Matt Noblett | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matt Noblett

Background:  

Behnisch Architekten is an architectural practice based in Stuttgart, Germany, with branches in Munich, Germany, and Boston, Mass.

The Mistake:

I went to school at MIT, and I remember getting out of school very early with this pressure to become economically viable and start paying the bills right away and so forth.

I got a job working as an architect at a fairly small firm in the Boston area, but there was very little fulfillment. It was sort of one of those scenes where you're beating your head against the wall after several months and trying to figure out what's missing here.

I remember at one point working on a model and getting so frustrated when the principal of the firm came over and said, “Oh, the client won't want to build this. It's just going to be too expensive and this isn't enough square footage over here,” and so on and so forth and I got so frustrated I just remember throwing the model against the wall and just leaving to blow off steam. At that moment I thought, “This can't be what this profession is for me.”

My workload increased ... but at the same time my own satisfaction with the work increased commensurately.

The Lesson:

What I learned from that was that if you're really interested in practicing architecture at a high-quality design level, you have to be a lot more discriminating in terms of where you actually apply yourself. ... I started to look around for other opportunities after nine months or something. I was trying to look for places where I thought design was treated as a discipline and not something that was just sort of tolerated. It's kind of an issue with the profession in general. The clients and the development community are interested in profit or they're interested in building space out and so forth, and so it takes a special firm, I think, to actually decide that you're going to kind of fight the good fight and really stand for something in terms of improving the public realm or [being] innovative.

I found a firm like that eventually. And of course my workload increased you know, some 20 times but at the same time the sense of purpose and my own satisfaction with the work increased commensurately.

Architecture is definitely not practiced at the same level across the board. And that's totally fine. I mean, it's a punishing profession, and people have bills to pay, and they have to keep their staffs running, and you have to make decisions about what kind of work to do.

Photo courtesy of Matt Noblett