As part of our series, CRE Future Leaders, we caught up with Tim Swanson, chief design officer at Skender. He leads Skender’s team of architects and designers—bringing his passion for integrating the design and construction process to the firm’s clients.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I’ve always been interested in how people relate to each other and how communities come together. Growing up in rural Wisconsin and Memphis, then going to upstate New York for undergrad and Chicago for grad school, it became clear that how humanity comes together is often much more similar than different. Experiences in each place continue to shape how I see the world.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
Growing up, I had a keen desire to create things and, at the same time, a heart for people and community. And while I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps and become a minister, I like to believe that what has come from those two inclinations is an evangelical zeal for the role and power of design and the built environment to provide dignity and equity to all.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Studying here in Chicago, I was fortunate to work with a number of practices while completing grad school, culminating in an internship that transitioned into a full-time role at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. Experiencing the power of design to affect change in communities both here in Chicago and throughout the world set a path focused on the power of design as a physical, social, environmental and economic force to be leveraged for greater good.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
While there are quite a few people I seek counsel from, for their perspective, voice, experience or expertise, John Syvertsen consistently comes to mind as a voice that provides clarity and support, and, more importantly, challenges me and my vision for the myriad paths that any given day presents.
What does a day in the life of Tim Swanson look like?
The beginning and end of each day provide cadence to what is generally a constantly evolving and surprising day: my son Josiah and I walk to school and check in with each other—or as much of a check-in as one might have with an eight year old—and my wife Beth and I end the day in a similar fashion, connecting and touching base. The middle, though, is filled with a full-steam push toward the Skender vision for an integrated, design-manufacture-construct future and the expanded partnerships we are forming with our architecture and development partners to realize this next chapter.
What do you like most about your job?
Foundational to this role is a brilliant group of individuals that I get to work with on a daily basis and an organization aligned with the continuous advancement and improvement of what we all do when we create spaces and places. And while Skender as an organization has been around for over 50 years, the fact that we start and end our days with a startup mentality, focused on driving and disrupting the industry for collective good, fuels me.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
We are embarking on a path to define the future of our industry that is aligned not only with the rapid advancement we see across other market sectors, but also one that is keenly aware of its footprint on this planet and the evolving workforce. Embracing the power of manufacturing, mass customization and digital tools allows us to imagine buildings that provide resources, not deplete them; provide job safety and security, not risk them; and brings what we do in the built environment into the modern era.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
My wife Beth and I have three awesome and crazy little ones: Josiah turns eight in a few months and the twins, Elle and Thad, have just turned three, and the vast majority of my time away from the office is spent with them. It has been incredible to see the world, and this city, through Josiah’s eyes, and the twins are just now starting to verbalize their experiences, which is awesome.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do hope to go next?
For reasons too numerous to count, New Zealand has been and continues to be at the top of this list. From the incredible kindness, humility and general generosity of the Kiwi population to their stunning landscapes—sand-covered beaches to snow-covered mountains within a short drive from each other—it is one of the few places that we’ve visited repeatedly and will return to. I am also excited for the first of many family road trips to Wyoming, to camp with our family and show these little minds the beauty that this country has to offer.