What is your background? Describe your journey from first deciding you wanted to be an architect to now? (If not an architect, describe your career journey.)
I was born in Connecticut and raised by a single mom (and my maternal grandmother at times) and later we moved to San Luis Obispo, California where I attended high school. From an early age, I wanted to be a painter and artist and after high school I moved to Los Angeles to attend Otis College of Art and Design where I studied fine art. I remember some of my friends at Otis were studying environmental design and I was always really interested in their design projects, especially their physical models.
Eventually, I decided to switch to environmental design and I moved to Colorado to attend CU Boulder’s Environmental Design Program where I completed my undergraduate degree. Boulder was good to me, it’s where I met my amazing wife and partner Heather Kahn-Pyatt and started our family of two boys Bodhi and Zephan. During my time at CU Boulder I met a great teacher, mentor and future collaborator, Rick Sommerfeld, who became my advisor for an independent study course in design-build; a full renovation of our small Boulder home at that time. This was my first experience with design-build and it really expanded my understanding and appreciation of architecture, especially at the detail scale, and gave me the clarity to continue on with my architectural education. I have always been interested in affordable housing, social justice and sustainability from an early age because at different times during my childhood I experienced homelessness or was housing insecure, which looking back now, clearly has had a tremendous impact on how I practice architecture and how I see architecture’s potential to improve people’s health and well-being.
Heather and I wanted to stay in Colorado to be close to her family, so I chose to attend graduate school at CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning. In addition to providing a strong design foundation, CU Denver allowed me to further develop my research in architecture and social justice. During my final semester, I attended the Glenn Murcutt International Master Class in Australia co-taught by Glenn Murcutt, Brit Andresen, Richard Leplastrier, Peter Stutchbury and Lindsay Johnston, as well as Aboriginal Elder Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison where I gained insights into ‘touching this Earth lightly.’ This was another key moment in my journey which opened my eyes to the potential of architecture to connect to it’s place, and most profoundly: an indigenous perspective on the built environment and our responsibility as architects to share our knowledge. It also introduced me to a world wide community of really amazing people!
After I graduated from CU Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning, I moved to San Antonio, Texas with my family where I worked as an intern architect with Lake Flato Architects. This gave me my first professional experience in architecture and although I was only there for a short time, it made a big impact on me and my understanding of a design rigor that still inspires me today.
We eventually moved back to Boulder and I was given the opportunity to teach in the ENVD Program with my former mentor and friend Rick Sommerfeld, while also working for a small local architecture firm. After several years of teaching I was hired on as a full-time instructor and later as a senior instructor and research associate. During this time I was awarded a grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) to conduct sustainable housing research on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and founded the Native American Sustainable Housing Initiative as an interdisciplinary service learning program with CU Boulder, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the Oglala Lakota College on Pine Ridge. This introduced me to the unique challenges facing the Oglala Lakota Nation, as well as many communities across Indian Country, and allowed me to work on community development and affordable housing projects alongside some incredible tribal leaders over the last ten years. I left CU Boulder to focus on establishing my practice full time and in 2018 I co-founded, alongside my partners, Pyatt Studio, to expand on our project experience and continue to serve clients and community-based organizations as an innovative architecture practice with a social mission.
What firm/organization are you currently with and how long have you been there?
I am currently a partner with Pyatt Studio, Inc., a small architecture and planning firm located in Boulder, Colorado as, well as the executive director of The Building Cooperative a 501(c)3 nonprofit focused on public interest design and development. Both were established in 2018.
What have been some of your favorite/proudest projects or career accomplishments?
I am really proud of our recent design collaboration with BNIM Architects out of Kansas City on the Lower Sioux Intergenerational Cultural Incubator in Minnesota. The purpose of the LSICI is to strategically promote intergenerational engagement, cultural transmission and economic well-being at the Lower Sioux Indian Community. The building will feature community gathering spaces for youth, adults and elders while supporting entrepreneurial development and art education. The project will be realized through a 17,000 square foot newly constructed facility, scheduled to be complete by October 2020.
What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career and how did you overcome them?
One of my biggest challenges is balancing my time between work and life. As a firm we are looking for ways to create a more flexible work schedule that supports our team’s collective and diverse interests.
What advice do you have for an emerging professional in this profession?
Our work is based on real community collaboration, often working with integrated design teams, and in communication with many stakeholder groups. So in my experience, really learning how to work on a team is critically important to the success of an emerging professional. Be authentic, and develop empathy. Also, no one knows as much as everyone!
Why did you choose to get involved with AIA Colorado as a member, volunteer and now board member?
I am passionate about advocacy and education, and as a volunteer and board member I can be a part of a professional community that does both really well. We have a responsibility to expand awareness of equity, diversity and inclusiveness in the architecture profession and advocate for real change.
What are you most excited to work on this year as a board member?
I am really excited to meet with regional members to listen and learn, as well as assist our Architectural Advocates Network with their important work to expand our advocacy efforts across the state and in local communities.
What do you think are the largest opportunities for architects in Colorado right now?
I think there is a real critical need and opportunity for housing innovation in Colorado right now.
What are the largest challenges for architects in Colorado right now?
Designing for climate resilience and expanding carbon negative buildings.
Where do you see the profession going in the future?
I think the profession will see significant change in the future as it becomes more diverse, and as new leaders emerge. I also think we will see more hybrid firm structures and creative business models that incorporate research and practice for the public good. We established Pyatt Studio and The Building Cooperative, a hybrid for-profit/non profit business model and actively combine research with practice.
What do you like to do outside of work and service?
Spending time with my wife Heather and two sons, Bodhi and Zephan. We really love to be outdoors camping and backpacking. I also am a real indie film nerd.