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Laboratory Design spoke with Michael C. Johnson, AIA, NCARB, Founder, Design Principal with Carrier Johnson + CULTURE in San Diego.

Laboratory Design (LD): What project do you consider to be your greatest challenge, and why?
Michael Johnson (MJ):
The Park 12 mixed-use project here in San Diego, which combines residential units and retail space with views of Petco Park below, has been one of my greatest challenges as an architect and leader due to its size and complex design. The project spans over three city blocks that are in the shape of a triangle, separated by pedestrian mews into three separate buildings connected by overhead bridges at the second level. Two of the buildings are wood frame podium and one building is a 37-story hexagon-shaped tower. The project encompasses 721 residential units with 55,000 sf of restaurants and shops and over 1,200 subterranean parking stalls constructed below the water table. In addition to these structural challenges, this project began at the tail end of the Great Recession making it difficult to secure investors and financing. Plus we were working with three separate clients, as well as the owner/builder and the general contractor, who all had different interests and leadership styles. We were able to complete Park 12 by placing it on a fast track with overlapping phases. And the many stakeholders all agreed on a unifying goal: to create an iconic project that celebrates and connects the surrounding neighborhoods and the city at the ground plane, while connecting the three distinct neighborhoods above the street plane. We achieved this goal by introducing bridges that span the mews at street level, defining the three neighborhoods on the triangular site.

LD: If you had to do something else for a living what would it be?
MJ:
I’d love to play baseball for a living, especially if I could start for the Padres. Failing that, I’d enjoy being a musician, maybe a singer. I love what I do very much, but no one ever asks for my autograph.

LD: What’s the best advice you’ve received during your career?
MJ:
You should always love what you do! And by extension, that means you have to do what you love. I was encouraged to pursue my passion, and I’m glad every day that I listened. Also, the people who told me “Work hard and play hard” were on to something important, as were those who advised to always lead by example. I’m a better leader today because I behave in the same way I expect those who work with me to behave.

LD: What would you tell young people if you wanted to encourage them to join your line of work?
MJ:
It’s always important to learn all you can about your associated disciplines—breadth of knowledge is as important as depth. Also, avoid working in silos; instead, strive to collaborate with others outside your narrow studio or team. Finally, I advise strengthening your communication skills, in all areas—verbal, written, graphic and so forth. Communication is critical in this line of work, whether working with clients, end users, project team members or colleagues.

LD: Are you involved with any career-related charities, organizations or mentorship programs?
MJ:
I’ve recently been named to serve a 10-year term on the American Institute of Architects Contract Documents Committee, which meets quarterly to set documents standards across the profession. I’m also sitting on the UC-San Diego Real Estate and Development Advisory Board, where I’ll be working to create a new degree program for the university in that field.

LD: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of Laboratory Design?
MJ:
Although it’s not my particular specialty area, when I was the design principal for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical, it was invigorating and challenging to mix research chemist and biologist in the same facility. They were coming from a different paradigm of cloistered environments and we were able to foster a new culture of collaboration by thoughtful design that addressed their functional needs, while creating space that was sustainable and encouraged collaboration. I have been involved in the design of labs for healthcare facilities as well as for academic and classroom settings, and I have enormous respect for the work that lab design specialists perform. Meeting exacting safety standards while designing for environmental sustainability is no easy task for any building type, and all the more challenging for research and testing facilities. I have seen first-hand how good design can contribute to breakthrough science—it’s inspiring!

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