Interview with Justin Saly, Senior Principal Architect on how he’s applied his education to help grow his 25-year career
With 25 years’ experience in architecture, programming, and planning, Justin is a prime example of applying his education to grow his career. As a University of Calgary, Faculty of Environmental Design alumni, and a Senior Principal Architect at Stantec, Justin has some insight and tips for architect students looking to launch their careers.
What made you want to study and get into architecture in environmental design?
After receiving my Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the University of Manitoba, followed by studying at McGill University, I pursued my Master of Architecture at the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary and graduated in 1994. I chose the Architecture Program at EVDS over some of the structured programs offered at other universities as it was a chance to choose my own path with the program’s flexibility, and for me to study different aspects of design. It was a great program!
What is your favourite project you have worked on in your career at Stantec?
I joined Stantec in 2010 and have worked on so many great projects that it’s hard to choose one. Currently, I am working on the Calgary Cancer Centre, which is one of the most challenging projects I have worked on to date because of the complexity, unique aspects, pace, and size of team involved with the project. My focus is on the healthcare planning and design side of the project, which includes some of the most complex and interesting areas of new technologies and healthcare environments that are being implemented. This includes Western Canada’s first MR-LINAC radiation therapy treatment spaces. The project is very unique as it focuses on creating healing and supportive environments for patients and families.
What is a different area where you have taken your career?
When I graduated in the ‘90s, the economy was sluggish and there was not a lot of opportunities for graduate architects. I managed, however, to secure an intern position with an architectural firm. This firm pursued alternate services due to the economy and this included strategic planning, master planning, feasibility studies, needs assessment, space programming, financial analysis, etc. I had the opportunity to get involved with lots of this work that had me dealing with client decision-makers such as CEOs and other executives in both the private and public sectors. This wasn’t a typical way to start out as an architect, but this experience helped me understand what clients are looking for, their vision, and areas that that are typically dealt with before an architect is engaged, so it was great to be able to gain this line of insight and experience.
Why is it important to choose the right company to work with to develop your career?
It really depends on where you are in your career. When starting out, you are likely looking at different directions or interests of where you may want to go, so it’s important to work with a company that provides options for you to explore.
When I joined Stantec, I was already well into my career, so it was important for me to find a company that provided the opportunity to take my career to the next level in project size, scale, and scope. Stantec provided me with this opportunity, along with being able to plug into knowledge from other architects from around the globe. My focus is currently in post-secondary and healthcare facilities, so having easy access to information about different projects in other regions is a great resource.
What do you like best about your career?
It’s always changing! Within a few months or over a course of a year, I am working on a new project or situation. It’s like having a new job with every project that comes with new people, situations, and ideas. It keeps the work fresh and interesting.
Why is it important to give back to your professional practice?
We’ve all been there at the beginning of our education and careers, so it’s important to give back by passing along information and experiences to those starting out. For me personally, I have given back by participating as a guest speaker/critic and co-taught the professional practice course in prior years. In my opinion, the more tools, experiences, and practices we provide to students, the better knowledge they bring into the profession when they graduate. It makes them better, which makes us all collectively better.
Looking back at your career, what is a key thing you have learned that you want students to know?
You’ll never know everything. Every project is new and has uniqueness to it, and you are always learning, so the best thing to do is to learn a process on how to find an answer or solution to unique situations—that’s the best tool.