James Dougherty Achieves 30 Years

Mar 13, 2017

Much can happen in a company over a span of thirty years, from new tools, new business practices, to new faces in the industry. At RIM, our journey to growing from one office location in Downtown Anchorage to four additional locations along the Pacific Rim is not a simple task. We’ve managed to grow steadily even in times of economic hardships in the industry over the years, and we’re proud to be where we are today. All of this would not have been possible without the help of some of RIM’s most influential thinkers. As a mid-size company, with 14 Principals, we sat down with James Dougherty, AIA, Managing Principal of RIM Anchorage, as he reflects on his 30 years with the company. James started with the company in 1986 when RIM was operating under HNC Architects. 

You started with the company 1986, why did you choose RIM?

I only had a few years of experience when I came aboard, but I knew I wasn’t receiving inspired mentoring at the firm I was with. It didn’t help that it was an A/E firm, run by Engineers. There wasn’t a feeling that [architectural] work was important, and I possessed a spiritual regard for the importance of architecture...as a component of civilized society, and as a profession. A colleague at the time (Dana Aiken, now Managing Principal of RIM’s Tustin office), recommended I talk to Larry about joining him with this new firm. He felt Mr. Cash could offer the type of mentoring that I desired.

The advice was spot-on. Larry’s knowledge of design, business, and the challenging aspects of code and technical building detailing were able to feed my particular hunger, and reaffirm my career choice. He also had an honest integrity, and a noticeable respect for the role of the contractor as complimenting [rather than competing with] the architect. As time progressed, and the firm grew in size and capability, more talent (and mentoring) were brought on board to compliment Larry’s skills, and enable him to grow the business beyond the Alaskan horizon. Shout-outs to Bob Hesseltine, Jerry Barner, Eric Nelson and Phil Usher, who were able to spend time with me, and really show me the ropes of fee estimating, client negotiations, specifications, quality assurance, business development and most importantly—career perspective. Associations we made with contractors and developers were instructive as well, and eventually the talented folks in our studio helped to build a creatively collaborative working environment. More credit to Scott Bohne, Rollie Reid, Aaron Joseph, Catherine Call, Matt Vogel, Chris Vjada, Scott Worthington, who all helped me grow professionally with their generosity of experience and knowledge greater than my own, while working side-by-side on projects. I was surrounded by different types of success, different types of architects; all self-motivated with a burning fire in their bellies, to contribute to something greater. That tradition continues today at RIM.

What would you say is your greatest achievement at RIM?

In a collaborative environment such as this, it is really hard to clearly recognize one’s individual impact. For example, if I had not worked on the foundation of our AutoCAD production system, I’m certain the industry would still have adopted electronic systems, and RIM would have eventually followed suit. Likewise, with the sustainability movement, I have no doubt RIM would have got on board “green buildings” like all other firms. To the extent that my actions placed us in leadership roles in electronic production and communications technology or sustainability, I am happy to have helped create a distinction between leading the industry, and following.

Name one or two of your favorite RIM projects.

The south terminal renovation at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, was a “full-circle” journey for me, incorporating all of the best lessons in design while renovating a project my father’s construction company built. As a young boy I visited frequently while it was under construction, and it helped forge my desire to pursue a career in architecture. The project now touches nearly all of Alaskans in some way, and our airport is a source of employment for 1 in 10 people who live in Anchorage.

Alaska is sometimes seen as America’s parkland, which has fueled our state’s tourism economy. The crown jewel of Alaska tourism is Denali National Park, and I’m extremely proud to have positioned our firm to design not one, but two premier destination visitor centers within the park, creating a place for accommodating people from around the world who are embracing “America’s Best Idea”.

You’re considered RIM’s expert in Civic and Recreational design; what inspired you to take up that specialty?

Some of my fondest memories as a boy are the times my family spent in the coastal fishing/artist town of Homer, Alaska. In 1999, RIM was given the opportunity in Homer to place a joint Federal and State facility on a dream site with a spectacular view, to tell the story of preserved habitat all along the western coast of Alaska. The project contained interpretive galleries, science labs, classrooms, outdoor trails, and administrative offices. A maxim learned from our interpretive designers is “If you build it for the tourists, the locals will hate it. If you build it for the locals, the tourists will love it!” The overarching challenge was how to make this State and National institutional building feel “locally home-grown.” The solution we crafted was to reach out to the local art community, to integrate artisan ideals into the architectural experience. The result is a blending of art and craft that feels grounded in the “place”. The building is contemporary and cutting-edge, yet also has a soul. RIM delivered success factors beyond simply meeting program, time, and budget goals. We delivered a new type of experience and the idea of buildings with meaning took hold.

So, I’m an architect fascinated with “bricks and mortar” but I’m also a story-teller, obsessed with the Alaskan experience, past present and future. Through my experiences at RIM, I’ve been exposed to many new buildings, yet also have had the chance to tell stories about the Arctic [Northwest Arctic Heritage Center, Kotzebue], the Interior [Denali Park and Wrangell St. Elias Visitor Centers], the coastal regions [Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge], and now in 2016 the Southeast [Huna Tribal House]. Blending my love for this vast environment, with my passion for design and building has kept my perspective fresh, and my skills and curiosity challenged.

What do you love most about RIM?

The smart, talented people I get to interact with every day.

The legacy of quality buildings we leave behind, and

The transformative ways these buildings impact the people, functions and businesses inside and nearby.

What do you envision for your future at RIM?

Every year that I’ve been here, there have been significant evolutionary changes, [the word processor, spreadsheet, fax machine, PC, CADD, Deltek, CAT5 networks, cell phones, modems, laptop computing, laser printers, the internet, PDA’s, wireless clouds, e-mail, teleconferencing, smart phones, Building Information Modelling, CRM] each a revolution within our business and within the profession.

I see significant challenges ahead with the role that technology plays in determining how buildings are planned designed and constructed. I will work hard to assure architects at RIM will continue to find ways to add value to the problem-solving process, as 3D printers construct buildings and more sophisticated algorithms are developed for solving spatial problems with computers, rather than creative individuals. Globalization has resulted in access to highly-trained and highly-skilled architects from places like India, China, Korea and the Philippines, all at significantly lower cost. It won’t be too long until economic pressures make their utilization the norm rather than the exception.

Some tools, I believe will never be replaced as long as there are architects: A creative brain, translucent flimsy sketch paper, pencil, scale, and a calculator.