Kevin Wilson is an award winning architect and entrepreneur in Wilmington, Delaware. He helped launch Architectural Alliance in 1987 as a founding principal. The firm designs residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. As an architect, he focuses on environmentally friendly livable communities. Projects he has worked include affordable housing, schools, commercial buildings, urban brownfield redevelopment and senior living communities. During his tenure as president of the Delaware chapter of the American Institute of Architects he hosted a conference on sustainability in partnership with the University of Delaware. His good work drew the attention of then Governor-Elect Jack Markell who selected him for his transition team on housing. He was recently appointed to the Delaware Board of Architects. He is registered to work in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and an alumnus of Syracuse University.
He is a successful practitioner in a very competitive field. Inc. Plan Start Up Blog was happy to have a chance to ask a few questions of this dynamic entrepreneur.
What was your biggest challenge starting as an entrepreneur?
The most difficult part of starting the company was getting our feet on the ground. Starting at a new firm was a risk because we were not guaranteed paychecks at first. I was willing to take that risk at the age of 26 because I did not have many responsibilities and because I saw the upside of owning my own business at a young age.
The other difficult part of starting was establishing our niche in the marketplace. Architecture is a highly specialized profession. Designing a school is much different than designing a hospital. Architects must be familiar with how the space will function. Each type of building has its own idiosyncrasies that require special attention.
What are the biggest challenges your firm faces now?
Maintaining current business and finding new clients!
How does the bidding process work?
Institutions looking to do new constructions will broadcast RFPs (request for proposal) to many architecture firms. The RFP specifies what the institution would like to construct. Firms will submit proposals and finalists are selected to give in depth proposals. Potential clients usually request referrals from past clients and sometimes will ask to walk through buildings we designed. The institution will usually select several finalists and ask for more in depth proposals. After the final presentation is made clients make a decision.
Do you have a signature style?
No. There are a few architects, or “starchitects,” who are sought for their particular style but this very rare and difficult to do. Most architects sit down with clients and try to create a building that matches the needs of the institution. I try to understand what clients need and deliver it to them at a price point they can afford. Clients routinely come in with a wish list of features they would like to see in their building. I try to help them prioritize their desires and let them know what is feasible given the budget constraints for the building.
How have computers changed your profession?
We bought our first CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems in 1997. Up until that point we drafted on Mylar with hand sketches. We used to send physical copies of blueprints to clients for their approval. Now with CAD software hand sketching is a thing of the past. Today we can create the entire building plan on a computer. We can send building designs to clients via email and update sketches quickly according to the client’s specification with CAD software. This greatly reduces our “red tape” costs. The business has changed in ways that I could never have imagined when I was an intern.
You are successful both as an architect and an entrepreneur. Which do you like better?
I have to admit that the hassles of the business side are the price I am willing to pay to enjoy the creative part of my profession and the freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur.