Today we’re rolling out a new series here at Hord Coplan Macht. We’re calling it the “HCM Cool Box,” a place to get to know some of the people and personalities who are delivering great ideas and leading work for our clients. First up in the Cool Box: Mecayla Cobb, Director of Higher Education—Programming & Planning Senior Associate.
When did you know you wanted to become an architect?
At a very young age. My mother, an interior designer, said I could read floor plans before I could read a book. I would draw with her furniture stencils all the time as a little girl.
What is it about your personality that helps you do your job?
As an architect, I’m a strong extrovert in a world of mostly introverts. This helps me build my network among colleges and universities, as well as consultants and engineers. I also believe that empathy for one another is a necessity in my field. We must understand the needs of others, at a very personal level, to understand how to design the environment that meets those needs.
Do you approach new projects differently now than say, five years ago?
Sure. I know the questions I ask our clients at the beginning of projects are different than five years ago. The need to design flexible spaces in higher education is more prominent than ever. With shrinking state funding, we ask: “where can your programs overlap?” and “how can we design this space to be utilized for more than one specific function?”
What particular challenges of a project attract, or really excite you?
I’m attracted to projects that involve interdisciplinary learning. The juxtaposition of very different departments and programs in one building creates new, unexpected synergies. One of my recent projects combined foreign languages with nursing and biology—all in one building.
What is your design philosophy? Can you distill it into one sentence?
Boy, talk about a challenge. Let me try.
As designers, we must envision spaces that: meet the needs of our clients, are healthy, sustainable, and enjoyable to our users, and leaves a lasting impression of high-quality design that is unique, yet harmonious, to the context surrounding our buildings.
How does the vast expertise here at Hord Coplan Macht, across diverse markets—healthcare, education, multi-family—and additional services—planning, interior design, landscape architecture—help you deliver for your clients?
They’re similar to the projects I’m most attracted to. Multi-disciplinary perspectives on projects provide greater depth, and in my opinion, more appropriate solutions to our client’s needs. Within higher education this is especially true; our buildings are serving the needs of more globally minded students every day.
What do you do to engage client stakeholders, and to help them feel that their voice is heard?
Building consensus among stakeholders is never a simple task, but it can be achieved. Our firm utilizes models, game pieces and exercises to achieve consensus quickly with stakeholders—working in three dimensions is part of that magic!
What’s an industry buzzword that you love to hate right now? Why?
As architects, we have our own vocabulary. I often laugh at my colleagues and myself when we use simple, common words in front of our clients in ways only architects understand. In college we called it ‘archi-speak.’ There are two words I know I overuse: ambiguity and dichotomy.
Where in your studio have you seen the conversation shift in recent years? What are you seeing in terms of trends?
In our Education Studio, I see our clients looking more toward architects to answer the question of “what do we need to compete?” As a planner and programmer, it’s my responsibility to be well-informed with what’s happening in higher education at a global scale, not just regional or local. We help our clients determine what trends are worth adopting, and which are worth ignoring.
What aspect of Hord Coplan Macht’s approach to projects do you see really making a difference for clients?
One of my favorite aspects in the way we approach projects is our use of 3D programs that allow us to design ‘live’ in front of our clients. Our ability to be nimble in meetings, and to test options on the spot, is truly engaging to our clients, and is especially appropriate in the programming phase of any project.