The Hord Coplan Macht Cool Box is a place to get to know some of the people and personalities who are delivering great ideas and leading work for our clients. In the Cool Box today: Carson Shields, an Associate in the K-12 Education Studio in Denver.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I first started looking into being an architect my sophomore year of high school, but all the way back in pre-school I was drawing floor plans at school. My dad is a contractor and built the three houses we lived in growing up, so I’m sure that influenced me to a large degree.

What parts of your personal life have influenced your work as an architect? Vice versa?

Growing up, we spent a lot of time outside, biking, fishing, skiing, backpacking, and hunting. I feel that connection to the environment is part of who we all are and provides a lot of personal connections for the sustainable design work I do.

Describe your “dream” project. 

I’d love to work on a Net Zero school, or even better yet, a Passive House school. Designing schools to eliminate their energy bills would provide more operating funds to add an extra librarian and two teacher aids and keep those voter-approved funds going to actually teaching the students.

How are you different as an architect now than you were when you first started out in the field?

When I first started, I thought everyone was perfect and I should be able to meet that same level of perfection; being perfect at sketching, perfect at interviewing, perfect at drafting. But at some point, I realized no one is perfect and it’s ok to be me and not the perfect versions of all of my co-workers. The only thing any of us need to do to be successful is to be the best person we are.

When you describe where you work to friends and family, what do you say?

I get to design schools every day. A lot of my work is creating a vision for a project with input from teachers, parents, and the community and then helping all of the consultants, product reps, and colleagues understand that vision. When we finish a school, I know that it is a building that will last and be there to support learning for tens of thousands of kids over its lifetime.

What’s the most important quality in the client-architect relationship and what do you do personally to ensure you have that with your clients?

Trust is the most important thing we can build in our career. It’s not just with the client, but with our co-workers, consultants, product reps, contractors, and owners. I try to build trust by actively listening and focusing on their needs — being available and doing my best to help them succeed.

What’s the key to establishing rapport with your clients?

I think being human is important. We aren’t perfect, and we don’t need to pretend to be. It’s ok to admit mistakes, it’s ok to ask for help, and it’s pretty good to take people out to eat, to just make time for them.

Name a trend you don’t think is going away anytime soon and why.

Sustainability has always been a driving force in my life. I feel we often become complacent, thinking we know what to do and we don’t challenge ourselves to do better. But science is evolving, new materials are coming to market, and new strategies for how we design buildings are always being discovered. If we allow sustainability to go away, then I believe we are causing physical harm to our planet and not living up to the standards we need to, to ensure all the things we love will be here for our kids and future generations.

What’s something you don’t feel you can learn in school and that you have to be in the field to understand?

In school, I never really understood how complex a project actually is. We sometimes worked together in a small group, but today just about every project I work on has 30 or so people actually putting time into a project, probably double that number for product reps, and then hundreds of contractors.

What makes HCM stand out in the industry?

I think we have two things that pull in the opposite direction, but make us stand out because of that dynamic. We have a history of doing great K-12 work and people see us as a trusted firm that they know will do a great job. At the same time, we are constantly trying new things and innovating. It is the dynamic between those two forces that really makes us stand out.

What’s one surprising fact about you that most people don’t know?

I took a lot of philosophy classes in college.

What’s your go-to afternoon snack/drink?

I think everyone in the Denver office knows my afternoon snack is anything with sugar, baked goods if at all possible. Someone told me today that I have the biggest sweet tooth she has ever seen, I told her I have a whole mouth full of them.