He’s been at it for years, but architecture is actually Brendan Kelly’s second career. He first earned a degree in engineering from Stanford and previously worked in the construction industry in the corporate world.
“But more and more I realized I was a designer at heart,” said Kelly. He then returned to school and earned his graduate degree in architecture from University of Washington.
“The first month in architecture school I was like reborn,” he said. “I love taking old things that people have abandoned and forgotten and giving them new life.”
His business, Kelly + Morgan Architects/Urban Design, was originally launched in 1997 on Stockton Street in San Francisco. Today, the business is based at 1443 Main St. in Napa.
1. Which three people would you most like to have dinner with?
- Raymond McDonald Alden, the first chair of the English department at Stanford. He was a Shakespeare scholar and a renowned organist.
- Imogene Lay Sanderson; an amazing woman who traveled the world at the turn of the last century and owned a thriving furniture store on Shattuck Avenue.
- Captain Horatio Stockton Howell, a chaplain and militant abolitionist who died, unarmed, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
All three are distant grandparents I never knew but their lives have provided inspiration to me since I first knew about them.
2. What was your first professional job?
My first professional assignment after graduating from Stanford was with Bechtel. I spent six years with them including a three-year stretch in the Middle East on the island of Bahrain. I was 26.
3. What’s the worst job you ever had?
I developed over 50 new health clubs for In-Shape Health Clubs while I was the senior VP for design and development. There were a couple of really nasty rebuilding efforts—especially old rundown health clubs that we had purchased to renovate and bring up to code and reposition in the market.
But we had an amazing team, and the ones I’m thinking about are all now very successful and really important parts of their communities. But there were some dark days getting through some of those.
4. How did you get into this business?
I was drawing imaginary structures and building forts from a very early age. I thought being a part of a big construction company like Bechtel would fit my skills and interests, but there was something missing.
I was very lucky to be admitted to the Master of Architecture program at the University of Washington in 1992. I met my future wife and business partner on the first day of graduate school.
I ended up with the smartest and prettiest girl in the class which is, by far, my greatest achievement.
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5. What is the biggest challenge your industry has faced?
The scarcity of affordable, energy-efficient housing is at a crisis level in our state due to the limited amount of available land on which to build.
Anyone who flies over the state can see there is a tremendous amount of open land remaining all over California, but the federal, state and local regulations limiting its use makes developing that land a hugely expensive and time-consuming enterprise.
6. What’s your advice to someone who wants to get into the architecture industry?
I would definitely go spend a summer or year or two working for a very good construction company. Most architects don’t have a clue about how stuff actually gets built.
7. What’s on your to-do list?
I’m heading to the Desolation Wilderness with my three sons and their Scout Troop next week — 50 miles in five days as we hike from Echo Lake to Tahoe City. Pray for me.
8. Who do you most admire in the business world?
Howard Backen and his team are really talented and have helped keep the bar very high for quality architecture here in Napa County. I also admire David and Ann Howerton. They are both landscape architects but I learned a great deal about site planning and connecting architecture to its setting while I was a principal in that office. And Bernard Maybeck & Julia Morgan. I still go back to their work for inspiration.
9. If you could change one thing about your industry, what would it be?
Most developers and owners don’t understand the true long-term value of quality design. These are the same people who pay top dollar for medical or legal or financial advice. But when it comes to architects and engineers, they always want an extraordinary discount.
We’re lucky in that we have some very supportive clients, but creating and documenting a valuable building takes time and talent and it’s difficult to keep a small practice solvent.
That is a universal challenge for designers of all types and the business model of a professional firm is fraught with problems we need to manage every day and proving our value is a constant effort.
10. What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m an accomplished sailplane pilot. I first learned at the glider port in Calistoga in 1986 and earned a silver medal in Australia for staying aloft for five hours unassisted. And I’m rated in sailplane aerobatics.