Bryan Cook, NOMA, AIA, is director of Berardi+Detroit and president of the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). He’s also a board game designer and loves drawing superheroes and other characters with his son.
SpaceLab’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent 2018 summer intern Micah Womack spoke with Bryan about architecture and running a firm.
Please tell me about your company.
Our company is called Berardi Detroit. We’re an architecture and engineering firm. We’ve been open since SpaceLab has been open. We primarily do multifamily housing projects and a lot of Motor City Match and Motor City ReStore Projects.
As someone going to college, what advice would you give me?
Figure out what you don’t want to do, and don’t do that. That’s the best advice I can give. A lot of people have a hard time finding what they want to do. I was one of the weird ones – I just wanted to be an architect, and I just kept going down that path. Unless you already know, try out some stuff, or if it doesn’t seem like something you don’t want to do, or if doesn’t even seem interesting, just avoid it. You’ve got to do some required classes here and there, but for the most part, try to avoid what you don’t want to do.
Why Detroit? Why did Berardi want to come to Detroit?
Berardi wanted to come to Detroit because they had almost 40 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations doing multifamily housing, apartments and senior living, and there seemed to be a gap in the market. There wasn’t a firm addressing, or talking, to nonprofits in that way, making them a focus. There’s a housing boom in the city, so it was kind of a perfect time to come along.
What do you see as some of your biggest opportunities in the future?
Still doing a lot of housing, but getting into different project types. There are a lot of childcare needs out there – that’s something I’m interested in doing. Even though there’s a lot of housing announced and a lot of housing that’ll be built soon, there will still be more needed.
Walk us through your management strategy.
One step at a time. We do weekly meetings with the team, and try to plan out our week. What do we have on the table this week that we have to get done? Obviously, if something comes along, we try to fit it in there. But I’ve found, if we at least plan for the week and address the things that need to be done that week, we’re pretty successful.
What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?
Calling people back, and it’s a constant follow up. You might have a contact with a client one time, and you send them some information, and you might not hear back from them. Or you do, and you still need to call them. It’s a constant thing: just following up and making sure you’re building that relationship. That’s probably the biggest to-do that I do and don’t do. The squeaky wheel gets the oil sometimes. The client that’s calling me constantly, they’re going to get my attention, but I still need to address the other clients that don’t call as much just to make sure they’re happy with the way things are going.
What’s the worst advice you’ve gotten?
Don’t become a licensed architect.
What recent changes in the architecture industry have you seen that are positive?
I feel there’s more collaboration between different people and firms. I think collaboration is a trend. Before, it was “I do this, you do that.” I feel there’s more of a collaboration happening between architects, engineers, and even the contractor. If we don’t stay on the same page, it just goes left really fast.
If there was one thing you could change about your company, what would it be and why?
There’s not much I would change right now. I’d want more people to do more work, but I need more work to get more people. I think we’re right where we’re supposed to be; I think we’re growing. We’re trying to find the balance where we are, and then see where we need to go. I think it’s a constant move forward, and we’re doing that.
Tell us about NOMA.
NOMA is the National Organization of Minority Architects. I am the current Detroit chapter president. It’s a professional organization – the idea is to get people of color in the industry together to network. We’ve found that there aren’t a lot of us, so our emphasis is outreach to high school students like yourself, telling them that we’re architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, structural engineers – and you can be one, too. That’s really the only way we grow the numbers – by exposing it (architecture) to younger people. It’s not something you can turn just left into. Like say, you’re going to school for art, and then you decide to get an MBA and go into business. You can get an MBA and then go into architecture. It’s just not an easy road to turn into.
What’s the best thing that happened to you this year?
My son was born – my second son was born. He’s six months now.
A question for myself: In school, when professionals come out and to speak to students, would you like to be one? Can reach back out to you?
Yes, for sure!