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Oct 22, 2015

Jeffrey R. Zynda

Jeff Zynda headshot landscape

Name: Jeffrey R. Zynda
Job title and company: Principal and academic science practice leader, Perkins+Will
Degree(s): BArch, Syracuse University

What are you working on now?

Currently I'm working on two particularly interesting projects. The first is the University of Kansas Central District—Integrated Science Building. This is a 250K-sf convergent science building which is exploring a blended teaching and research lab facility, bringing students and researchers together in a forward-looking model, something not many institutions are doing. We are engaged in a public-private partnership (P3) in a design/build relationship with a developer. We are seeing increasing interest in P3s among academic institutions. The second project is a diagnostic lab for the University of Maine—Cooperative Extension. This laboratory is focused on identification and analysis of animal, plant, and insect pathogens that impact the agricultural community of northern Maine. It will be the first biosafety level three–capable facility in Maine and be a key resource for the state. I’m excited to bring these projects to reality as they will both have significant impact providing resources, capabilities, and technologies not currently available to the research communities in which they exist.

How do you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

My mother is brilliant, so she has a pretty accurate picture of what I do without my explanation; however, I would summarize my professional life as: I translate the needs of my clients into the built form, but not for what they do now; rather, for what they will do in the future, with the goal of elevating the space they work in from adequate to inspiring.

What inspired you today?

Today I was inspired by a discussion that I had with the dean of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture, Michael Speaks. He was expressing his passion for Formula One (F1) racing, which at first surprised me. When I probed a little further, he explained that an F1 race car is not only a high-performance machine but also a high-performance data-gathering device that collects information on just about every aspect of its existence through telemetry in real time for analysis and adjustment. He was explaining how the same real-time data-collection technology from F1 has been applied to healthcare in the UK, improving the level of care and the patient experience. It’s cross-disciplinary application of technologies and novel ideas, which, for conventional purposes, have nothing to do with one another, being applied to architecture, I found truly inspirational. If we can get high-performance building technology to analyze, adapt, and respond to environmental and occupant needs as effectively as F1 cars have, we will have architecturally reached another level in true sustainability. I’m inspired to find “what’s next."

University of Kansas Integrated Science Building, view form the Jayhawk trail.

What architectural buzzword would you kill?

It might have to be “celebrate.” We “celebrate” the entry, the material, the landscape, etc. For as much celebration as is done in design, I would think the profession would be happier as a whole.

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?

Constantly; it is the essence of the design process. Ideas, good and bad, help shape a successful design. The more perspectives one synthesizes into design, the more intellectually vetted that design becomes, ultimately leading to better architecture.

What are you reading?

Two books that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to one another. First, I’m reading Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris. I’ve become very interested [in Theodore] Roosevelt after taking a trip up the Amazon River and reading The River of Doubt [by Candice Millard], an account of President Roosevelt’s journey up a previously uncharted river in Amazonia and its nearly tragic end. The other book I’m reading is Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My nine-year-old son is obsessed with this series of books, and he asked me to read it. Honestly, it’s one of the first fiction books I’ve read in a while, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?

By hand. Is there really a way to sketch digitally? But, seriously, I just haven’t found a technology that allows me to accurately capture the “feel” of a hand sketch and communicate an idea as simply, quickly, and clearly. I hold out hope for the future.

University of Kansas ISB view of the student commons space outside of teaching laboratories.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

Most certainly! Upon leaving architecture school, I believed that my career would be full of projects similar to the world as I knew it: libraries, residential homes, student centers, and so on. Early in my career, I followed that path briefly, when I started off working on “cultural intervention” projects for a very small studio in Italy, where I thought I would spend the remainder of my career. The studio’s design philosophy was essentially Modernist “interventions” within historic structures. Well, after a couple of years, these things called student loans came due. When I returned to the US, I joined a firm that focused on science and healthcare buildings. There, I found my architectural “self” in designing buildings for science. I had the opportunity to work on my first research facility at the University of Illinois, Chicago. I found that research buildings provide not only the opportunity for a demanding architectural challenge, but the outcomes from research coming from the laboratories I have designed have a far- reaching impact on society. From that project on, I became addicted to the myriad challenges that are part of designing for science. Years ago, I never would have imagined that I would spend my career designing technically demanding research and educational buildings, but now I can’t imagine designing anything other than buildings for science.

Where is the field of architecture headed?

A very interesting question. I believe that in the most general sense, the field is headed toward a role of maestro rather than composer. While the singular author concept will always have its place in architecture, team-based design, and now integrated team design, has supplanted its predominance. The profession is making strides forward to redefine itself after decades of abdication of responsibilities to other professionals: construction managers, program managers, specialist consultants, and so on. This is a very good thing. When architects come to the realization that we aren’t building buildings but rather are knowledge managers of a complex set of instructions and stewards of ideas, orchestrating the complexities of design, we will re-establish our position as trusted advisors to our clients.

Can design save the world?

I do believe that design for science can save the world. Discovery as an outcome of research is fundamental to the advancement of human society, and each and every one of my projects contributes to this idea. On the pragmatic side, when buildings consume approximately 40 percent of all energy carbon and are responsible for and equal the percentage of carbon emissions globally, in both construction and operation, high-performance buildings present a significant opportunity for design to “save the world.”

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

As someone who primarily designs laboratories, I hope that in some small way, the work that I do contributes to discovery and, in turn, the advancement of societal goals. I had a moment a number of years ago, when I “got it.” I was watching 60 Minutes and noted to my wife that I worked with the researcher being interviewed. He was explaining his research and how it led to advancements in tissue regeneration and its applicability to wounded warfighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He was being interviewed in the laboratory that I had designed for his research program. It was a very powerful moment for me personally, which solidified my view that architecture for science really does matter.

University of Maine, Cooperative Extension: Animal, Plant and Insect Control Lab. Estimated project completion – December 2016.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

When I was younger, my father told me, “If someone has to tell you how long they’ve been doing something, they probably aren’t very good at it; your actions or work should speak for itself.” While over the years, there have been many people and circumstances that have contributed to my success thus far, I’ve always returned to that idea as a foundational element.

Your least favorite college class?

My least favorite college class was Structures. I found it tremendously difficult to try and comprehend while operating on four or five hours of sleep. It took me a very long time to grasp; [it was] one of my most academically frustrating experiences.

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?

Find balance; don’t forget that life is a pretty fun place [so] don’t let it pass you by.

Your favorite Boston-area structure?

My favorite Boston-area structure is the Carpenter Center by Le Corbusier at Harvard. It is an artful balance between formalism and technological advancement in support of a powerful design idea.

Whom would you like the BSA to interview next?

I would like the BSA to interview Vince Pan AIA from Analogue Studio. He’s a former colleague of mine and a phenomenally interesting architect.

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?

Yes, you, too, can change the world. Just invest $100,000 in architecture school, and you’ll be well on your way to fame, fortune, and glory!

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Complacency Kills—Keep It Fresh.