How To Climb To New Heights: From Mountain Tops To Architectural Designs

When you become an architect, you dream of creating great designs,” Steve Melvin, principal director of Atelier Architecture and Design, tells Richard Petrie in the video below.  Architecture school is about the integrity of design first rather than making money. But after 15 years in the business, it’s hard to recapture the passion and find those better design projects.

“I already had some successes, but … I was just feeling that I wasn't reaching my potential, wasn't winning the kind of clients I want, … and I was dealing with an awful lot of frustration and boredom as well.”

As a mountaineer, Steve is exposed to the wild landscape, feeling the adrenaline rush as he climbs to the peak of the summit. His problem:  How could he capture the energy he experiences as he ascends to the mountain top in his architectural projects?

Changing his mindset

Architect Steve Melvin on changing his mindset and learning to market his design firm.

Headshot of Steve Melvin

One of the first steps in the SIX+MAPS program is about your mindset. So six months ago when Steve started the program, mindset was his primary focus.

“The exercises in mindset focus were crucial, were key. And so that was a turning point for me. … It released lights and power, but it brought focus and then gave me confidence, that power was real and relevant.

“I was a bit disconnected from my interests in life. By developing my mindset, it enabled me to integrate interests, apply that life force and power into architecture as a channel. This profound interest of mine is climbing mountaineering and delving into wild landscapes. I had yet to find a way to make sense of that in the architecture field.”

It seemed like a huge leap, but Steve embraced the challenge and formed a process for making that connection. 

“I did a lot of brainstorming, a lot of writing of thoughts, of linking emotions that might drive me into the design and emotions I might feel on a mountain. And I started to draw parallels and found it really exciting. And then also looked at images, images of my work and also images of mountain and climbing experiences I've had, and sort of picked out underlying emotions and themes. And it was really revealing.

“In climbing, you've got a range of emotions, but the exhilaration is a big one, fear and obviously the stress, but you've also got a sense of peace and freedom once you've achieved something where you were really stretched to your limit. And the journey of that, of going through those emotions was one of the things I think that I found in parallel.”

Learning to communicate his value to clients

Architecture by Steve Melvin. Photography by Dennis Gilbert.

Architecture by Steve Melvin. Photography by Dennis Gilbert.

The benefit of finding the connection and using the rock climbing analogy gave Steve the ability to communicate what he does to others.

“Those experiences in the mountain are very important to me and I want to share them. And when you're climbing, you might be able to share them with the person you're climbing with. But you don't really get to share them with many other people.

“It makes my life so much more meaningful to bring those profound landscape experiences to benefit other people in construction space and creating space that has the atmosphere that can draw out those emotions.”

As a result of the SIX+MAPS program, Steve explains how he communicates now.

“I've created some striking images of recent projects …  with a philosophical quote about my landscape passion, trying to make it accessible to other people. Those postcards are going to have the dream team on the back, and I'll give them to all my consultants who were working on that particular project so that they can pass those out.

“My newsletter and my website offers have one or two images of mountains and landscapes. Little by little just dropping things in and I'm noticing people now who are ringing up about Ask the Expert or even going into Needs and Options. They're starting to pick up and question me on this landscape process. I call it my Pioneer Nature Method, they're intrigued by it. And it seems to be drawing in some bait and some prey.”

Discovering a unique niche — the Pioneer Nature Method

Architecture by Steve Melvin. Photography by Millie McBride.

Architecture by Steve Melvin. Photography by Millie McBride.

Richard asks how Steve defines his niche. His goal is to create unity between the buildings and the landscape, a single entity.

“The Pioneer Nature Method is all about reconnection with nature … So I think that very simply, that's what I want to offer.

“The obvious niche is Modern Rural Architecture, residential. Also, there are rural retreats or rural leisure, like golf clubs, spas, mountain refugees and wine farms. Modern building types that have the opportunity to adorn the landscape, to actually contribute to stunning landscapes, to create an exceptional design within a beautiful landscape… We all know the environment is so precious and we've all got to … save or regenerate it. Being able to create beautiful buildings in central landscapes is important where the building is contributing, it's not separate from the landscape.”

The SIX+MAPS program gave Steve clarity of mindset and helped him identify his niche. Knowing who he was and who he wanted to design for made it easier to pick the right projects and market his expertise.

“Yes. And I noticed in the course that very cleverly you have niched there very early on. And of course, it's very simple and profound as a concept… And then it's like opening a lid and there's this stuff down there … these dreamy ideas, and somewhere along the way, it’s gotten shelved and compromised and forgotten a bit.

“That is a very powerful thing because now when you're going out into the world, you're reconnected to something very strong, you're reconnected probably to the reason that you were told by something to go into architecture in the first place.

It's unstoppable and it's so relevant when you reach that point, that connection.”

Reconnecting with the core of architectural design

Rendering by Atelier Architecture and Design, Steve Melvin.

Steve has found a sense of strength by reconnecting with his core being. He provides a structure for his clients to connect to the land. 

“I've got the direction, enthusiasm, energy and confidence that this is relevant. It's a never-ending process of refinement … But I think what I can bring is my profound experiences and love of nature through climate to bring a bit of unique insight into that process. And I'm absolutely sure it's the right path for me.”

Steve provides a final bit of advice from his experiences — connect your passion with the design passion.

“Be patient, but also try to stir the passion, try to do the things that trigger the passion. There must've been times in your process when you felt passionate and withdrawn to do what you do after passion. And it's trying to find the source of that really.

“I mean, but so many thanks to you, Richard. I mean, it's just been awesome to be on this journey.”

Climbing to new heights in his architectural designs

Architect Steve Melvin on climbing to new heights and architectural designs, choosing a niche, and shifting his mindset as an architect and architect marketer.

Steve Melvin “in the zone.” W. Andrighetto.

Steve Melvin expresses all this and more in his exclusive interview with Richard. Watch the video, so you can also reach your highest potential as an architect marketer:

This success is all because Steve now realizes he has TWO jobs:

  1. Marketer of design services
  2. Architect

Steve Melvin is this month's Sunshine Island Hero.

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