An Interview with John Lister, Founding Principal of JL Architects


JL Architects, founded in 1988, recently celebrated its 34th anniversary. I sat down with John, the firm’s founder to learn a little more about his vision for the firm – past, present, and future. It was a long interview, we had 34 years to cover! Today I present part 1:

How have you and the firm grown over the past 34 years?
A company with a long history must constantly evaluate what it is doing and how. There is a natural evolution that goes with that. JL has successfully shifted focus with changing economies, each time leveraging and building on the history of past work. This has allowed the firm to grow in its breadth of work and capabilities. As JL expanded in diversity of client type and work type, the team became very efficient at uncovering the unknown variables and possible concerns early in the project phase. This results in completed projects that run smoothly and contribute to the success of all parties involved. Each project will always continue to be part of our building blocks in the tower of growth and success. We can never stop learning and growing!

On a personal note, I have learned how to rely and depend more on others to expand JL’s capabilities by hiring people smarter than myself and with experience I do not have.

How does your vision of the firm when you started compare to what it looks like today?
I had always desired to lead my own firm. An opportunity to do just that presented itself (earlier in my life than I expected) and I seized the opportunity. My vision for the firm evolved based on where I saw the market going, what opportunities I saw in changing markets, and where our clients were leading us. I have chosen to operate as a “boutique firm” that prioritizes long term relationships with repeat clients, whose trust has been gained through the dedication and personal attention of our JL team.

Of great importance is the integrity and quality of our work. Probably of equal importance is knowing our staff can feel confident in providing for themselves and those they love, both now and into the future. These will always be a constant in my vison for JL Architects.

Did you know you would be licensed to serve clients throughout the US? How did this decision impact you and JL Architects?
JL became a firm licensed to work throughout the USA because our clients asked us to continue servicing them as they expanded geographically. This decision to carry 40 licenses across the country has had a profound impact on the firm. It has allowed us to serve our clients and their changing needs, it has taken us into new market types, it has taught us nuances about permitting and working it various regions, and it has been a buffer during economic downturns.

How have you been able to use architecture to impact the world around you?
Not everyone understands or can pinpoint what an Architect does. Yet, when an Architect does impact the built world a person can sense it, even though they may not be aware enough to express it. When a project marries our training and sensitivity to created space with our client’s vision, the magic happens, and it is very rewarding. I have the privilege of living in a home I designed and working in a building I designed, so I would say my personal world has been very impacted!

Our next part of the conversation is going to get more into the details of the practice of architecture – the changes in construction, the impact of technology in the industry, and lastly John’s thoughts for future architects. Stay tuned!

Joseph Kaye, Architectural Designer