March 3, 2022
Looking back more than 50 years, Blaine Weber recalls the defining moments of his career
By SAM BENNETT
Blaine Weber founded the Seattle architecture firm Weber Thompson just in time.
The year was 1987, which saw the stock market crash and a crash – albeit temporary – in the local economy and construction market.
The downturn has given Weber an important tool in his arsenal as an architect and business leader.
“Project funding in 1987 evaporated like an ice cube on hot asphalt, and many of our projects were put on hold,” Weber said. “Fortunately, we had a few contrarian and countercyclical private equity clients who relished the tough times when labor and materials were ‘on sale’. These clients helped us through what turned out to be a very difficult time for design professionals. »
Looking back on his 50-year career as he prepares to retire as senior director and co-founding partner this month, Weber said he’s grateful for the good and bad times.
Weber, along with Scott Thompson, was responsible for the company’s extensive portfolio of award-winning high-rise residential projects. Weber’s career included the design of high-rise towers, hotels, luxury condominiums and complex mixed-use projects.
Weber has led the design of several projects that adorn the Seattle and Bellevue skylines, including Nexus, Kiara, The Post, Stratus, Cirrus, Helios, Viktoria, Ascent, Premiere on Pine, Cristalla, and Fifteen Twenty-One, as well as currently under construction projects such as The Ivey, The Ayer and Avenue Bellevue.
Weber was also a strong advocate for high-density downtown living and protecting the architectural profession from a risk management perspective.
Senior Director and Partner Amanda Keating will continue Weber’s legacy by taking over as director of Weber Thompson’s skyscraper design studio.
“My primary goal has always been to arrive at great design through thoughtful exploration while searching for the right ‘fit’ or big idea, based on the client’s vision, site, context and urban fabric”, did he declare.
But big ideas can also lead to big liabilities for architects. “The cold, hard facts are that design professionals – not just architects – can face an enormous amount of magnified risk, versus limited reward,” he said. “At the end of a project there may or may not be a profit, but there will always be a cloud of 10 years of rest and statute of limitations on each project.”
To reduce liability and increase productivity and creativity, architects like Weber have learned to master new technologies over the past half century, he said. Like many of his contemporaries, Weber, who started in architecture in 1972, used the traditional Mayline drafting table for many years. The advent of computer-aided design changed that.
“The transition to Building Information Modeling through AutoCAD has certainly transformed the entire industry, but I would say Sketch-Up has been even more so as it has made it possible to visualize and model the design in 3D , on the fly, as projects progress, changing the design,” Weber said. “Our clients have loved our ability to change a design in a client meeting, right in front of their eyes. The many Sketch-Up plugins available over time, such as Enscape, have allowed us to produce very high quality in-house artwork that has helped improve our presentations and more effectively communicate design intent.
He said the transition to Revit, a more advanced 3D version of BIM, was again transformative on many levels, especially when it comes to more sophisticated parametric capabilities. Revit meant that a change to the design plan could automatically ripple through the entire modeling platform, including elevations, schedules, and dimensions.
“Another more recent technological advancement is in the world of virtual reality, using Oculus-style headsets, where we are able to give our customers a true experiential view of what their space will look and feel like in three virtual dimensions before it is built,” he added. “What does the future hold? The concept of the MetaVerse will undoubtedly bring us into a new universe of virtual design with new possibilities that we have not yet imagined.
The advent of sustainable design, particularly the LEED system, has given new impetus to the role that architects can play in reducing carbon emissions.
“From my point of view, the LEED system was a launch pad, but not the end,” he said. “Passive House and many other programs in development may bring more meaningful innovation and results as they come to fruition over the next decade. Architects can and should be at the forefront of this innovation, and I believe that our proposed Watershed commercial office building – a living construction pilot program project that filters salmon-killing pollutants from the Aurora Bridge in biofiltration swales – is an excellent ‘what if?’ example of how architects, working in tandem with visionary clients, can be great leaders in a movement vital to the survival of generations to come.
The recessions of the early 1990s, early 2000s, and 2008 helped Weber Thompson refine his methods for managing construction cycles. The Great Recession of 2008, unlike previous recessions, put a strain on many local AEC business leaders.
“Our business flourished and grew over the years, and Weber Thompson ended up with around 100 employees and five design studios until the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing Great Recession of 2008,” a- he declared. “Our lesson from these very difficult times was, again, to be lean and efficient and to diversify our design work into other areas of expertise. We’ve learned that there are always greener pastures on the other side of tough times, but it takes patience and tenacity.
Along with honing his skills as a business leader in lean times, Weber said he also takes pride in his risk management efforts.
“Over the last 30 years of my 50-year career, I have placed more emphasis on helping my business and other colleagues manage risk through best practices, applying lessons learned, promoting reasonable expectations and ensuring careful contractual language that distributes risks and rewards fairly,” he said.
Weber said he leaves his company with a legacy of developing relationships with repeat customers and working productively with general contractors.
“I’m proud,” he said, “to have helped build a company with a great culture that is committed to integrity, high ideals, diversity, mentorship and helping to save our planet from climate change with innovative projects that offer a demonstrative return on investment for our clients.