Since August 2019, when I announced my move to Design Workshop – a landscape architecture and urban planning firm – I’ve heard the same question again and again. Peers, past employees and friends have asked what could possibly motivate me to give up a much- decorated, 35-year-old lighting design firm to ride a new and different horse into the sunset. When West Coast Lighting Insider graciously invited me to write a blog on my motivations, I jumped at the chance to explain in more depth and to describe the impact that a new office full of vibrant young designers has had on a graying but still-motivated boomer.
I don’t think change is easy for anyone, and it certainly wasn’t for me. The transition from owning and operating my own small firm to becoming the lighting design principal of a large landscape architecture firm was a long time coming.
Originally, I opened Patrick B. Quigley & Associates (PBQA) because I was motivated by an insatiable need to do lighting design my own way and to my own standards, not to someone else’s. Along with my workmates, I got to enjoy the fruits of our all-in attitude on the design side. But I soon realized that running a firm was about a whole lot more than creative designs and great projects. I was generally less enthusiastic about these other business-related tasks.
Okay, there was another part of running a business that fed and inspired me: That was the interaction with my employees. Their passion and creativity consistently blew my mind and enriched my personal and professional life in so many ways. It was pure kismet that the very first of these workmates, Bruce Hostetter, is now an accomplished life coach who generously took the time to pilot me through my late-life change of spots for stripes.
Bruce’s approach was simple enough: “Patrick, if you are bent on working till the day you die, what would be the perfect job description to accompany you to the grave?”
It turns out that, for me, the answer was instant and obvious: I want to design! And if it’s to be the perfect job, I would love to continue to dabble in teaching. And I want to take time to do something really big with my peers, something for lighting design in Los Angeles. Finally, I want to do this all with as little administrative work as possible!
Bruce helped me realize that PBQA could not offer all of this to me. As long as I was charged with keeping the firm afloat and meeting payroll, I would be doomed to spending two-thirds of my work time on administrative functions. But while my own firm could not offer me this perfect role, dare I hope that someone else could?
I have worked with and admired Design Workshop for more than 30 years. Together, we had produced award-winning work, including Aspen’s Pedestrian Malls and Commercial Core, Downtown Denver’s 16th Street Extension and Millennial Bridge, and the Cherry Creek North retail district, to name only a few. More importantly, I felt a philosophical kinship with the Workshop in terms of their commitment to “Legacy Design” and collaborative design processes. Together, we saw the value of having high-quality, in-house lighting design, and what it would mean to have a shared goal of ground-up excellence for their landscape projects.
Design Workshop enthusiastically embraced the idea of me providing lighting design education to their staff. Drawing on the firm’s commitment to volunteerism, they loved the idea of me working with my peers on an iconic outside project. It became clear that the Workshop was the place for me.
Turn and Face the Strange
But it’s not like a good firm culture, wonderful employees and amazing projects magically solve all the issues of a momentous job change. I love that I made the leap, and I am loving the job. But I have run into a few potholes (let’s call them learning opportunities) that some could have seen coming but I did not.
An immediate problem was trying to wrap my experienced but inelastic old brain around new software and filing systems. My elementary questions tend to puncture my young workmates’ normally productive days full of nonproductive holes. Fortunately for me, they accept their plight with an LOL and encouraging words.
A more serious challenge came in recognizing that roughly 30 percent of the Workshop’s projects had no budget for professional lighting design, whether that assistance came from in-house or not. How was I to improve the lighting on these projects?
A fact of life for lighting designers is that we are almost always associated with big-budget jobs. They may be small and extremely high-end, or large enough that an LD’s fees are accommodated by sheer scale, or both. This tends to skew our perspective of “typical” projects in the average architect’s office. While I had worked with Design Workshop for decades, all of the projects I had done for them were high-profile and had ample budgets for both design and lighting equipment. Suddenly, I was faced with a number of Workshop jobs that do not fit that description at all. Oddly enough, I am loving the challenge.
I have found that each of our eight offices has a different procedure for lighting these “lesser” projects be it through a trusted manufacturer’s rep, a favorite electrical engineer, the project’s electrical contractor, or occasionally a local lighting designer. There are different strengths and pitfalls that go along with each of these different allies. Rather than usurp existing relationships, my strategy has been to simply fill in for whatever each relationship is missing.
It’s already apparent that a strong lighting design concept will help the office that has been using an electrical engineer who is weak in that area. Additional fixture form options can inform the office that is using a manufacturer’s rep with limited lines. In another office, reviewing an LD’s proposed scope of services can help ensure that it serves the project appropriately. In every case, I am using the situation as a platform to share my lighting knowledge with our landscape architects – eventually lifting all boats, both now and into the future.
This final look at legacy and educating the next generation has dovetailed with a core belief of mine, that life is about experiencing as much as can be absorbed in the time available to us. I know my choices have left some of my industry friends perplexed, but the big change has me feeling refreshed and fulfilled. These sunset years are looking a lot more like a beautiful sunrise!