Come April 21, the chief executive officer of Architects | Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker, Michael Wilkes, will have been with the firm for 40 years. That’s even longer than the company’s founder.
Over the course of a career that’s included a fellowship for design excellence and service to the profession from the American Institute of Architects in 1991, as well as being the creative mind behind some of San Diego’s most notable projects, Wilkes began looking for another frontier some 10 years ago.
“Eventually, you reach a point in your career where you’ve accomplished your career goals, and you ask yourself what legacy you leave behind,” he said.
For Wilkes, that legacy has become offering his experience and expertise to the creation of new architects at his alma mater, the University of Oregon.
He spent five full weeks during the fall visiting the university’s school of architecture, working with students by critiquing their work and explaining real-world applications of the assignments. He plans to spend another five weeks there in the winter and spring months.
“It’s always great to work with students, to help explain what to expect when they get out of school,” he said. “Explain how do you apply the lessons they’ll do in the studio, how to translate into the real world.”
Yet, his prolonged stays in Eugene, Ore., haven’t kept him from focusing on his firm’s work at hand, he said.
Reacting to a surge in projects, Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Barker has begun hiring again.
Though there are far fewer projects in the market at large today than in years past, he said the firm has been energized by moving into new market segments to compete for those finite options.
At the firm’s founding, it specialized in single-family and military projects. By the 1990s, it had moved away from military contracts, focusing instead on education, bioscience and advanced technology, and hospitality and entertainment works.
But education projects have always been a focus, he said. He specified a two-project commission at UCSD including a 275-unit high-rise apartment building, Muir College Apartments, and the renovation and modernization of Stewart Commons, as a recent education project of which he and the firm are very proud.
On the difficulty of staying with the same firm for 40 years, Wilkes said Delawie Wilkes Rodrigues Baker remains the place that best suits his ambitions.
“Our firm has always had an opportunity to do the best projects in San Diego,” he said. “That’s what you want to have an opportunity to do as an architect: challenging projects that are beneficial to society. The Bishops School library, San Diego hospice, the Fleet Science Center expansion, projects you can look back on in pride at something for the betterment of San Diego.”
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