This week we’re talking to Steve Ziger, a partner at Ziger/Snead, a Baltimore architecture studio with a national reputation for design excellence. Ziger/Snead’s predominantly urban expertise includes work for academic campuses, cultural institutions, non-profit headquarters and community centers, religious spaces, urban redevelopment and mixed-use projects, and custom residential design.

Peter: Where does your passion lie?

Steve: In community. I love being an architect and being able to design places for people to use, live in, and enjoy. I’m in a profession and a position to give back, and I’m passionate about that.

Peter: You use architecture to do what?

Steve: I’m fundamentally an optimist. In order to enter this profession you have to believe there is a good future and that you can contribute to that future. So we use architecture to make your community a better place. Make places where people get together, that are the focus of a community. That’s why we focused our practice primarily on cultural, institutional and educational projects. Those buildings can be the nexus of a community. We know in our hearts that design matters. I’ve wanted to be an architect ever since I was seven years old.

I think our role as architects is to translate the aspirations of our client institutions into physical form for the long term. Most of our work will live much beyond our life time, and hopefully be appreciated for generations. There’s something nice about that timeless aspect to what we do…leaving a mark on the city that we love.

Peter: How does design matter?

Steve: Design itself is a process. There are design products at the end of that, like buildings, furniture or clothing. It really is more a way of approaching the world, thinking about the world. It starts with identifying a problem or an issue. Looking at options on how to approach it, and valuating those in an iterative process based around an idea of how something can be better. The design itself is a result of intellectual and creative synthesis.

Once you have a design you have to implement it. With most things it’s a collaborative process from the designing itself to the implementation. In architecture it takes hundreds, often thousands of people to go from vision to reality. It’s that collaborative process, of getting people to focus on the end vision, that’s a real challenge…part of the creative process.

An art teacher once said, that “Art radiates the energy it takes to create it. So, invest everything you have. And the piece will shine.” I’d like to think that architecture is that way.

Peter: How does a business leader show what he or she cares about besides making money?

Steve: Back to community; that’s an easy one for me. We’re very invested in this community. I was one of the founders of the Baltimore Design School, which is a three year old transformation school in Baltimore City. It’s sixth through twelfth grade, and focuses on architecture and design and fashion. It was the vision of Senator Catherine Pugh. We’re so excited about this. We’re creating a national model for design thinking. We have a full middle school now and next year we start our first high school class. We move into Station North in the specially designed and renovated Lebow Building. The Superintendent, Mayor and Governor have chosen our school to walk through on the first day of classes. It’s been very well received. A lot of fabulous people on the board have come together to commit to the school because they see how important it is to have a model for design thinking that engages students at an early age. There are three or four design public high schools in the country, but we’re the only curriculum that starts in the sixth grade.

I’ve spent so much time on this, probably spent half of every week on Baltimore Design School. It’s really rewarding. We’re offering an internship to one of the students next year.

That’s my real passion right now.

Peter: If you could wave a magic wand, how would Baltimore be different in five years?

Steve: We attract residents to Baltimore City. We double our population. I would love to see a significant population growth because people have chosen to live here, because we have strong schools and we’re known as a strong cultural and art community. That we’re innovative, entrepreneurial, have great public transportation. If I’m waving a magic wand then it’s easy to come up with these things. I do think Baltimore has a lot of potential and is poised for growth.

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