Putting the “Tech” in Architecture – Five Years with Elliott Ruzicka

In our Portland infrastructure studio, Architect Elliott Ruzicka is celebrating five years with MWA this month. As our laboratory design specialist and go-to tech genius, Elliott is a heavily relied upon resource for our entire team. His passion for learning, willingness to help, and love for design are just a few things we appreciate. Thank you, Elliott, for your contributions to MWA. 

“Elliott has become the go-to person for so many important things at MWA. He has embraced the idea of becoming MWA’s key lab resource and technical architect for our industrial projects. Watching him present at last year’s Laboratory Design Conference was impressive. He served on a panel with several other industry experts who all brought unique perspectives in the complicated but growing laboratory design field.”

– Jeff McGraw, President and Principal

What projects are you working on right now? 

I’m finishing up the Eugene Water and Electric Board Water Quality Lab. The Willamette Water Supply project is heading towards 100%. Sunnyvale Cleanwater Center is in the throughs of 90%. And Bull Run Filtration’s design development is on the horizon. 

What project phase is your favorite? Why? 

I think I like construction administration (CA) the most. I like solving problems, being on site, and talking to the users (also why I like schematic design). CA gives me a chance to do both. I also like seeing the design I’ve had a hand in come to life before my eyes. 

How have the responsibilities and expectations of your job changed in the last few years? 

The job has definitely become much more self-managed and open-ended than it used to be. I started out at MWA asking a lot of questions, and (while I still do ask questions) many more people come to me with their questions now which is great because I enjoy being helpful, though I occasionally have to learn something quickly so I don’t leave folks without an answer. 

Elliott with his wife Ying Yi and their sons Dyson and Daemeon

How do you maintain work/life balance? 

My schedule and focus are largely determined by that of my kids. They are my wakeup alarm in the morning, I start work after I take them to daycare (my youngest just started), and work ends when I need to leave to pick them up. Then it’s kids time until they go to bed. After that I have three hours to myself for my other projects before I do the evening chores and night routine. 

Dyson, 7 months and Daemeon, 2 years

During COVID, how have you been maintaining your sanity? 

A rolling stone gathers no moss. I’m always occupying myself with something or another. I’ve got several projects I work on in the evening involving electronics, space design, drawing, brewing, and coding. Of course there’s never a dull moment with young kids around. If I need a sanity break, I’ll spend a couple hours in a very hot bath with a very cold beer. 

What do you hope to do more of in the next few years? 

As far as work is concerned, I hope to design more laboratory projects and I look forward to taking San Diego’s North City Pure Water Facility through CA. More personally, when the world feels reasonably safe from COVID-19 I want to commit to being more social with my friends and family. 

What is your next career goal that you would like to tackle? 

We are actually in the process of revisiting our approach to lab design at MWA. I think it’s about time we modernized and make use of new technologies and construction methods. We have long been using the same set of assumptions for details, design, and specifications, so it’s exciting to try to step out of our comfort zone and do something we might not have considered before. 

“Elliott is an organizational and tech Rock Star! I can always count on him to come up with creative ways to get around program weaknesses or glitches with creative solutions.” 

– Monica Clarke

When you started your career, why did you want to become an architect? 

Ever since I first considered the architecture profession (before high school), I haven’t wavered or felt a pull towards any other profession. I think being an architect can be an amalgamation of artist, engineer, businessperson, civic fiduciary, and politician. It is also the perfect profession for creative people who love to learn. I feel that I would get bored with any other profession. 

Is there a particular architect’s work that inspires you? Why? 

Just like books and their authors, I prefer to pick and choose my favorite buildings rather than the architects. Also, my preferences are not at all too unique or interesting. That being said, I’m pretty fond of some of the works by Peter Zumthor and Zaha Hadid. Zumthor’s use of material, massing, and light always brings me back to the basics and reminds me of my time in school. Hadid always snaps me out of thinking of a building’s elements as having “levels” and opens my mind to other possibilities. Her work often allows me to believe that a better future is possible. 

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