Walter Marin of Marin Architects: Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect

An Interview With Jason Hartman

Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine

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… Cooperation with clients — Remember to listen to the client’s needs. They have a huge investment financially and emotionally to the project. You need to make sure they are satisfied with the results.

As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Walter Marin. Walter is the founding Principal of Marin Architects. As an architect and business owner, he is passionate and creative. Walter has transformed the firm into a robust business with an impressive portfolio and a large network.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this particular career path?

I was born in Colombia and immigrated as a small child to New York City. My father was a carpenter and I got exposed to the built environment through his work. Living in the city also introduced me to the distinctive architectural landscape. I can pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to pursue architecture. When I was a teen, my parents had two very stylish young men over for a dinner party. Over the course of the evening, it was revealed that both were architects. The combination of the conversation with very cool adults with my standing as an impressionable teen, resulted in my lifelong career as an architect. Coming of age in New York gave me a fascination with historic buildings and I was able to pursue my passion at CUNY.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away, you took out of that story?

I have learned a lot about marketing in the past two years. Of course, every business needs to advertise, but I did not comprehend the impact of branding. Our clients follow our online presence, and sometimes they comment on interviews or new project coverage. My takeaway is that business owners should be strategic with their marketing efforts.

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

My life lesson is “It’s important to work across different industries. Over the years I have learned that every industry has peaks and valleys. If you have projects and connections in several industries, you can stay profitable.”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have several projects that I am excited about, West 225th Street is an interesting seven-story mixed-use project in Marble Hill that will feature a church on the ground floor. Our firm also designed a 60,000 sq. ft. mixed-use residential senior living complex. The development will add 73 affordable apartments to the Wakefield neighborhood in the Bronx. One of our crown jewel projects is of course the Mandarin Oriental Residences at 685 Fifth Ave. I work diligently alongside my employees to make sure that our end result exceeds expectations. As a firm, we aim to design beautiful buildings that serve many markets, from high-end all the way to affordable and supportive housing.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Marin Architects stands out because of our timeless designs and our dynamic team. Many of our projects in New York uplift the local design language and complement the surroundings. Our objective is to build spaces that are striking, functional, and comfortable. When I started the firm as a young man, I created a design department and a production team. We developed a work style where we play to each other’s strengths. I am comfortable making introductions to clients, learning about their needs, and responding with a proposal. Marin’s design team conducts extensive research, creates renderings, and selects the building materials. Our production team adds a level of rigor and detail to our construction drawings which allows us to take on large scale projects. Our 28-person office consists of folks with intelligence, humility, and positive energy. This style of work requires such intense focus that we all try to break midday and chat over lunch. Marin Architects is a diverse workplace. Most of our office are women, and many employees speak Spanish. Nearly everyone is bilingual, and we relish in each other’s differences, mainly through potlucks and social events.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was at a critical point early on in my career, two people, Ted and Mel Metalios, invested in me financially. They needed an architect for a particular project and put their trust in me. I will never forget their leap of faith. I knew this couple through living in Jackson Heights and I am thankful for their support. I used my experience as a springboard to take on similar work and it snowballed to where we are today.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I would say I am ambitious, persistent, and unpretentious. These traits were helpful for scaling the firm. Looking back, I know it was ambitious at age 27 to think that I could run an architecture firm. An example of my persistence would be when I kept calling a prospective client in the 90s because I knew that I could deliver a great interior fit-out design at a better cost. He did not believe me, but at the third call he finally gave me the time of day and we started working together. My rugged persistence helped form business partnerships and our designs keep the clients happy. We are fortunate that many projects come from repeat clientele. There is something to be said about remaining unpretentious due to ever-changing market trends. The recessions in 2008 and 2020 were manageable because of our diverse portfolio.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about architecture and the Real Estate industry in general? If you can please share a story or example.

Three things that excite me about the architecture industry are: new sustainability initiatives, more interest in design-forward projects, and the continued housing boom. I am eager to adopt new sustainable design policies that New York City and State put forward. We are focused on elevating the quality of the building envelope so that buildings expend fewer emissions with heating and air conditioning. The constant evolution of zoning and energy requirements keeps us busy. Across industries, we are seeing that clients are more open to creative design solutions for their projects. I am not sure what caused the shift, but I am glad that our design team can harness their ingenuity and apply it in real life. There will always be structural and zoning parameters, but we will find a way to produce contemporary buildings that support comfortable living. We are still living in a housing boom where families, single people, and developers are buying property. Many of our projects include new buildings, adaptive reuse, interior fit-out, and gut renovations.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

Three things that concern me about the field of architecture include poor material selection, spatial quality, and lack of transitional and outdoor spaces. I would improve material selection by creating guidelines with long-lasting materials for different climates. I would share the guidelines globally so students and architecture firms can make resilient structures. Spatial quality is a fancy term for effective use of space in design. I always want our layouts to maximize usable space to improve residents’ quality of life. My employees know that I am obsessed with designing buildings that feature rooftops and patios. It is important to embrace spaces where people can congregate and enjoy the outdoors while living in a city.

Ok, here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share with our readers the “Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect?” If you can, please give a story or an example for each?

  • Serious Commitment — Starting an architecture firm is a huge undertaking. Be ready to work!
  • Travel — Exposure to other designs and cultures is important for creativity.
  • Strong teamwork ethic — You need to energize and support your staff. Try to surround yourself with smart and proactive people.
  • Research — Do background research for every project, learn about the stakeholders, the neighborhood, the history. Details make the difference.
  • Cooperation with clients — Remember to listen to the client’s needs. They have a huge investment financially and emotionally to the project. You need to make sure they are satisfied with the results.

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I am from Jackson Heights, Queens and I attended CUNY. My education and exposure to different professions allowed me to become and architect and business owner. I think that affordable college should be an option in the US and paid internships could be a part of the professional training during college. It’s imperative we introduce different jobs to young people so that they can find a field they love. We spend a lot of our lives at the office, why not enjoy the work?

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I would encourage readers to follow our Instagram, it is @MarinArchitects. We share press coverage on social media and on our website. 2021 and 2022 have been very busy for our firm and we will be sharing thought leadership and new project photos in the coming months.

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

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Jason Hartman
Authority Magazine

Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar