Dan Wilson and Wes Darnell started working together about 35 years ago as young architects recently out of school.
They started their own firm 30 years ago when they formed Wilson Darnell Associates, a forerunner of today's WDM Architects.
It's been a fruitful partnership full of zoos, churches, jails, clinics and old hotels. Today, with Wilson at 66 and Darnell at 64, they've handed over management to Matt Schindler and focus on projects.
The firm now has 12 principals and 18 staff, down from about 45 combined people at its height in 2008.
1. How is the firm doing in the downturn?
Wilson: "It really kind of comes and goes. We had a year and a half with very flat business. The mainstay of our business was probably the zoo work that we do on a national level. And the school bond work has been good, I think, for all architects."
Darnell: "It's mostly public stuff. The private stuff is still pretty slow."
2. Can you tell me about the zoo work?
Wilson: "We're doing work all over the country, several projects in Phoenix, at the Phoenix Zoo, which was a zoo that needed a lot of updating. Madison, Wisconsin; Boise, Idaho. And we continue to do work with (the) Sedgwick County (Zoo)."
Darnell: "Most of this work comes from private donations. If you really look at the economy, there's a lot of pent-up money out there. The economy's not moving because people aren't spending the money. It's not that they don't have it."
3. Are you working on anything else fun?
Wilson: "We've always had a lot of fun in this business. We got projects that are $200,000 to one that is $13 million. We got five or six different studios that do different kinds of work, and they all have their fun pieces."
4. What's your favorite project?
Darnell: "That's easy, the (Intrust Bank) Arena.... It's a lifetime project, not only in size, but scope and the experience of working in teams.... I thought it would be the most difficult project I ever undertook, and it was not without challenges, but it was so exciting to work on.... It was fun to get up every morning and read about your project on the front page of the paper."
Wilson: "One of my passions over the years has been church work. A lot of architects say they don't like to work with church committees, they're just hard to work with. I've always had a real joy working with those committees and developing projects that have been very, very satisfying professionally. And one that we just finished was a new sanctuary for the First Mennonite Brotherhood Church on West 21st, and the process was just extremely satisfying."
5. You've been at it for 30 years. Has technology replaced the drawing boards you once used?
Wilson: "Not mine."
Darnell: "He's got the only one in the office."
Wilson: "I also have a computer. I switch back and forth between sketching and working on the computer. The initial conceptual stuff is still done best by sketching, and then you can lay it out on the computer and make sure it works."
Darnell: "This is an old person talking, but I think there is a creative connection between putting something on paper and the mind. When you work with a computer, you get so involved with manipulation..."
Wilson:"... That it takes away the mental energy involved in the creative process."