By Mark Wight, Wight & Company
September 1, 2020
Architects, engineers and builders are some of the best people to work with. They constantly aspire to leave a legacy with everything they do, are highly motivated, and bring a creative drive to every project. So needless to say, I get to work with some of the best minds in the world at Wight & Company.
Our mission is simple. We come to work each day to experience the joy and honor of partnering with our clients to create meaningful impact. Our responsibility to our clients is to do more than reflect who they are today; it is to enlighten and to design for them the potential of who they can be, to guide design thinking in advance about next-generation issues.
As pioneers of Design Led-Design Build, our mission is achieved by having one team at one company working together to drive quality and value from the beginning of the project until the end. This integrated, multidisciplinary model of project delivery connects architects to the cost implications of their design decisions, and centers the collaborative process as the key to discovering the most creative and responsible solutions.
A couple months ago a small group of young, talented professionals at Wight & Company took the initiative to work together to advance the quality of thinking that our firm has to offer and, as a result, raise our profile to recruit new talent and win more work.
This group came together to craft a set of principles that our work across all disciplines and across all markets can align with. These design principles, or convictions, are really more attitudinal in nature than strict guidelines. They are meant to be inspiring, and cultivate ongoing discussion, yet not be so prescriptive as to narrow the kind of solutions we can provide to our clients.
Design Principle #1: Have a vision.
It may seem obvious that we have a vision before we begin designing or building, yet this principle often gets lost in the shuffle when we’re involved with other projects and trying to meet deadlines. As we think about the principles behind our most successful work, it’s those projects that weren’t necessarily rooted in a program, but those that were rooted in an idea or a vision.
Many times that vision comes from our ability to connect to larger issues. That’s what sets our work at Wight & Company apart from others. We’re not just architects, engineers and builders, we’re thought leaders in our field. And our ability to connect to larger issues is probably more relevant today than it’s ever been.
There are plenty of examples. Just think about our work on schools, for example. We understand a school is more than just a school building, it’s a part of a larger conversation about how we prepare our young generation for living in the global society of today’s world.
Building a new courthouse, on another hand, is part of a much longer history of courthouse design and public space and the idea of authority and law. And there are key ideas to this project about transparency and open access that really makes a statement about how public life is connected to the justice system.
It’s those core ideas that drive our most successful projects. And it’s important to have these ideas upfront and make them clear and central because it allows our designs to have more intentionality, where everything down to the last detail has a reason behind it.
Ultimately what these ideas and this vision add behind our projects is that it allows us to tell great stories. We want every project to tell a great story - something that goes beyond square footage and the facts and the figures. There’s an analogy between what we do as architects and builders and storytelling. We’re always creating narratives to inform our design process. And if you think about it, great architecture, like great stories, always relate to a fundamental human condition.
Design Principle #2: Simplicity.
The second design principle is simplicity. Simplicity doesn’t mean minimalism, austerity, or stripped down architecture. We know that buildings are complicated today. Systems, curtain walls, budgets, programs - what we do is inherently very complicated. So we just want to find the simplicity in that and not introduce any undue complexity into our already-complex projects.
There is a particular beauty in the act of eliminating the unnecessary and really pushing what is absolutely necessary to tell those stories and be honest about what we’re doing. Finding that simplicity can be anything from the materiality, to the form, to the program, and taking what is very complicated and making it more simple as we go along so that they’re successful, easy to build, they perform, and they work for the client and community.
Design Principle #3: Be impactful.
The desire to be impactful is the heart of why many of us are in this industry and what drives us when we come into work. It’s not to push paper to get the job done, but it’s about the impact of the work that we produce, specifically with our mission at Wight & Company.
One major facet to consider is sustainable building and environmental impact. We have a robust sustainability group and it’s the focus of a lot of our projects. How we can sustain our environment and provide for the wellness of inhabitants is one of the main things we look to do when we’re designing a building.
Another impact of our work is that we strive to create inspiring spaces. This is interesting in a certain way because it’s really an opinion. It is an ideal that is a little hard to touch. It’s difficult to point and say if something is inspiring or not - we, like our clients, know it when we see it. And that makes striving for it a uniquely creative and fun challenge.
To have spaces that inspire people is the great impact we can have on a community - it is legacy work. And our multidisciplinary team approach means that we are well positioned to achieve inspirational success.
Inspiration, the legacy work, is important because it has the power to strengthen communities. Communities might mean a group of coworkers or students who regularly use a building. It might also mean how that building touches the landscape, how it interacts with the city or the environment it’s in, how it draws from those components and pulls them in together to create an impact. So it’s more than just telling the story, it’s acting on it. It’s not just saying it’s a vision statement but measuring and looking at how it can actually strengthen communities.
And of course we want our work to last. Obviously, we want it physically to last. But we also want the vision and the concepts we baked into it to be enduring. This also speaks to style. We want buildings to last well into the future. We don’t want them to be fads. We want them to be thoughtful and considered so future generations also will enjoy them.
Culture Trumps Strategy
We’re constantly asking ourselves if our projects are meeting these three ideals. We work to ensure that they’re in the forefront of everyone’s mind. But we also know that in order to make it intentional, we need to have a set of cultural practices that invigorate these principles internally every day.
I’ve often said “Culture Trumps Strategy, Every Time,” and that is certainly true of our team of around 200 design, engineering, and construction specialists who each come to work to create meaningful impact in the world today, and in perpetuity. We boast about our culture at Wight & Company because it is integral for the current and future success of our company.
I’d like to acknowledge the young, talented team that put together these design principles with a special shout out. Thank you to Steven Shearer, Danielle Appello, and Richard Van Zeyl, and the others involved, for the time and effort you put into crafting this set of principles that sets our company apart from any other… and as always, a big thank you to my partner and our Design Director, Kevin Havens.
Mark Wight is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Wight & Company, an award- winning architecture, engineering and construction firm that has been in business for more than 80 years. Mark earned his Bachelor of Arts from Reed College and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. While Mark was never formally trained in architecture, engineering or construction, he has been a determined student of the industry for more than 30 years.
Under Mark’s leadership, Wight & Company disrupted the industry more than two decades ago by pioneering Design Led-Design Build, an integrated model of project delivery that promises design and delivery excellence at unrivaled schedule and cost savings. This multidisciplinary approach connects architects to the cost implications of their design decisions and centers the collaborative process as the key to discovering the most creative and responsible solutions.