Some boys want to be a firefighter when they grow up. Or a sports star. Or an astronaut. Chad Young had the notion early on that he wanted to be an architect.
This month, the Little Rock native becomes president and chief executive officer of Wittenberg Delony & Davidson Architects. At the same time, that distinguished architectural firm begins celebrating its 100th anniversary -- a remarkable display of vitality and staying power for any enterprise.
"I pretty much always knew I wanted to be an architect," says Young, who will turn 47 in March. "I would spend hours as a boy designing futuristic cars, airplanes or space ships. The idea of creating something out of nothing has always been fun. I started drawing in kindergarten. I recall other kids wanting the drawings I would create in class. I just thought everyone could draw."
He won several school art competitions and placed second in a nationwide Dukes of Hazzard coloring contest in the third grade. It was a proud moment, even though he didn't get a chance to collect part of the prize: being flown to Hollywood for lunch with Catherine Bach, who starred as Daisy Duke.
Young remembers "studying world history and seeing those magnificent structures like Egypt's Great Pyramids, the Greek Parthenon and the Roman Colosseum -- and trying to imagine what those civilizations might have been like. Those early fascinations led me to understand that my skill set was oriented toward design and the artistic side of architecture."
Speaking in his 18th-floor corner office in the Regions Bank building, he adds that "I have been blessed by God with the chance to do something I absolutely love to do. God has opened up doors of opportunity for me starting back in college. And I hope that is reflected in my work. I believe in living out one's faith, not just talking about it."
That assertion reflects deeply rooted Christian beliefs, imbued in part by parents Raymond Jr. and Donna, as well as two pastors, grandfather Lester Burton and uncle Larry Burton. Young and his family are active members of Fellowship Bible Church in Cabot. He has designed a 12,000-square-foot addition to the church's worship center, due for completion this spring.
Young remembers his grandfather, who died in 2017, as a ministering Good Samaritan "who would take food to those in need, help strangers and pick up hitchhikers. Once he even picked up a stranger when my young sister, Stephanie, and I were riding in the pickup truck's cab. My mother was definitely not happy about that."
To Young's uncle goes credit "as another big influence on my life, mainly because he introduced me to my wife of 20 years, Shana. That happened at his church. He said she was someone I should meet, and he was absolutely right. We dated about a year before marrying."
Shana works as a family therapist. Their three children are Eden, age 17; Grayson, 15, and Stratton, 9. Young designed and built their Cabot home, in a modern Prairie Style design with a third-floor lookout tower.
"It was maybe my hardest job," he says wryly. "I can think of dozens of ideas for a house, but what did I really want to have? Something affordable? Something comfortable to live in? And what did my wife want? She was the owner. I was just the architect."
After graduating from Little Rock's J.A. Fair High School, Young earned his bachelor of architecture degree in 1995 by completing the five-year program at Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He'd accepted a job offer during his senior year from Wittenberg Delony & Davidson (WD&D), having been recruited mainly by Tom Adams, then the firm's president.
Founded in 1919 by George H. Wittenberg and Lawson L. Delony, who were joined in 1928 by Julian Davidson, WD&D has designed some of the state's landmark buildings. In Little Rock, these include Central High School, Robinson Auditorium, the Regions Bank Building, the Stephens Building and Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center. (Illustrations for a variety of the firm's projects can be viewed at wddarchitects.com by clicking the "portfolio" icon.)
Young's first Arkansas design for the firm was the Bank of Pocahontas. He worked with Jack F. See Jr. on the project, which won a design award for a contemporary building in a historic context. That began his progression to associate, senior associate, partner and stockholder, vice president, director of design and now WD&D's sixth top executive over its 100 years.
A list of his designs for the firm runs to more than 100 projects. Indicating the breadth of his work, the list extends to a dozen categories: Office/Financial, K-12 Education, College/University, Public/Municipal, Religious, Health Care, Hospitality/Entertainment, Recreation, Residential, Federal/Military, Parking (two parking garages) and Interiors.
Along with Wittenberg, Adams and See, WD&D mentors he credits with helping to build his career include Richard Alderman, Ed Peek and John Sloan. Alderman continues as chairman of the board while managing the firm's Northwest Arkansas office in Fayetteville.
Joining Young and Alderman as partners are Wallie Sprick, chief operating officer and executive vice president; Brad Chilcote, secretary-treasurer; and three vice presidents: Roy St. Clair, Glen Woodruff and Jay Clark.
"As the president of WD&D for the last 10 years, I could not ask for a better person to move us forward," Alderman says. "Chad shows that he has the know-how to get important projects accomplished. Most importantly, our clients trust his work."
Young describes the WD&D staff as "a diverse group of architects in our skill sets, and I think that is what distinguishes us. Our entire firm is a great mixture of design talent and technical expertise. I wish I could name all 28 members of the staff to give them the credit they deserve. We work hard and play hard. We bowl together, we eat together, we break away and play flag football together."
His hobbies include painting on canvas, creating art to hang in his home and as donations to nonprofit groups with whom he has worked over the years. He finds it "sometimes great to step away from the world of precision architecture and do some messy abstract paintings that are more about color and composition than anything else."
Young cites as his design inspiration the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Fay Jones, Le Corbusier, Richard Meyer, Tadao Ando and the Morphosis firm. He says that their widely varying visions "led to my appreciation of many different styles and design typologies."
Now in midcareer, "I am still inspired by other creative firms and people. But I think I have become multilingual in terms of my work's style and language. I take the design cues for the building from the client and the context around it."
In that vein, "the most important part of practicing architecture is listening to the clients and finding inspiration in their vision for the project. That means being willing to try understanding their business and how architecture can help tell their story or further their business or improve their lives. I really enjoy learning what makes them tick."
As an example, he cites designing the new Ronald McDonald House, on West 10th Street in Little Rock: "I had to learn what it was like to be family members going through major life-changing health issues with their child."
Janell Mason, the house's executive director, lauds his work, "from the whimsical design features like the two 'tree houses,' the two-story slide and the doghouse facade in the vestibule to the spaces of comfort and peace where families can escape beeping machines."
A more upbeat setting was Mid-America Science Museum in Hot Springs, where Young designed renovations and additions that wound up winning seven design awards. He'd often taken his family to the museum, "which helped me focus on how kids see things and engage with hands-on exhibits."
A teenage enthusiasm prefigured another major project, the ATA International world headquarters at 1800 Riverfront Drive in Little Rock. Young took tae kwon do lessons starting in junior high with H.U. Lee, the revered co-founder of what was then called the American Taekwondo Association.
"Taekwondo taught me a lot about self-discipline and the South Korean culture," he says. "I got up to blue belt, one belt away from black. But I had no idea I would be using some of that knowledge when working on the new headquarters. My design has Asian influence and a lot of symbolism."
Young recently finished design work for the new $50 million Arkansas Heart Hospital Encore in Bryant. It "will not be your typical hospital. It will be a five-story state of the art facility that will feature the latest technology, roof-top gardens, patient rooms and surgical areas filled with natural light. This will be a healing place, with soothing colors and a large garden plaza just next door."
Dr. Bruce Murphy, chief executive officer of Arkansas Heart Hospital, says that Young "was very responsive to our needs and used a lot of imagination. His design is not only beautiful, but has many innovative features. He is a star in his field."
A project on his 2019 agenda is designing a high school for a nonprofit enterprise halfway around the globe in the African nation of Rwanda. It is part of a yearlong WD&D initiative with the label "ENGAGE," aimed at taking on projects with the theme "putting others first."
Among his honors are two for his design restoring the 1908 James Mitchell School: the Quapaw Quarter Association's Preservation Award and a Preserve Arkansas Preservation Award. He was recently appointed to the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design's Dean's Circle.
VALUE IN DIVERSIFYING
In his new leadership role, Young sees one of his firm's "most challenging things as the ability to see a year or more down the road in relation to the economy. When the economy is good, banks are lending, businesses are confident about investing in new construction, and architects are busy. But during recessions, it is pretty tough to maintain a steady workload."
That is why, he says, WD&D "is very diversified with respect to project types. We try to maintain a balance of public and private work. That has been a key to our firm's success over the long span of a century."
An architect's design is most visible in the steel, concrete and glass of a completed project. But Young sees his projects as "about people and the human experience and interaction with the built environment. At the end of the day, it is about having developed a great relationship with clients and giving them a design solution that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations."
He describes WD&D's design philosophy as "rooted in the client's vision for the project. Our process starts with listening. We normally don't come to clients with a preconceived idea, but rather with design research and idea generators to help them envision possibilities as we start the design conversation."
The relative permanence of an architect's creations gives him pleasure: "It is very rewarding to see your buildings on display to the public for years to come. One of my favorite things about architecture and working at WW&D is to think that I am shaping the look of our community and state."
As the centennial unfolds with several forthcoming special events around the state, Young aims "to help the firm get to the 125th anniversary. Then I'll be ready to hand it off to the next president, if not sooner."
He sees the opportunity "to rebrand and define a new leadership for another 100 years, building on the legacy of this firm, which has designed so much of Little Rock's skyline." That includes his office aerie, with its sweeping views, an ethereal inspiration for an architect's daily rounds.
“The most important part of practicing architecture is listening to the clients and finding inspiration in their vision for the project.” - Chad Thomas Young
High Profile on 01/06/2019
Print Headline: HIGH PROFILE: Architecture firm’s new president, Chad Young, on building even more successes