Customer of the Month: The Maker, Brad Prestbo

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Meet Brad, a Boston-based architect who practices, teaches and advocates the use of cutting-edge design technologies, and pushes to incorporate maker culture in the design process. 

As the  Associate Principal and Director of Technical Resources at Sasaki Associates, a design firm based in Watertown, Massachusetts, Brad leads teams of Technical Specialists developing revolutionary products and services. Projects range from creating generative design scripts, improving building performance with design changes, and building physical prototypes. With the recent movement of maker culture toward using advanced technologies throughout the design process, Brad and his teams are able to develop more creative solutions than ever, while including the client throughout the design experience.

Initially architects were only responsible for designing on paper, but with the democratization of technology and the explosive growth of material science we are now able to play as designers and think more about our craft than we previously had.

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Growing up, Brad had difficulties focusing in school and struggled to find a subject that fit his creative ambitions. He found his match when he discovered architecture. Since then, he has strived to pay it forward by teaching others with a similar passion for a creative outlet.

I’m happy to share the knowledge and experiences that I’ve learned over the course of my career. Especially when those lessons can help advance my colleagues’ goals and professional development.

He now teaches classes and runs workshops in architecture and design, inspiring others to look at traditional concepts through a different lens via maker culture.

In an industry that can often be risk averse with low profit margins, innovation can be limited. By teaching others about maker culture and high performance design, we can push architecture in a new direction, learning to maximize performance with minimal intervention.

Out of the office Brad is heavily involved in Boston Society of Architect’s MakeTANK Knowledge Community, an organization he founded. Their mission is to push experimentation and research in the field of design. One of the most recent projects was the creation of a large pavilion displayed and utilized at a children’s summer camp as a way of showing how a modular system can be manipulated. Similar projects have been displayed at events like the ArchitectureBoston Expo and the World Maker Faire in New York City. For his contributions to the architecture world through both the organization, his lectures, and his work at Sasaki, Brad was recently elevated to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. 

Ministry of Supply first caught Brad’s attention thanks to his interest in materials science and fabrication techniques. He wanted to test the claims made about new and innovative materials. “When I got my first piece, I thought it was wonderful that your team is looking beyond conventional fabrication methods in your designs.” Practically, that innovation translates to usability. “I can wear these clothes to everything, from a professional meeting to a construction job site, while maintaining comfort and style.  And because everything is machine washable, I love saving time and money from not making weekly trips to the dry cleaners.”

What keeps you up at night?

We are in month 120 (longest ever) of a typical (since 1945) 58.4 month economic cycle.  Back in 2008, something like 65% of architects in Boston were unemployed due to the ‘great recession’. That was a super scary time, but it seems that most folks have forgotten about it, or have not learned their lessons from that time. Or maybe this is the ‘new normal’ and everything is fine. Who knows...

What have you discovered that has surprised you?

The phenomenon known as the Butterfly Effect (not the movie). Fundamentally, the phenomenon describes how a minute localized change in a complex system can have a large effect somewhere else. This phenomenon occurs in architectural projects frequently -- a seemingly small adjustment in one portion of a project can wreak havoc elsewhere. 

How would you describe yourself in 10 words or less?

Insatiable:  I’m frequently wanting more and never feel satisfied.

Analytical:  I’m frequently thinking about concepts, how to re-approach them, and searching for patterns, connections, or alternative outcomes. 

Funny-ish:  My humor varies depending on who I’m with.  Puns, dry wit, sarcasm, pop culture references, physical humor (expressions, not pratfalls), innuendos, etc.   

Competitive.  See also Insatiable.  

Artistic:  Architecture is known as the ‘practical art’, which can manifest itself in the overall artistic expression of the project, and in the technical drawings used to explain the design intent.  

Semi-Social:  I enjoy meeting new people and making new friends, but also need quiet time. 

Cautious:  My analytical side feeds into my risk management approach -- some things I’m more adventurous with, but other things I’ll wait and see how it plays out.

Leadership:  My technique is to help position folks for success - your success is my success.  

Distracted:  WIth so many ideas popping into my mind, it is difficult to stay on one thing at a time.

What’s your favorite place?

For an architect, you may think that I would identify a building or other physical location -- there are certainly plenty of awe inspiring built and natural environments to choose from.  But for me, my favorite place is that magical moment when you elegantly solve a complex problem -- that moment when all of the pieces suddenly fall into place is transcendent. So much so that you want to keep finding your way back there -- it’s that addictive. 

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

If you want to change the future, invent a better one.  Elon Musk is certainly doing this. As the innovator in electric cars, creating a space program to make us an multi-planetary species, along with his many other endeavors, I couldn’t imagine a more fascinating conversation, except with myself 50 years from now (how cool would that be?).  

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