Alumni Spotlight: Mark Schatz, FAIA '98

Mark Schatz, FAIA '98

Name: Mark Schatz, FAIA
Hometown: Houston
Major: Architecture
Graduation Year: 1998
Employer: m + a architecture studio
Title: Director of Design and Architect of Record

Why did you choose the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture and Design? What drew you to design?

The University of Houston made the most sense to me because it was close and full of opportunity. I was always interested in design, but as a suburban kid in the pre-internet days, I did not have the kind of exposure to a larger world of design that is so readily available now. UH helped me understand the power and extent of design, and how it can be a positive force in our daily lives. The exploratory nature of studio environment was a real revelation. 

What was one of your favorite memories from your time on campus? Was there a particular professor that influenced your education?

There are so many memories, but none better than meeting my future wife and partner in John Zemanek’s class. John Zemanek was one of my most influential instructors because our personalities were very similar. I later went on to be his academic assistant, which proved to be a challenge, yet one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done. Geoff Brune was such a supportive and reliable force during my studies at UH. I also appreciated the wild and sagely Bruce Webb, Drexel Turner, Rafael Longoria, and later Nora Laos. For first year design I had the great fortune to study under Catherine Spellman, who now teaches at Arizona State University, and she really opened my eyes to a much larger world of design with her allied presentations and discussions of art and architecture in our first year studio. As you can tell, my time on campus had a significant influence on my life in many ways.

What has been your career path since graduation? Where are you currently working and in what capacity?

My first “real job” was for one of my UH professors who used to teach materials and methods and professional practice, Paul Lodholz.  He was a “nuts and bolts” kind of guy and an extremely proficient technical architect.  One day I got an assignment back with a note, which ended up turning out to be a job offer. I worked for him for almost seven years.  After a few years I received my licensed, and my wife and I started our own practice, which we have owned for over 15 years. 

What does a typical day look like in your job?  Do you have a particular design philosophy?

Our practice has evolved into an architect/design/build affair, and I frequently spend large blocks of time out in the field with the crews, working on problem solving and implementation in real time.  On any given day I can be in the office drawing, having client meetings, or be fifty miles away supervising a concrete pour. My days are extremely varied. The only constant in my work is that I am always managing changing and evolving projects.

What is one accomplishment of your career that you are particularly proud of? How did your experience at UH prepare you for this?

This year I was honored to be inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Our firm has also been recognized as an AIA Houston Firm of the Year (2014), and I have been recognized as the Texas Society of Architects Young Architect of the Year and AIA Houston Young Architect of the Year, among a few other awards. I have had great exposure in publications, national magazines, HGTV, and Houzz. My proudest moments are the times where I experience the value and impact of what we do in this profession. A few years ago, out of the blue one day, a previous client reached out to me because they had an unexpected afternoon off. They were hanging out in one of the gallery spaces in a house we had done for them, and they wanted to take a moment to let me know they had just been sitting, quietly, watching the day go by through the framework of the project we did for them. They felt calm, watching the shadows and light in the space. You cannot beat that impact. This is the currency of effectual and meaningful design.

What is a valuable lesson you learned during your time at the Hines College?   

As someone involved with design/build work, I am very familiar with many construction tool and equipment makers. One of my absolute favorites is Hilti with their slogan, “Outperform. Outlast.”  My design education had an allied aspect to it: delving into philosophical postulations, design data suggestive conjectures, social/cultural/economic bias, and the whims, favors, and cruelties of fashion. My time at UH was a broad exposure to so many competing directions. It taught me there is value and limitations in all things. The questions of “what are we doing?” and “why are we doing this?” are dynamic and ever-changing points that merit a constant challenge and response. UH showed me the value of pursuing critical thinking and criticism as an invaluable tool to professional growth.

What advice would you give to current Architecture and Design students?

There is nothing better than including art in your life.  Art allows you to understand the world in so many ways.  Also, as many have others have said before – do not be afraid to do the work, fail, learn from your mistakes, and a move forward with what you have learned through the process.  Put an effort into mastering the things you do not necessarily care for because they can actually teach you the most.  Love what you do so much that you come to understand all the subtle nuances of what is possible.  Persist.