Brad Lukanic, AIA, will become CannonDesign's CEO effective July 28, 2016.
Laura Peters Brad Lukanic, AIA, will become CannonDesign's CEO effective July 28, 2016.

Today, CannonDesign named Brad Lukanic, AIA, as its new CEO. Lukanic replaces Gary Miller, who will transition to the role of principal and CEO emeritus following nearly 25 years at the helm of the firm, which has 16 offices around the world. The move puts a designer in the CEO position, following Miller, whose background was in business and management.

Lukanic, who is based in New York, has been with CannonDesign since January 2009, and most recently was the executive director of its education practice. We talked with Lukanic about some of the opportunities and challenges facing the firm and the architectural profession, as well as his goals in his new role.

ARCHITECT: What are the biggest priorities or opportunities for Cannon Design in the next two to five years?
Lukanic: There is a tremendous amount of change going on in the world right now, and part of it is how much disruption is going to be happening over the next five years with the Internet of Things. Some might think that the architecture and engineering profession doesn't have a role to play in that, but I think we can be partners of that change as it happens—from how we deliver buildings and projects, to how we shape the environments for our clients and for those who engage in our buildings.

Additionally, there is expected to be a decline in the number of licensed professionals going forward. And so it's an interesting moment for the profession to think of new ways to design and deliver projects with, in some ways, a shrinking of the [workforce]. One thing we are working on is design-led construction. Two years ago, we purchased a [multidisciplinary design] firm, Astorino, with a design-led construction component in which the architecture and engineering firm is a true partner with the contractors, allowing for the integrated delivery of buildings and projects. We're starting to see some of the results of that [partnership] now.

What opportunities or priorities are on your radar for the longer term—the next five, 10, 15 years?
The priority is to begin to leverage the virtual design component and technology in how we work. As we become more integrated with the cloud, we can share information and complex modeling between our offices, between our people, and also with our clients in real-time. The second part of it is augmented reality (AR), through which additional information shapes the experience of how you move through a space. We’re also starting to think about new ways of delivering projects together with our clients, whether it's through alternative delivery or through alternative financing.

I think there are a lot of good examples now. We're about to open $2 billion hospital in Montreal, the CHUM Project [the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal], and it is focused on an integrated delivery model of design-build financing and management. That has been happening the last several years throughout Canada. We're starting to see more of it in the U.S. As states adopt it, there's more potential for delivering projects in new ways to clients.

You've spent much of your time at the firm with its education division. What have you learned on that side of the business that could be applied firmwide?
What's been interesting in the education world is how much we have shifted from disciplined thinking within academic units to a much more integrated, interdisciplinary thinking in the last five to seven years. That shift [is occurring] now not only in education but also in industry, in health.

How, specifically, have you seen that in education or industry?
We’re the only architecture-firm member of the University Industry Demonstration Partnership, a nonprofit that explores synergies between education and industry. It grew out of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and it leverages integrated thinking to solve global challenges. Being a partner has been interesting because some of the real-time research and development that's happening within industry is starting to have great synergies within the education realm and so it spurs new ways of teaching and learning and it becomes much more bi-directional.

As CEO, what are some of your own leadership and management goals?
It is a fantastic [time] to be an architect because the world is changing around us, and we can help shape it. For the past 20-plus years, [CannonDesign has] been under the leadership of [Miller], essentially an economist, who has helped us grow from 200 people to about 1,000 people. Now, the board of directors has made a shift to having a designer at the helm of the firm. I think that that's an important moment for the firm and it's a reinforcement of the power of design in our industry.

Given the growth under the previous leadership, what's your position on growth now?
There are two avenues of growth. One is growth in size and that's something we certainly think about and will focus on. The more important growth is about the evolving and changing needs and design solutions required for our clients, staying nimble and agile to the changes that our clients are facing, and leveraging design to solve some of that. We have an advisory services arm focused on how our clients interact with our spaces and workflow. We have a focus on lean design, and we have a focus on workplace strategy to all be more inclusive and responsive to the diverse needs of our clients.

What are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the architectural profession?
One is risk. There seems to be in the industry a shifting of risk toward the architecture and engineering professionals. As a profession, we need to develop ways to manage that because we're seeing more expectations [put] upon design professionals to perform in some ways above an ordinary or everyday standard of care. So that's one. The second part of it is re-connecting with our clients to shape experiences. In some ways there are two sides to the profession: one is the design experience and the other is about delivering the service of the product or the project. The profession is at its strongest point when we're delivering design solutions and not just delivering the service part of it.

To your point about risk, is there a specific example in which you're seeing that design professionals are expected to perform above and beyond what would be reasonable or typical?
One of the major things that we're seeing now is asking the design professionals to take on a level of risk for things that we cannot manage. For example, being responsible for contractor performance, or inspections, or contractor work that we are not really overseeing. That's one. Two, in the world of clients, expecting fewer errors and omissions [or otherwise] closer to a level of perfection that in some ways is exceeding where the industry is at right now.

What else is on your or the firm’s radar?
It's a good time for our profession to have stronger relationships with schools of architecture, both in terms of the training of architects and also the linkages between how people think critically, and how that can translate into the professional environment. Some of the best architects in our firm today are new, energetic graduates that are looking at solving topics on sustainability, habitability, that are challenging conventional ways of designing and thinking. The younger generation is challenging the status quo, and it's positioning the profession well for the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed.