Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, 1995
Master of Architecture, 1997
Current City: Memphis, Tennessee
Hometown: Braceville, Illinois
Served as Worthy Superintendent (Grand Lecturer)
Wellbe Bartsma: What did you pursue after graduation? Where did your career take you?
Charles Pickard: After my first graduation, I moved to Memphis for the summers during grad school, before moving here permanently after I received my Masters. My focus in grad school was historic preservation, so as I frequented Memphis, I fell in love with the city and saw all of the potential that the city had. I took a thesis project in downtown Memphis, which actually became the first project that I stamped after receiving my license, so I was actually able to build my thesis. I worked for a small preservation firm called architecture incorporated. When I moved to Memphis after finishing my masters degree, it was called center city connection, where they promoted development in downtown Memphis. It enabled me to meet developers and meet architects to learn the ins and outs of the city, and learn about the government of the city.
WB: What interested you in pursuing a path towards historic renovation/preservation?
CP: I spent my junior year studying abroad in Versailles for 9 months. U of I rented space in the French school of architecture in the stables at the chateau. I was able to eat lunch everyday in the gardens and work in the palace, and had a total of 10 weeks of free travel time throughout Europe. I fell in love with all of the old buildings and just knew that that was what I wanted to do.
WB: What type of work and dedication did it take to start up your own firm, and about how long was the process?
CP: After the center city commission, I worked for JNGR, from 1998 to 2004 working in the area of preservation architecture in healthcare cancer clinics. When I got my license in 2004, I was asked by the developer who was the owner of CM Design of Court Square Center to help out on that project. I ended up being the architect for it, which was actually my thesis project, 7 years later. The 21 million dollar project finished in January of 2009. I closed down that firm and became executive director and chief design officer of the Memphis Regional Design Center. We promoted excellence in urban design and planning through livable/walkable and bikeable areas. I had the firm from 2004 to 2009. That one project was our main work, where we spent 2.5 years getting all of the drawings completed and the project within the budget. I spent 6 months value engineering the works of a previous architect. I value engineered with another architecture firm from Europe, and we ended cutting the budget down from 38 million to 21 million. They started construction in September of 2006, and in January there was a large fire on the site, so that set us back in construction as well as some design work. It took 4.5 years of my life to complete this project.
WB: Previously, you were President of AIA Memphis. What actions did you take while in that position for the city?
CP: I got involved with AIA as an intern. I became an associate director for 2 years, secretary for 2 years, then President, then Past President. I served on the AIA board of memphis for 9 years. At the local level I brought in IDP training when I served as IDP Coordinator. I also served on the board of AIA Tennessee for 4 years. The biggest thing I did for Tennessee was bring programs in for Associate Members who at the time weren’t getting much in return for being an AIA member. I brought in programs, and test training. I have spent a lot of time helping the emerging architects and incoming professionals to our field between AIA and Alpha Rho Chi.
WB: You are very active in the Public and Political Sector. How does a background in architecture prepare you for the political world?
CP: I announced that I was going to run the first week of December, 2014 and just finished. I was in the race from January to October 8th. They had a runoff election and I ended up supporting the guy that ended up winning. It gave me a lot of political tie-ins and experience. I was running for city council. There are 13 positions, 7 single member districts that are equally divided within the city, and 2 super-districts that split the city. If the city architect position opens up I would be able to make more of a difference. I learned a lot about putting yourself out there and spending political capital and making risks. It is so incredibly stressful, I was unable to work full-time and a lot of mental stress. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot out of it. It really reminded me of architecture school when you learned by doing and how to put yourself out in the public. When I was working for a non-profit, I had a lot of influence from the government. It made me realize how important it is for architects to know what goes on in the city. We need that influence in city government which gave me the ambition to run for city council.
WB: Do you have any advice for any young professionals out there who dream of opening up their own firm in the future?
CP: The best advice that I was given was that when I was studying abroad I met an alum named Marshal Arne, Anthemios. He advised me on what type of architecture firm I wanted to get into. The one time in my career when I was least happy, was when I was doing healthcare work. This turned when I got the opportunity to work on my thesis project and open up my own firm. I’ve chosen not to work for a firm so I can do private consulting, which is what I really want to do and makes me a lot happier in life.
I am hoping to to become the city architect/urban designer for Memphis, to be able to give community input. That position no longer exists but I am proposing that it be brought back to serve as a neutral party.