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HAVEN:
Q+A WITH STEVEN VERNER OF VERNER ARCHITECTS
16 February 2021
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This month we interviewed Stephen Verner, the founder of Verner Architects—a friend and an architect I admire. He shared with us the sources of his inspiration and the road that led him to discover his true passion.

Stephen prides himself on seamlessly tying the thread between the latest technology in his work and integrating innovative materials while balancing contemporary design and livable space.



Tell us the story behind you becoming an architect?

From a young age, I took an interest in homes. During grade school summers, I remember riding a bike around my grandmother’s suburban Chicago neighborhood, photographing unique and large homes. I created interior dioramas in art class, and in my free time, I sketched and drew building perspectives. In high school, I took college-level art classes. Yet, when faced with a choice between art school, a liberal arts college, or engineering school, I chose the latter as the “safest” future career path.

After nine years of working in a field I unfortunately had no passion for, I finally shifted gears and attended a summer discovery program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. I was hooked!

Making the shift from nuclear systems engineering (and the Navy) to a graduate architecture program was a stretch. I worked in construction and metal fabrication and took additional art and architectural history classes before finally attending the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Architecture.

I remained in Philadelphia and worked for a phenomenal multidisciplinary firm before venturing off on my own six years later.

How do you love spending your time outside of work? What’s important about that to you?

Ten years ago, we moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast for two main reasons – the people and the beautiful natural environment.

I’ve met some talented people in the Bay Area. I truly enjoy spending time with my colleagues in the design and construction industry, sharing stories and learning from them. I have found the artist community very welcoming and received invitations to work on the fabrication of some large-scale public art projects which gets me out from behind my computer a few times a week.

Spending time outdoors swimming, running, sailing, and skiing is critical to my mental and physical health. Our family has started playing pickleball during COVID and our two teenagers will soon dethrone my wife and me. Lastly, I’m hoping we can all travel again someday soon, as I may miss that most of all.

In all the noise that is our day-to-day existence, especially recently, these activities ground me and provide simple pleasures in this wonderful place we call home.

In all the noise that is our day-to-day existence, especially recently, these activities ground me and provide simple pleasures in this wonderful place we call home.


In your business, how do you stay inspired?

Every project is unique. Starting with the client, their program, and whom we bring on board; the design and construction team. I am always fascinated by this process and draw inspiration from the many layers of collaboration each project offers. On a broader level, industry news and design postings on social media are always good sources for new ideas. Between Dezeen, Architectural Record, Interior Design, and my Instagram faves, I have plenty to think about. More recently, our office has been working on virtual and augmented reality to illustrate and explore our designs which is very cool. Finally, between working on our first net-zero energy home and completing the AIA 2030 Certification Program, I am thinking a lot about how our residential projects can go beyond applying green tech and be better stewards of the environment.

Perhaps the most important habit I have picked up these past 20 years of practice is to listen and observe. Everyone, from office intern to the tradespeople on a job site, and of course, our clients, shapes our design work into successful projects.


What are some daily habits/rituals that keep you in excellence in your field?

Nine years in the military most certainly rid me of the need for daily rituals. I now find anything resembling a daily ritual to be stifling. That said, I strive to be very organized, responsive, and receptive to the needs of our clients, design partners, and construction teams. Perhaps the most important habit I have picked up these past 20 years of practice is to listen and observe. Everyone, from the office summer intern to the tradespeople on a job site, and of course, our clients, shapes our design work into successful projects.

 

What do you love most about the city you live in?  

Oakland is an endlessly fascinating city, with its diverse cultures, geography, and built environment. Just recently, my wife and I were walking our dog in one of Oakland’s many parks and came across an outdoor amphitheater set against a spectacular view of the Bay. Moments like that and those that routinely happen throughout our area make me glad I call this city home.

Favorite restaurant?

A16

Favorite coffee joint?

Blue Bottle

Favorite museum?

Oakland Museum of California, my wife works there and Friday nights are always enjoyable.

Favorite outdoor activity?

Swimming + running

Favorite place that no one knows about, until now?

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. It’s within the Oakland Port and has remarkable views of San Francisco and all the port activity. Despite this, it’s oddly peaceful.

What is a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?

I love to take my motorcycle to the track.

 


Q+A