At EntreArchitect, you’re encouraged to share your knowledge. When we share with other architects, we all benefit. We are able to learn from one another and the profession will grow. One of the goals of EntreArchitect is to provide a platform for other entrepreneur architects to share their stories.
Join us for our series called The Entrepreneur Architect, where each guest has the opportunity to share their story and answer some questions that will provide value to each of you.
This week on EntreArchitect Podcast, The Entrepreneur Architect Series featuring Kurt Krueger.
Kurt’s firm is based in Brentwood, LA, and specializes in modern design-build residential architecture. He grew up in a small town called Mexico, Missouri, and never had any exposure to architects. He was artistic and could draw, but had no idea what to do what that moving forward. During his junior year in high school, a perceptive geometry teacher asked if he’d ever thought about being an architect. He took some basic drafting classes at the vocational school attached to the high school and found the perfect marriage between the artistic side and his propensity for using art for practical purposes.
He went to college at Kansas State University and something clicked. Kurt enjoyed the drawing and design aspect of school when he found a way to combine what he loved with hard work to get good at it. During his third year in school, he interned for an architect in North Carolina. He began to learn more about his love for design and the construction/building side. When he graduated, as opposed to getting an office job, he worked for an architect in Lawrence who runs a studio called Studio 804 where the team does design-build projects. Kurt did hard work for little pay, but knew there was value in being able to learn first hand how things come together.
From there, he relocated to Los Angeles because of the weather and the greater opportunities to get engaged with different architects. There can be some experimentation and craziness that he fell in love with. His construction experience got him a job with design/build architect Marmol Radziner for four years. After that, he worked for a high-profile firm doing the work for some beautiful homes.
The Entrepreneur Architect Questions
What is one big goal you’ve achieved in your career and how did you get there?
Kurt has worked to take the structure of design-build and moving it into an architect-as-developer where they have their own clients and are able to work on projects on their own. He’s been talking about it with his firm for some time, and, for them, they had a leg up since they were already doing the things developers would do. If they had all the pieces in place to get the structure in place and get the numbers right, it was a no-brainer. It finally came down to them stop thinking about it and just doing it to see what works and what doesn’t. Though they’re early on, it’s a goal they’re in the process of getting it to where they want it to be.
What is one struggle you experienced and how did you overcome it?
Of course there’s the struggle of everyday practice. Kurt had a big turning point in his third year of architecture school. The first few years, there’s no computers at all. The transition to the computers and doing things with 3D design and renderings was completely new. He had little experience with computers and doubted that he could pull through. Though he had the talent and work ethic to succeed, he didn’t know if it was something that was too far over his head. The things that helped him to overcome it was to have mentors and to keep telling himself it would get easier as he pressed on.
Who was the person that supported you most through that process?
A younger professor took Kurt under his wing and helped him rethink they way he understood architecture and design. He encouraged him not to focus on the things that were limiting him and gave him confidence to succeed.
Have you had an “aha” moment? How did you turn it into success for your career?
The more Kurt was around construction, the more it made sense to him. He saw more control over the process, the budgets and the schedule. There were so many things pointing to that as the logical way to do the work.
How is your firm structured?
They have the architecture company and the general contracting company that are under separate contracts. The firm has Kurt, who heads up the architecture company, and his business partner is the licensed general contractor.
How do you market your work?
They started having everything separate and leaving it as an option for their clients to choose from if they didn’t want to jump straight into everything. In that way, the client thinks that they can separate things and that’s not always the ideal route. If the client is more interested in architecture in special projects, that’s doable but they’re getting to the point where they’re offering it as a package deal. It’s what makes them special and that’s what their clients are coming to them looking for.
What’s one thing that makes you and your firm unique?
The biggest thing is their method. They’re design-build, but they’re architect-led design-build in every sense. They have an interesting team of people in house: an architect and designer, a structural engineer and general contractor, site superintendents, licensed electricians and framers. There’s lots of experience that gets brought to the table. They’re unique because they’re able to improvise a lot without fear of costly change orders or time delays; it’s just built into their process. They can come up with the basics of the big idea, but the advantage is that they can move faster into permitting and construction because of the control they have over what needs to get done.
How big is the firm?
The architectural staff is Kurt plus two other architects in house with remote help as needed. The construction team fluctuates depending on need around a dozen people.
How did you find your business partner?
Kurt and his business partner met when they worked together previously. They worked on a hotel project in Long Beach and moved into the trailer on the site to get things done quickly.
At what age did you become an architect? 30 years old
What’s your target market? Single family modern residential design
Hourly or percentage-based fee? Prefer stipulated sum with a hybrid proposal, sometimes use percentage-based, doesn’t like hourly
Other than architecture, what makes you happy? Traveling, being outdoors, sunny days and reading
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? “You need to get out of here.” His boss told him he’d learn more outside of the office then he’d ever learn in the office.
What’s one personal habit that contributes to your success? Trying to get exercise in first thing in the morning and keeping a habit of gratitude
What’s an app or resource you’d recommend? Google Docs to develop systems and share
What book would you recommend and why? Living Forward by Michael Hyatt
What’s a parting piece of guidance? Spot thinking and start taking action
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“Find a niche and really target it. It can be scary to feel like you’re limiting yourself, but that’s not usually the case. By targeting a niche and people will be able to find you better.” – Kurt Krueger
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