“To me, success is about surrounding yourself with the right people, sharing the credit and celebrating together.” –Steev Wilson, AIA, NCARB, LEEP AP, and Founding Partner of Forum Phi in Aspen.
Though Forum Phi’s doors opened 12 years ago, Steev Wilson, AIA and his firm, Forum Phi, earned numerous accolades in 2017. Wilson was recognized with the AIA Colorado 2017 Young Architect of the Year Award; he was named Colorado Homes & Lifestyles’ 5 Under 40, Forum Phi was awarded the PSMJ 2017 Circle of Excellence Award; the ACRA’s (Aspen Chamber Resort Association) Business of the Year; and it was recognized as Outside Magazine’s #1 place to work two years in a row.
“2017 was an interesting year for us,” said Wilson. “These awards signaled that we are doing good work, running a good business, creating a good culture within the company and doing great design. The AIA Colorado award was the cherry on top, recognizing our design prowess.”
Since he first moved to Colorado after college, Wilson knew he wanted to create a different type of architecture firm. Wilson cherished the “mind, body, spirit ethic” that is pervasive in Aspen, and wanted to incorporate that into his firm’s culture. Fundamental to Forum Phi is enjoying the mountain town that provides the firm’s backdrop: employees each get an annual ski pass and they enjoy “powder mornings” as a team.
But to Wilson, the best part of Forum Phi is the projects they get to work on.
“Once you create a portfolio in Aspen—a second-home community—clients bring you around the world to design their other places,” Wilson explained.
Often, the sky is the limit in terms of budget and creativity.
“People have these dreams of what they want their home to be, and they come to us to innovate and dream together,” Wilson said. “I get to learn and create something new almost every day.”
Through design, Wilson helps clients incorporate the mountain context into their dream home, turning their aspiration into an Aspen reality. On projects outside of the Rocky Mountains, Wilson still focuses on blending the client’s lifestyle with the local context.
Still, the most rewarding aspect for Wilson is the pro bono and nonprofit work that Forum Phi creates.
“It allows us to balance social responsibility with high design. And it is an opportunity to take the lessons we learn on high-budget projects and adapt them to affordable housing,” Wilson said. “One project type borrows from the other really well.”
From an early age, Wilson knew he loved design. (In fact, Wilson jokes that he learned he wanted to be an architect around the same time he learned to walk). But being a business owner is the part he’s had to work on.
“In school they teach you to be an architect, but you have to learn later how to become a manger, role model and pillar of the community,” said Wilson.
Forum Phi began in Wilson’s basement, and has grown to 37 employees, now located on Main Street in Aspen, with a second studio in Basalt.
Wilson’s passion for architecture and his continual effort to be an excellent firm owner and manager seems to be paying off. Earning the many awards has led to better business, better employees and more clients.
Since being named AIA Colorado’s Young Architect of the Year, Forum Phi has received more local and national coverage.
“We get found more often because the awards gave us exposure and credibility,” said Wilson. “People now feel confident about reaching out to us from halfway across the country to work on their project. [The award] was a good spotlight on things we thought we were doing well, but now we have a stamp of approval.”
Because of their unique personality, Forum Phi has never had a hard time recruiting employees, but the recent awards have led to receiving better employment applications. Wilson explained that in the past, people wanted to work with them because of the firm’s fun attitude, but they may not necessarily have been qualified for the job.
“But since we got the AIA Colorado award, we are getting applications come in from architects who like the culture but are also incredible designers. We get to cherry-pick the very best,” said Wilson.
Wilson insists that the reason for the recognition is not him, but his team.
“We are producing a much higher level of work now because we have the very best team,” he said. “The accolades give us the confidence to chase work that maybe we didn’t think we could get in the past—not because we weren’t qualified—but we are now more comfortable with our work and confident saying that we are the right people for a project.”
Not only does he prioritize balance and fun, but Wilson has also created a culture where everyone is encouraged to voice their opinions.
“Our designs only get better because the person who just graduated college feels comfortable speaking up in a meeting,” Wilson said. “To me, sharing the credit feels really good.”
Wilson practices what he preaches. When not working, he enjoys the activities that brought him to Aspen in the first place, like skiing, hiking and mountain biking. He also enjoys raising his 18-month old son and teaching him the values of creativity and an appreciation of food through cooking and gardening.