Myer Harrell is Weber Thompson’s Director of Sustainability and was recently promoted to Principal. We learned a little more about Myer in this Q & A and were delighted to learn a few new things about him we didn’t know. Keep reading to see for yourself, or you can also read his bio on our website.
Myer Harrell AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Homes / Principal, Director of Sustainability
How long have you worked at Weber Thompson and what is your favorite thing about working here?
I’ve been here just over ten years. My favorite thing about working here is how “flat” the firm feels. By that, I mean principals and partners don’t have corner offices, everyone is approachable. All are respectful, validating, accommodating and appreciative of coworkers no matter what their formal title. The feeling of hierarchy is minimized, and there is very little “command and control” style of management.
What project(s) are you working on at the moment?
Most of my time is on the Fremont Office Building, a very exciting, sustainable boutique office building in the heart of Fremont that just started construction. The LEED Gold Core & Shell project features enhanced daylighting, an efficient HVAC system, and innovative stormwater strategies, reaching beyond the project site to clean up water from the Aurora Bridge before it reaches Lake Union.
You were recently promoted! What does this mean to you?
To me, one difference in my title is how I present myself outside the firm to collaborators and clients. As a principal, I now feel like a “flag-bearer” of the firm in a slightly different way. I also feel a greater sense of responsibility to resolve difficult situations – with clients, consultants, and internally – diplomatically, transparently, completely, in a way I feel is befitting of a firm leader.
We know you don’t work all the time. What do you do on a typical Saturday morning?
In winter mode, on a typical Saturday morning I enjoy homemade coffee and a good breakfast with my wife, and catch up on a (non-architecture-related) book or news. I do my best to turn off my “work brain” for a while to recharge the batteries.
Where do you find inspiration?
A lot of times, it is from music. Specifically, when I am actively listening to music, thinking about the songwriting, performance, recording, and engineering process, whether it is music made by my friends or this year’s Grammy winners. Some of the most inspirational creative people to me are songwriters. Writing songs is such a difficult craft, combining storytelling, skill in playing instruments and singing, music theory, command of language, all while trying not to be too derivative or cliché. Everyone approaches it a little differently. There’s a podcast called Song Exploder that interviews artists and talks about how their songs came to be – they break down the approach, the first recorded sounds, collaboration, recording techniques, etc. and then play the song in entirety at the end. I listen from time to time and find it pretty inspiring.
Share a little about your background. What brought you to where you are today?
My mom keeps a crayon drawing from when I was four years old that had my favorite food (macaroni & cheese), my favorite animal (a dinosaur), and what I wanted to be when I grew up (an architect). Fast forward 18 years, and I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from the University of Maryland (about 30 minutes from the DC suburb where I grew up). After graduation, I briefly did contract design work for a multi-disciplinary firm (then called Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn) in downtown Washington DC, mainly on high-profile urban design and consulting projects including the World Trade Center redevelopment and the DC proposal for a Major League Baseball team and stadium. During that time, I applied to graduate schools, and decided to head west for a change of pace. I arrived in Seattle in 2003 to earn my Master of Architecture degree at the University of Washington. I interned during graduate school and for the summer after I completed my Master degree (2005) on small design-build projects. That autumn, I applied to an opening at Weber Thompson and joined the firm. Through WT, I earned the required experience to take my registration exams and became licensed in 2010. Looking back, I think the timing of the market (entering the architecture work force at the height of the housing bubble) was a huge stroke of luck for me and my professional arc.
What is one of your current obsessions?
A better understanding of how green buildings add value to commercial development. This is somewhat poorly represented in the literature, and often tied to “soft marketing” value; rarely do people talk about dollars and cents for rental or property sale. I wrote a piece for the DJC about a year ago on this. I continue to read and learn about it as much as I can, and I’d like to continue the dialogue. I’m currently enrolled in the UW Commercial Real Estate Certificate program. My hope is that I can gain a better understanding of the financial drivers of real estate projects, and see where sustainability goals align with them in meaningful ways for building developers, owners, and managers.
What is one of your hobbies that not many people know about?
It’s been a few years now, and injuries have kept me out of practice, but I was a second-degree brown belt in judo. My old sensei would tell me that success in judo translated into success in life, and I found that to be true. It requires mental and physical discipline, and balance between cooperation and competition. It blended physics, philosophy, sport and self-defense in a valuable way that I’ve never experienced, even trying other martial arts.
What are you looking forward to both personally and professionally in the coming year?
In the coming year, I am very focused on building on last year’s successes with the SustainabiliTEAM (Weber Thompson’s internal green team). We are continually finding ways to elevate building performance through research and new techniques to support project teams and clients to build healthier, more efficient buildings with greater lasting value.