You won’t find Justin traveling by car; not if he can help it. He probably has more bike miles under his belt than any other Emerick Architect combined. Incredibly, he once rode his way from Alaska to Costa Rica. That’s over 6,000 miles in case you were wondering.
With a focus on Residential Architecture, Justin enjoys the problem-solving aspect of his job and client’s “aha” moments when they see his vision come to life. Read on to learn about his favorite Emerick projects, what he would buy if he won the lottery, Portland dinner recommendations, and more!
Name & Title at Emerick Architects
Justin Smith, Associate
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on at Emerick? Why?
That’s a bit of a loaded question because I fully expect all the past clients I’ve worked with to be reading this, and you’re making me pick favorites. I’ll pick two that have been meaningful to me in different ways.
One project involved working with the Stewart/Auzins on a full renovation of their SW Portland home that we’re dubbing a “Mediterranean Oasis.” The project was on a steeply sloping site, which had its own challenges as we dug out the basement. The interior was time-locked with pink paint, flowery wallpaper, and a drop ceiling in the kitchen. Opening up the spaces and revitalizing the interior truly brought this home to life.
Another involved working on a gentle update to a wonderful mid-century home in the SW Hills by revamping the kitchen and updating the master suite. As a designer, it always feels good to step back and take inspiration from the original design and do as little as possible to fold the client’s current wishes into the existing home. This mid-century modern home originally designed by Walter Gordon was just that.
What’s your favorite thing about being an architect?
My answer has two parts. First, the problem solving associated with incorporating sometimes disparate items into a cohesive design. Second, that moment near the end of construction when a client has an “aha” moment and recognizes our design intent behind an element that they couldn’t grasp during the process. It usually comes in the form of, “I never understood why you wanted to do X so badly, but now I see it and love it and couldn’t imagine the project without it!”
Why did you become an architect? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I feel as though I fell into it. My grandfather was a draftsman for GE, spending most of his working career hand-drawing their jet engines. That was the closest exposure I had growing up to anything related to design, and that was periphery at best. Lately, I’ve even gone so far as to joke that I became an architect because I never had Lincoln Logs as a kid to get out that play in design.
I have always felt a connection to design and structure/organization, and I think that’s the greatest factor in me picking architecture for my major. The rest is history, because once you jump into that fast-flowing river, you aren’t exactly able to get out and over to the lazy river (ha)!
What’s one type of project you’ve never worked on but would like to?
After graduation, I spent a half dozen years in the construction or design/build industry. Toward the tail end of that span, I was involved in building an elaborate and modern prefab home with five separate components that would be trucked and joined on site. I wasn’t there during the design process, unless you count the evolving problem-solving designs on-site, and have always wanted to dig into the components and precision of a prefab building.
What’s the first thing you would buy for yourself if you won the lottery?
A larger outfitted woodshop for my side hobby of custom hand-made furniture and lifestyle products (this would likely include a cargo-van under the guise of hauling material, but would ultimately just be for me to build-out as an adventure rig).
What’s the next place you would like to travel to?
I’ve had a dream of visiting Patagonia for some time. About 8 years ago I got close, making it as far south as Costa Rica on my bicycle in an attempt to ride from Alaska to Patagonia, but then life interrupted the adventure and I made my way back to architecture.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Have a breakfast of homemade granola and yogurt (I don’t make my own yogurt, yet).
What’s your spirit animal?
I’ve never identified one, but it would surely be one that lives in the mountains. Perhaps a bear.
If you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Peanut Butter on an apple.
Beach or mountains?
Mountains by so much it’s not even a fair competition.
What’s the number one place you recommend to eat in Portland?
I’m a big fan of Teote if you go with enough people to eat family style and order some of everything. For a very unique (and $$) experience, I’ve had a great time at Holdfast Dining.
What’s one thing you think everyone should try in their lives?
Ride their bike twice as far as they think possible!
How do you relax after a long day at work?
Either with time in the woodshop or a pint at Proper Pint Taproom.
Bike or car?
If you’ve read this far, you should be able to answer this question for me. I choose two wheels over four as often as possible.
Favorite curse word.
I say both, “damn” and “shit” equally.