Home > PUM One on One with Howard K. Graves, President of Graves Design Group, LLC-Graves is blazing a trail for future generations interested in pursuing architectural and interior design- as well as graphic design

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Graves is blazing a trail for future generations interested in pursuing architectural and interior design- as well as graphic design.  
Graves Design Group is an architectural firm in Pittsburgh that provides architectural design, interior design, design/build, and graphic design services. As the successor firm to Graves Architects, Inc., we serve a variety of public, private, and non-profit clients since 1988.
Our architects specialize in educational building design, parking garage design, and residential architecture in urban development. We also design office and retail buildings, commercial, historical restoration, LEED, and government projects.
PUM: Tell us how you got into the design and architectural business?
Howard Graves: I have always had an interest in the arts and sciences.  As a youth, I would build shacks throughout the hill sides of the community I grow-up in.  The materials were often discarded items found throughout my community; for tent structures, I would often use old bed sheets that my mom gave me.   I came from an artistic family.  Fortunately, my parents recognized this and sent me and my siblings to private art lessons, which is where my formal training began.  
But, it wasn’t until one of my mentors in life, who was reviewing my portfolio, suggested that I apply to Carnegie Mellon University’s department of architecture.  I was already taking courses both in art and engineering at time, via part-time evening studies, as I was deciding what I wanted to do in life. So, his suggestion made sense and I ended up applying and was accepted. 
I also had this sense, growing up, that I would run a business of some sort.  I have always been a leader and had the spirit of an entrepreneur. So, with a lot of encouragement and support from family and friends, I started my firm in 1988
PUM:  Your team has had an opportunity to work on some amazing projects, any one in particular you enjoyed especially?
Howard Graves: Each project is unique and brings a sense of pride and enjoyment.  The ones that allow more artistic freedom in the design do tend to stand out, however.  One such project would be the K. Leroy Irvis Archive Room, which is essentially its own “little building within a building”.  This project is located within the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library. In designing this project, I worked very closely with Mr. Irvis (a former Pennsylvania Speaker of the House) and the University to develop a design that attempted to capture some of his essence.   The fact that we were able to do this, and keep within the normal project constraints of budget, schedule, etc. made this project that much more rewarding.  
PUM: As it relates to the Urban community, what about Freedom Corner? What are your thoughts about that project?
Howard Graves:  I grew up in the Hill District community. And, so, I was acquainted with some of the very powerful personalities that stood up for the civil rights causes, there.  I also experienced some injustices, first hand.   So, I was honored to be the architect, working along with a very talented artist and skillful contractor, to design and build this didactic monument.  For people old enough to remember the 60’s Civil Rights Movement, it serves to acknowledge those people who participated in the struggle and I’d like to think it gives inspiration for current and future generations to “aim high” on both a personal and community level.  Much blood and tears were shed to get us where we are, as a community.  Hopefully, the monument will inspire people to carry the torch in their own positive way.                 
PUM:  Are we going to see more Sustainable Construction, Green Building Design, Eco-Friendly Architecture? Particularly here in Pittsburgh?
Howard Graves: Responsible architects and engineers have been working at sustainable design for years.   However, some of the newer materials, techniques, and applications are finding their way into projects more frequently, as the public embraces the idea.  The benefits of sustainable design, with more green features and eco friendly materials are becoming more embraced by the local Pittsburgh community, with larger businesses leading the way.  For example, our firm recently completed a Green Roof project for Highmark, in downtown Pittsburgh.  It was the largest green roof in Pittsburgh when it was completed in 2008.  Other large clients are following suit.  Even single home owners are asking for it.  Graves Design Group is positioned to offer a variety of sustainable/green/eco design services because we believe there is a permanent demand for it, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere.  
PUM: What do you like most about your job and how you are making an impact?
Howard Graves: I like the fact that I can practice architecture, run a successful business, interact with staff and professional colleagues, and serve the community, all in a day’s work.
I think the fact that I can do all of these things is what makes every day a new and exciting challenge that, while not always easy, ultimately leads to my satisfaction in knowing I am doing more than just trying to make a living. 
African Americans make up a very small percentage of the architectural profession, something like 3-5%.  A number of talented African American architects who have sought employment in Pittsburgh have worked for my firm over the years.  Some eventually moved on to start their own firms, work for public agencies, or other large firms.  I believe I gave these individuals opportunities for professional development through project experience that they might not have gotten elsewhere.  We’ve reached out to the youth in the community, as well.  Our firm also has hosted children for a day in the office, to expose them to the profession.  And, we’ve provided summer intern opportunities for college students.
I am a founding member of Pittsburgh’s African American Chamber of Commerce, so I have looked for ways to support other African American businesses throughout my career.  We’ve looked to provide meaningful support to MBE and WBE businesses who are both a minority in the building and design profession.
On a larger scale, I was a mayoral appointed board member of Pittsburgh’s Historic Review Commission for 15 years.  And I am currently serving my professional community, statewide, by serving as a state governor appointed member of Pennsylvania’s State Architectural Licensing board.
 PUM:  What sort of projects are you currently working on?
Howard Graves: The firm is currently working on projects that include educational, parking garages, specialty training centers, bank retail, senior housing, and a custom single-family home addition.
PUM:  How do you accentuate the positive?
Howard Graves:  I am a truly a positive thinker and this is reflected in everything I do.  It is essential to running a business, especially in our current economic climate.  A healthy dose of Faith is also required.  Practically speaking, you learn to do more with less.  Many times, clients start out with a huge wish list of features they want for a new project only to learn what it might cost.  Graves Design Group is adept at working with clients to seek what is essential for their project and finding ways to extract high value for their money.  For example, we may see a portion of a renovation project that can be salvaged or reused in a new way. Or, we may find synergies in their program that can save money.  The possibilities are endless, which makes each new project exciting.       
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