Architects Talking to Architects: Brian Cay, Assoc. AIA

Brain Cay, Assoc. AIA, is the vice chair for the AIA Dallas Architecture Matters committee, works at PBK in Dallas, is on the verge of being professional wasp killer, can bench 400 lbs, and has a look that definitely stands out in a room full of architects. 

Brian Cay, Assoc. AIA – courtesy of Brian Cay

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Topeka, Kansas, or as my friends and I called it growing up, "Top City." Topeka has a small city feel and was a great place to grow up. I also spent a large amount of time in Lawrence, Kansas, while attending the University of Kansas (KU).

While attending KU, I was exposed to people from all over the world through school organizations and the semester I spent studying abroad in Paris. During my time abroad, I was exposed to a lot of great architecture. In addition, my experience changed my view of the world in a way that has allowed me to better understand and be more conscientious of the “world view” on to global issues.I really enjoyed my time in Lawrence, and from time-to-time, I like to go back and visit, especially during basketball season — "Rock Chalk Jayhawk.".

Topeka, Kansas –via Flickr; Dougtone

KU Campus –via Flickr; stephenjjohnson

If you were not an architect, what other profession would you have pursued?

If I had not pursued architecture, I would probably have been a psychologist. I have been fascinated with the complexity of the human mind for as long as I can remember. Understanding why people react to things the way they do and the drivers behind the different personality types is something that intrigues me. 

While in college, I took a handful of psychology electives were we discussed concepts such as: Id, ego, and superego relationships. I found several psychology subjects extremely interesting in college, which nearly caused me to consider a different career path. However, at the end of the day, while my short foray into psychology gave me a lot of insight that I still use today, I’m glad that I chose to pass on discussions of the Oedipus complex in favor of a life of architecture.

Architects aren’t known for their hobbies … Do you have one?

I do have a hobby that I am starting to pick back up on after letting it lay dormant for a while: woodworking. I first started woodworking when I was in high school, when I painstakingly made an armoire. After a friend of mine constructed his own bed, I decided to revisit woodworking. Most recently, I made two planter boxes for a Hearts and Hammers project that my firm did (which also happens to be where I honed my wasp killing skills mentioned in my introduction). I plan to make more furniture in the future and to acquire a nice woodworking shop as I am able to. My next purchase will be a gliding compound miter saw, because those things are awesome.

My planter boxes for Hearts and Hammers – courtesy Brian Cray

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m inspired by the future. There aren’t many careers out there where you get to change the built environment and affect the day-to-day life of so many fellow human beings as much as we do in architecture. With all the new technology and innovations, I’m excited to be part of a field where these tools will allow for more sustainable practices in our buildings. I am looking forward to seeing these changes manifest in the architecture of the future.

Pen, pencil, or computer? 

I would choose the computer, for multiple reasons. Anyone that I have worked with knows my middle name might as well be “Revit.” I do sketch with pencil from time to time, but I actually find that it takes me a while to think out things when sketching by hand compared to using the computer.

When I throw some detail components into a digital drawing that are correctly sized, they help me get the final dimensions worked out and feel more confident about my design. Plus, when you draw with BIM programs, you aren’t just drawing, you are bringing in additional information. For example, I recently did a woodworking project that I modeled in Revit. I was quickly able to make a schedule to tell me how many linear feet of wood I needed to buy to complete my design, which made going to the store to buy the wood an easy task.

I do feel that having great hand sketch skills makes life easier. I am working to improve my pencil sketching, especially after one of the last fast free hand sketches I did came out looking like… well, let just say that Georgia O’Keeffe and I have something in common. 

What is the one building that you just had to see for yourself?

There have been several buildings that I have wanted to see over the years. One of the buildings on my list that I was fortunate enough to see in person is the Eiffel Tower. Not only did I get to see it, but I also got experience it in a way many people don’t get to — by taking the 674 stairs up to the second tier of the building. The reward for the hard work was a breath taking view, both literally and figuratively. For me, the Eiffel Tower was an amazing experience that I will remember forever.


Eiffel Tower – courtesy Brian Cay

What is your favorite time of year?

My favorite time of the year is spring, with my favorite day of the year being the day when Daylight Savings begins. I’m sure that’s not a popular answer since we all lose an hour of sleep that night; however, I really enjoy sun-filled days. To be honest, if it was up to me daylight savings time would never end.

What type of advice would you offer to young professionals?

The best advice I can give to young professionals is to know your worth and make sure you are constantly increasing your value. Many of those just getting into the profession are concerned with fitting into the role of the position at their respective firm. Oftentimes, they don’t take the time to self-evaluate to figure out what unique skill(s) they may have and can use to help their employer get ahead. It never hurts to ask what your firm perceives as its weaknesses and come up with a plan for how your skills can be used to improve or fix these issues.

In addition, sometimes employees become complacent after years of a routine. One of the best quotes I’ve heard regarding this is: “Even if you’re on the right track, if you just sit there you will eventually get run over.” My advice would be to make sure you are always learning fun new things and that you are constantly forcing yourself to grow. It’s not always easy to do, but it pays off for both you and your firm in the long run.

"Architects Talking to Architects" is a column on the Texas Society of Architects blog that spotlights members from across the state at different points of development in their career. All participants are given the same set of questions with instructions to answer any six, giving them the opportunity to highlight the items they feel are most interesting. Is there someone you'd like to see featured in "Architects Talking to Architects?" Email to let us know.