Person Behind The Place: Brian Brand
April 20, 2023 - by Sandy Vo
Person Behind The Place:
Senior Principal | Baylis Architects
For the first 23 years of his life, Brian Brand grew up in the small town of Lodi, California – a place he described as "charming, but a place that lacked interesting architecture and culture that inspired people." For someone who considered himself a born architect, Brand knew leaving his hometown was his one opportunity to build a career in the field – That's when his life in Seattle began.
Brand wanted to remain on the west coast and found the architectural culture in Seattle fascinating, a place to start his new career. After graduating from Fresno State University, he and his new bride packed up their life and moved to Washington where he soon met El Baylis – founder of Baylis Architects– in 1972. The firm had just turned one month old when Brand came on board as a founding partner alongside Baylis and Rich Wagner. By 1978, they formed a corporation together under the name Baylis Brand Wagner Architects.
When Baylis retired in 2001, the company officially changed its name to Baylis Architects in honor of his legacy at the company. Wagner eventually retired, leaving Brand to work with his younger partners and continue to develop the firm's culture into one that builds strong relationships with their employees, clients, and the business community.
Nearly 52 years later, Brand is now the senior principal of the same company he started with. His favorite part about working at Baylis Architects is the creative process of designing a building, collaborating with his co-workers, clients, and construction team. His notoriety with the business has allowed clients to see him as a leader in their architectural endeavors. Read on to learn more about the challenges he has seen in the architecture world, advice he would give young people starting in the field, and his favorite places around Downtown Bellevue.
From your perspective, what are some of the biggest accomplishments you’ve experienced & the biggest challenges you have seen with Downtown Bellevue?
The first time I came to Downtown Bellevue, only one tall building existed. I immediately got involved with the City of Bellevue, staff, politicians and other stakeholders interested in changing the codes to build Downtown as more of an urban environment. By 1980, the city had adopted a new land use code that allowed buildings of greater density, to build taller, mixed-use high-rise buildings, and I am pleased that our city leaders continue to have that same mindset today.
When I came to Bellevue, the location of the Downtown Park was occupied by a school administration building, school and play fields. When the property came up for sale our City Council boldly voted to purchase the property for the Parks Department, under much protest by some in the community. Having no money for building the park, local business leaders donated money and formed a drive encouraging citizens to donate money. Within just a few years there was enough money to begin building what is today the Bellevue Downtown Park, which just celebrated it’s 40-year anniversary. I believe this to be one of the biggest Legacy accomplishments for the City of Bellevue.
The BDA is currently involved with the Grand Connection project, which will enhance the current Pedestrian Corridor along NE 6th Street to ultimately connect the Park at Meydenbauer Bay with a lid across 405 to the Eastrail Multi-Use Corridor. This will mark another Legacy accomplishment for Bellevue when completed.
Some of the challenges I see us having is trying to match our codes, and what the developers want to build to our vision for the downtown – That's why I have spent so many years on the Bellevue Downtown Association's (BDA) Land Use and Livability committee. I care about the built environment and am a big fan of density but feel we need to stay vigilant to create a diverse mixed-use downtown that balances uses to include places to work, to shop and to live. Another challenge we will face in the future is finding the control we need to ensure we create affordability, and mobility. It must feel livable, walkable and offers open spaces.
For young people coming into the firm, what advice would you give those starting their careers?
Part of my job at Baylis Architects is being a mentor – Something I really enjoy doing, particularly during the last 15 years. When I first started, I was tenacious and wanted to do as much work as possible, but as I have gotten older, I enjoy working with younger people and seeing them succeed. Many of the lessons I am trying to teach them involve designing a good building that serves your client, not yourself. Even though we are architects, and we have specific ideas about what we want to build, the design we are creating is ultimately for our clients to use and live in.
You mentioned you play a big role on the BDA's Land Use & Livability Committee. How do you see Downtown Bellevue's land use and livability change over the next few years?
The Land Use and Livability Committee is working with the city on new code amendments – an extension of the code that was adopted in 2017 to change the land use in East Main and Wilburton. We are not as focused on heights as we are about how it feels when you are walking through Downtown neighborhoods. We are looking to create the new neighborhoods to be diverse and complimentary to the existing Downtown area. We are focusing on care given to the ground area and we want to make sure those open spaces are welcoming and usable.
I believe there will also be an ongoing traffic problem, and I am hoping we continue to expand more multimodal transportation options such as the soon to come light rail to reduce impacts on the streets and our highways.
What is your favorite part about working in Downtown Bellevue?
I live in Kirkland and feel fortunate to have a 6-minute commute to Downtown Bellevue. The area is incredibly walkable, so I am able to jot over to the Bellevue Club for a tennis match, eat lunch nearby my office, and walk down to the park for fresh air without needing my car. Downtown Bellevue has built a pedestrian-friendly environment with the help of many different organizations like the BDA and the City of Bellevue.
What are some of your favorite spots to dine in Downtown?
Our family likes to dine in Bellevue more than in Kirkland! Some of my favorite spots are Monsoon, Carmine's, and really any place on Main Street. I love that area because it has retained a wonderful small-town charm, and I would love to see more neighborhoods that have that same feel.
My office is near to Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar, so I tend to take clients there for some great food during lunchtime. There are many casual spots and we love like Earls Kitchen + Bar and Cactus.
Do you have any favorite places to shop in Downtown Bellevue?
I do not like to shop but when I do need something, my go-to places are Nordstroms for clothes, Macy's for our bedding and linens, and smaller boutiques.
Do you have a hidden gem in Downtown Bellevue?
This is not much of a hidden gem, but I love Bellevue Downtown Park. As mentioned, I was here when it was built. I enjoy going there for walks and sitting by the fountain and let us not forget the BDA Family 4th– It is a nice slice of nature in the urban area.
Where do you see Baylis Architects in 3-5 years?
Our firm has a variety of different kinds of work. While our focus has been high-end homes, mixed use mid-rise and condominiums, I would love to us move towards developing high-rise buildings and denser housing in the urban area, especially affordable housing that serves the community in a more significant way. We want to continue using architecture to help change lives.
I enjoy the strength and culture of our community, and I want to continue seeing the place thrive.
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