The Edge: Dave Alpert on Practicality and Teamwork
January 10, 20144 min read
Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
Dave Alpert: I integrate a background in architecture, landscape, planning, and management to lead the San Francisco office of Jensen + Partners.
Novedge: Your expertise encompasses business management and architecture. How does each discipline shape your approach to the often large projects you work on?
Dave Alpert: Business Management shapes my commitment to design spaces that are practical and affordable. Practicality was a big part of my education at UC Berkeley, focusing on the needs of users. It continues to be extremely important to me to satisfy the needs of users and of the larger community. Affordable solutions look into the future, factoring in the cost of operating and maintaining facilities, including the energy costs over time. The cheapest first-cost solution is often not the best investment, nor the most responsible choice. My seven years of experience on-staff at Kaiser Permanente oriented me to think of facilities as long-term assets with the power to profoundly impact people’s lives.
Architecture shapes my passion for design and process. I like both the team-work and the individual creativity that are so much a part of architecture projects. It takes a lot of people working in sync to make the large projects happen. At the same time, there are opportunities all along the way to apply individual genius and spatial intelligence to solve a tricky problem or create something inspired and beautiful. The process ideally respects and honors the team while allowing for this individual contribution from all team-members.
Novedge: What is your approach to collaboration and team work?
Dave Alpert: I am happy to see all around me that transparency and inclusion are a growing organizational trend. People have more freedom and power to collaborate effectively if they have information and opportunity. I devote special attention to emerging professionals, who often have great energy and fresh perspectives. I work to expand the circle of stakeholders and engage them in the process. Every stakeholder is your customer.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Dave Alpert:Project 1: UC Berkeley University Health Services Renovations Feasibility Study. Ok, maybe this does not sound very sexy. For me, it was terrific! I had designed the educational and medical spaces in this award-winning building 20 years earlier. It was very satisfying to have the university come back to me after all that time and invite me to work with them on envisioning how to modify the building in keeping with advances in technology and medical practice. The result will be a re-invention of patient care, providing more space for patients, new collaborative team work areas for staff, and integration of primary care and mental health services in a mind-body spirit of wellness and healing.
Project 2: Ocean Pines Lodge at Sea Ranch. This is a home for my extended family. As a student at Berkeley, I was introduced to Sea Ranch through a workshop course led by the legendary landscape architect and Sea Ranch visionary, Lawrence Halprin. I did not dream that one day my wife and I would design and build a house there! The house reflects our values of inclusion, directness, and practicality. It has been humbling to be involved in every step of the process, from land selection through entitlements, design, permitting, construction financing, construction, and operating the house as a vacation rental. We did not like the idea of a typical vacation house to be used only by one family, remaining empty much of the time, so it was designed to flexibly accommodate a wide range of groups all year round.
It was designed and built on a tight budget, completed for only 60% of the typical cost per square foot at Sea Ranch. It was still not the cheapest first-cost design, since we invested in high-quality, durable materials like hickory flooring and cabinets, cedar wall boards, and copper finishes. Economy in the use of materials and space was practiced, with exposed structural connections and shear panels, tongue-in-groove floors that serve as an exposed finish ceiling for the levels below, and visual expansion of space horizontally, vertically, and out into the landscape.
We engaged a wide range of stakeholders—family members, friends, professional colleagues, the builder, the structural engineer, vacation rental agents, neighbors, and the design review committee—in a design process that ultimately integrated all of the best input from everyone. The design was in the spirit of the Sea Ranch, respecting the landscape and not calling attention to itself, so the design review committee was very supportive. They engaged in a reasonable dialog and give-and-take regarding specific design issues. Now we can go there with my family members and friends and they can each see how they contributed positively to it. They can each take some creative ownership in it.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Dave Alpert: I still hand-draw and I love to do quick perspective sketches by sight as I was trained to do. I have great respect for the digital skills of younger designers.
Novedge: What makes a leader effective?
Dave Alpert: In the big picture, the value that other people see in a leader makes the leader effective. A leader is not truly effective unless they can engage others. Specifically, although there are all kinds of effective leaders with different qualities, I admire leaders with vision, energy, and compassion.
Novedge: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self before embarking in your current career?
Dave Alpert: Patience. I am a man of action and sometimes it’s better to take it more slowly and give it more thought. And open-mindedness. I once delayed joining a well-known firm because I heard it was a stiff, corporate, design mill. It turned out to be one of the most satisfying firms that I ever worked with, full of wonderful people designing timeless buildings with integrity. As for the corporate atmosphere, I discovered that there was plenty of tolerance for someone as un-corporate as me.
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