Urban Studio Alumni Spotlight: Brent Uptain (BArch ’00)
Architecture program alum Brent Uptain, founder of residential design practice Studio J. Brent located in Birmingham, AL, says that for students to make the most of their time at Urban Studio, they should spend time on the sidewalks of Birmingham with a sketch book. He recommends that they “gaze up at the buildings and sketch them. Don’t take the city for granted. Birmingham dates back to the 1880s; they truly don’t make buildings like those anymore.”
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU LEARNED AT URBAN STUDIO?
When Urban Studio first started, all the students were treated to a walking tour of downtown Birmingham by Marjorie White, the head of the Birmingham Historical Society. Marjorie has an encyclopedic knowledge of Birmingham’s history and its buildings. So, all of the students came away from the program with such a specific knowledge of Birmingham’s incredible history and its beautiful buildings. For a medium-small city of its size, Birmingham is blessed with an abundance of significant and beautiful buildings. And, during the prosperous decades of the 1980s and 1990s, many cities regrettably tore down many of their historic buildings to make way for the future. Fortunately, Birmingham did not (with a couple notable exceptions) erase its incredible history.
WHO MOST INFLUENCED YOU DURING YOUR TIME AT AUBURN?
Cheryl Morgan influenced me most during my time at Auburn. Professor Morgan had a knack for pushing students to achieve their best work. She was a hard professor and demanded the most of any professor I had, but every student that she taught did their best work under her guidance.
DESCRIBE URBAN STUDIO IN 3 WORDS:
Urban Studio is about learning “intentional”, “contextual”, and “sensitive” design.
DID YOUR TIME AT URBAN INFLUENCE YOUR CAREER PATH AND HOW?
My time at Urban Studio instilled a love for Birmingham. I also interned at firms here during that time. So, naturally, settling in Birmingham after I graduated was a must.
WHAT IS YOUR FIRST, OR MOST LASTING MEMORY, OF YOUR AT URBAN STUDIO?
My most lasting memory while in architecture school would be getting to meet my future wife while at Urban Studio.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT APLA’S ARCHITECTURE PROGRAM THAT YOU LOVE?
I love Auburn’s architecture school because of the professors. Each professor has such a unique personality and is able to teach their students something singular and unique. There isn’t so much one overarching philosophy at CADC, but rather each professor does their best to mentor and pass on what they have learned.
HOW DID YOUR TIME AT AUBURN PREPARE YOU FOR WHAT YOU ARE DOING TODAY?
I always tell people that Auburn’s architecture program concerns itself with creating inquisitive graduates. I left Auburn with a hunger to continue learning. Most of what it takes to practice architecture is really learned on the job. But the love for the profession, and the hunger to learn more of it, is instilled while at Auburn, and that’s the most important part.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT?
My greatest professional accomplishment is that I get to do what I love. And that I am trusted with the important task of designing someone’s home – such an intimate thing to be tasked with, and so important to their wellbeing. When I see the joy on clients’ faces when they move into their new home – that’s my greatest accomplishment.
WHAT IS SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
People may not know that I am a music lover and obsessed with audio. I love designing home theater spaces and music rooms for clients. Though most people today are content to listen to their smart speakers or whatever.
WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE SCHOOL KNEW ABOUT IT?
I wish more people knew that Auburn’s architecture program is for any creative type person. You don’t have to be a math wiz or incredible artist. You just have to have a spirit of creativity and a hunger to learn. This misconception that you have to be a genius to make the cut is damaging, and I wish we could change that.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CURRENT STUDENTS OR RECENT GRADUATES INTERESTED IN PURSUING A CAREER IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL FIELD?
I would say that today’s architecture students need to be technically savvy, but to also work hard to not lose the simple skill of being able to sketch out an idea with a pencil. It’s not like riding a bike. It takes practice to be able to translate a thought onto paper. And, because they are different implements, a computer and a pencil yield different results. Our work is better if we bring all those tools to bear while working, not just the computer.
For more information on the 30th Anniversary celebration for Urban Studio, please go to: aub.ie/Urban30
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