When reflecting on why he chose to become an architect, Stewart Smith tells a story of his father who could draw and had an industrial design background.
Smith became intrigued with the drawing and enjoyed the activity himself. But he also talks of a childlike draw to Mike Brady, patriarch of “The Brady Bunch.”
“He was an architect and he had the cool clothes and he had a great family,” Smith said. “He was smart and all these sorts of things, so that was a little bit of influence.”
His main influence, however, was a family friend who was an architect and who designed the Smiths’ home in Lebanon, Mo. At the impressionable age of 13, Smith watched those architectural drawings go from concept to reality, and it is something that has stuck with him.
“It’s probably a little bit of everything, but that’s how I got excited about it,” he said.
Now an architect with A2H, Smith is working on a high school in Ripley, Tenn., Federal Emergency Management Agency shelters in six elementary schools in DeSoto County, and medical facilities throughout Memphis, including a clinic for the Baptist Medical Group at the site of the old post office on Union Avenue in Midtown.
A2H works on a broad range of projects, from fire stations to Downtown renovations, but for Smith, his passion lies in those that help communities. It’s a philosophy of his, and one he shares with A2H.
“What they really care about and strive for is creating an enhanced quality of life for the client and communities,” he said.
That drive took him out of Lebanon, with its population just more than 5,000, and on to Kansas State University for a Bachelor of Architecture. Upon graduation, he took a job with HOK Sport and worked on ballparks for the Chicago White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field) and Baltimore Orioles (Camden Yards). He then went back to school for his Master of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1994.
He moved to Atlanta at the time when that city was building up its Summer Olympics venues.
“That’s where I really started working on higher education and health care projects, working on hospitals,” he said.
He opened the Atlanta office of worldwide architecture firm HKS.
Smith came to Memphis in 2008 to work for TRO Jung Brannen, taking a leadership role to increase work in China. He spent a lot time traveling from one end of the country to the other, designing massive hospitals for its population and developing new health care environments.
A2H began in 1986 as the engineering firm Mark Askew Consulting Engineers. It has evolved over more than 25 years, adding the two “H” letters – Ed Hargraves and Pat Harcourt – and later, partner Logan Meeks.
“They were in a transition, and through the recession they were actually hiring,” Smith said. “A lot of that has to do with the business model, because they are a full-service firm and work on many different types of projects, it kept them very fluid.”
He touts the new image and brand of A2H as being one of “designers and having a very strong architecture group,” he said. “We have a lot of expertise inside our particular group. We do aviation, higher education, health care, industrial design, just to name a few.”
Health care and the changing look and feel of such institutions is a particular challenge that Smith revels in, and he takes an almost holistic approach at design of such structures. Looking at a more evidence-based design model, the future is to forgo a typical institutional feel for a more comforting and healing environment with big windows for more daylight, better amenities, attractive public spaces and a situation more hospitality-like to make a patient feel at ease.
Smith looks at each project as unique, whether big or small, whether meant for healing, learning or playing. Each is important to him because each is important to the client or community, as important as a family home built 40 years ago in a small town in southern Missouri.
“I get my inspiration from the client,” he said. “They inspire me to provide something more than they could imagine it could be and to meet their expectation, whether it’s opening day at Camden Yards or a ribbon cutting for a small clinic. That’s really what drives me and makes me feel good about being an architect and seeing lives that you change by providing them something that they really need.”