the corner of Washington Street and West 3rd Street.
What is driving progress and excitement at LSW right now?
LSW’s legacy as a design firm that understands and pushes educational architecture to new and exciting heights is well established. After 67 years, this office is producing some of the most impressive K-12 school designs this region has ever seen. The exciting part is that we’re just getting started and the best is yet to come.
At the same time, the firm has been evolving and stretching in new directions: housing, retail, health and wellness, interior design, mixed-use housing, comprehensive master planning. Our work outside of traditional design, assisting with designed experiences for clients in retail and hospitality is also giving us new energy and opportunities. We’re building new relationships based on the strength of our work and the depth of our local knowledge. When it comes to master planning and site selection, I think that people trust that we know this region intimately and always put the greater good first.
We’re also digging deep to produce excellence with every new project and it’s wildly energizing to our teams within LSW. We’ve got plenty of talented architects on staff with decades of experience and that’s helping us develop new areas of expertise to complement education and provide community-defining spaces that breathe in energy and life.
The fresh perspectives, ideas, and energy our newer staff and emerging leaders are bringing is also hugely exciting. To design truly sustainable and equitable spaces that combine the latest technology with timeless aesthetics, we need everyone on board, giving it their all. I think that’s where we’re poised to do great things.
What are you hoping your legacy and role will be as a Principal at LSW?
Something that I aspire to – and believe that all architects should, too – is principled design. I think of this in terms of designing buildings that are in harmony with the community, context, and natural environment. For example, designing a building that generates more energy than it uses and positively contributes to the surrounding community. This is really connected to rigor and getting the full potential out of a project. It’s important for me to be able to express this to teams and help everyone access and use the resources needed to get there on a personal and professional level.
Brent continues to help guide and shape the firm's architectural and interior design processes at LSW. His input has been critical to the creation and roll-out of many key strategic initiatives, including the Sustainability Action Plan, the recently completed Design Philosophy, and many more.