Jon Penndorf and I emailed recently about his thoughts on architecture, leadership, and designing for change.

When he’s not solving design problems for clients, you can find him mentoring young architects, teaching, writing, and serving in leadership roles with the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

Jon is currently an Architect and Sustainability Leader at the DC office of Perkins+Will; Mid-Atlantic Regional Representative on the Strategic Council of the AIA; and an Advisor to the AIA’s Committee on the Environment.

What drives you in this business?

My hope and goal is to create healthy and exciting spaces people want to be in. We spend so much of our lives indoors (and at work). Spaces should encourage creativity, positive thinking, productivity, and comfort.

I’m also driven by client satisfaction. Seeing someone move into their space with excitement because it’s exactly what they needed or wanted, and having a part in shaping that vision and physical space, are tremendous motivators.

As a project manager, I strive to put together a solid project design process, involving the right people and skill sets, balancing design and code requirement, schedule and budget, and making sure all involved on my firm’s side of the table have a positive project experience as well.

The generations in the workforce now that are younger than me need to create the solid design foundation I had when I first graduated, so I find motivation in mentoring through our project work.

What is your greatest challenge?

Design is about creating beautiful and engaging spaces people want to be in, but the design process is just as much about communication. We as designers communicate graphically, but need to be adept at getting our ideas across verbally and in writing as well.

As a main point of contact for my clients, I communicate with them differently than I do my design team. There’s such variety in how to communicate with a client too, since not everyone has the same comfort level reading drawings or visualizing a space in three dimensions. Communication, therefore, to me is a constant challenge in its variations and application.

I taught a lecture class at my alma mater for a few years, and continue to teach architecture registration exam prep courses for local AIA chapters. I’ve written for a neighborhood blog, and authored research papers for my firm.

These experiences have helped me hone verbal and written communication and presentation skills in addition to the graphical communication I do on a daily basis at work.

How do you cope with the unknown?

The unknown isn’t really completely unknown. When faced with a challenge I try to map out potential scenarios for solutions and how the situation can play out. I don’t try to make this exhaustive – you can drive yourself crazy trying to nail down every permutation.

I may not always hit the nail on the head when it comes to playing out a challenge, but I know better what my actions and reactions might be in similar situations.

One of my focus areas at the office is on resilience and designing for climate adaptation. It’s actually a brilliant example of coping with the unknown. We cannot predict when a natural disaster will happen, but we can design a building or a space to protect occupants and we can predict how a building might respond to the aspects of the event.

We scenario plan for the unknown as best we can without turning a structure into a fortress, creating not just a space for function and engagement, but also a place of safety and security, which in the long run may contribute to better physical and mental health of those inside.


Thanks for taking the time to talk, Jon, and I look forward to catching up with you again soon!

For my readers, if you have an interest in participating in a Q&A to tell your story, reach out to me on Twitter @scottjancy.

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