Reprinted from Albuquerque Business First, “See our product as it stands”
by Mike English
Chris Bard turned a flair for carpentry into a career in architecture 40 years ago, and in the ensuing decades he and fellow FBT managing partners Arthur Tatum and Bill Fanning have guided FBT Architects to become one of the top firms in Albuquerque. Bard spoke with Business First about the evolution of his profession and the growth and success of FBT Architects.
How did you go from construction to architecture?
I was going to school in Colorado. I graduated in ’71 and there were no jobs for political science majors. So I started framing. I did that for a number of years, in Colorado and then here in New Mexico. It was really my wife who was instrumental in getting me into architecture school. I came home from work one day, really angry at an architect, and she said, “Well, if you think you can do better you should go to school.” I went down to UNM and applied. Don Schlegel, who later became dean of the school, told me I could come into the graduate program if I did some of the technical course work. I earned a masters in architecture from UNM in 1976. And here I am.
What attracted you to the profession?
I grew up in Los Alamos. I came from pretty creative parents. And I always loved drawing and putting things together. I really enjoyed figuring things out. And architecture is just that. You need to be a jack of all trades. You design, you need people skills, marketing skills, leadership skills — there are just a lot of things that go into it. But the creative side is what drew me in, tied with the technical.
We have a unique opportunity in architecture to think outside the box and the four walls by blending commitment, creativity and a multidisciplinary approach to positively affect the people, environment and communities they serve. We do this by creating facilities that are resource-efficient, site and community enhancing and provide a healthy and enjoyable experience for the people within them.
Has architecture evolved during your career?
Absolutely. I was given a great opportunity by the founding partner Bill Fanning when I was in grad school. Don Schlegel had told me to get out of construction and work for an architect. Bill hired me. Back then, we did everything by hand. Being a talented draftsman was an art form. All the design work and drawings were done that way. The advent of the computer changed that. The technical evolution has been incredible. And on the business side we’ve seen added layers of regulation in the business. But change, yes. The days of the true renaissance architect are probably gone.
How have you managed to grow FBT Architects during the ups and downs of the local economy?
It’s a cyclical industry, for sure, and in my career I’ve seen eight or nine of those cycles. We’ve been fortunate. I owe that to the people around me. It’s really about those folks — I wouldn’t have been in this industry over time if not for them. And more particularly, Bill and Art have been great business partners for 30 years. But New Mexico is unique. We’re heavily supported by the federal government and the national laboratories. The public school system and the state are a big source of work. Unfortunately right now there’s a limited amount of private funding for projects. That’s one reason we expanded into Texas, where we have an office in Lubbock. That’s been successful for us. But our real success has been identifying the unique abilities of each person, and letting them do that and excel. That’s the fundamental premise of our success.
What are your dreams for this company, 20 years down the road?
Bill Fanning had a vision for the firm during his time, and Art and I have ours. There will be a time for the younger guys to pursue their vision as well. But yes, I do think about that. It’s bigger, it’s greater market share, it’s different arenas. Our core business is architecture, but over the years we’ve formed Walla Engineering; Studio M, an interior design firm and Groundwork Studio, a landscape firm. Along with Payday Inc. we recently formed Soteria Group, a consulting firm with expertise in safety and security design for schools and the workplace. The core business is FBT, but those different arenas are part of the vision also.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the people. For me, it’s being surrounded by creative minds and the people who have made it fun. As the old saying goes, if you enjoy going to work every day, you don’t really have a “job.”
— Mike English