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INTERVIEW: Architect Matt Fajkus

Recognition has followed Matt Fajkus throughout his career. He’s the principal architect of Matt Fajkus Architecture as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas School of Architecture (UTSOA). A very abbreviated list of his honors includes the Cale McDowell University-wide Award for Innovation, the ACSA New Faculty National Teaching Award, not one, but two Texas Society of Architects Studio Awards and the Silver Award by the Spark Spaces International Awards Committee. All of these honors were bestowed on Matt in 2012 alone. A big congratulations from us here at TROPHYOLOGY — we are impressed.

The Austin native took time to chat with us at his UT-Austin office about some of our favorite topics: recognition and inspiration.

Share the recognition

While his firm carries Matt’s name, it’s really a team — a team that shares in credit for successes. “We pride ourselves in being quite collaborative and not being just a single voice,” he says. “One thing I’ve learned from working in previous offices is the importance of authorship of work.”

Some firms simply don’t do a good enough job of recognizing everyone involved in the success of a project.

“It leads to disappointment or frustration by employees who feel like they’ve invested a lot of themselves into a project, and don’t ever seem to get credit publically or even internally in the office,” he says.

Matt mentions the members of his team in publications whenever possible, praises them on Facebook and offers financial rewards. Team lunches and happy hours count among his favorite ways of saying thanks and celebrating successes together.

The personal touch

He also sends thank-you notes to employees to show appreciation for effort in the office. It’s a habit he picked up when he was working with noted architect Max Levy in Dallas.

“He was amazing at putting a personal touch on things,” Matt says. Those little gestures let clients and colleagues know Levy truly cares about them, Matt says. He treasures the hand sketches with which Levy adorned his notes and has saved all the notes he received from Levy.

Inspiration in the office

“It’s easy to live in abstract worlds,” Matt says. He encourages his team to sketch a lot and share those sketches. “I think we inspire each other with our sketches, more so than anything else.” Matt also saves and displays geological mementos from his travels, such as memorable stones found in each country he has visited. He also brings back objects from site visits in his architectural work — stones, fossils, even a piece of a house burned in the Bastrop wildfires. These objects become a connection from the office back to the site, Matt explains.

Awards past

His love of sketching is deep-rooted. Matt recalls receiving an award for a drawing when he was in second grade and getting a lot of attention for it.

“I was very shy as a child,” he remembers. Drawing was one of his favorite ways of communicating at that time. The recognition encouraged him to keep developing this skill and had a role in shaping his life’s trajectory.

At his parents’ home, you’ll also still find tennis trophies from Matt’s college years of competitive tennis. Though he doesn’t play much tennis now, he credits the focus, confidence and independent problem-solving skills he acquired through the sport with helping him in his architectural studies.

Already a winner

A more recent honor that means a lot to Matt is being among the 26 faculty recipients from the University of Texas at Austin to receive the 2013 Regents Outstanding Teacher Award. One thing that makes this honor especially important to Matt is that it shows a “diversity of appreciation,” with nominations coming from students, fellow faculty and his dean. He was touched by all the support he received from UTSOA colleagues and staff members in submitting the required documentation for the award. “I felt like I had already won something even putting together the proposal,” he says.

Why awards matter

We had such a great conversation with Matt about the reasons why awards matter that we would like to write more about it next week. For now, we congratulate Matt once more on his outstanding achievements and thank him very much for this great interview!

 

We love these excerpts from Matt’s beautiful sketch books.

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