Justin Kearnan and David Cooke met at the University of California, Berkeley in 2014. The two were undertaking the intense Masters of Urban Design program at the prestigious school and quickly developed an equal admiration for the other’s approach.
Four years later, Justin joins City Collective in Adelaide as a Principal. Joining Justin is fellow American, Brenna Jewitt (whom you may recall from the last Urban Insider). Brenna takes up the role of Senior Interior Designer and Workplace Strategist for City Collective.
Arriving in Australia in October, the pair have hit the ground running – joining our team on the existing project schedule and adding significant experience to the capacity of our practice.
“We just really developed a strong bond through our study and project work at Berkeley,” says Justin.
“We really enjoyed trying to understand how the other thought and what they thought and – although I think it may seem like a big move from the outside – it made sense to leave DC for this opportunity,” says Justin.
Brenna and Justin hail from Skidmore Owens & Merrill (SOM) in Washington DC and bring with them a wealth of city-building experience and the absolute best practice principles for sustainable, inclusive and equitable design.
But don’t expect Justin to tell you what he does. He’s much more inclined to talk about the why instead.
“When you say you’re an architect people tend to think, ‘oh well you build buildings.’ Or, if I say I’m a planner people say, ‘oh, you write policy’.
“The way that I describe it to other people is less about what I do and more about why I do it,” says Justin.
We suggest Australian clients and the ‘average Aussie’ might see this response as dodging the question, or, ‘being a bit dodgy’ as we say here in South Australia.
Justin laughs, he says he likes the Australian approach but in his defence, the question about what he does must be answered correctly.
“Why we do certain work is – in my mind – to achieve two ends: One is to better the planet, which kind of seems a little altruistic, and two is to improve people’s lives,” says Justin.
“And how we do that is… we design cities.
“That usually helps people understand what we’re involved with.”
To say that Justin is passionate about the impact of the urban realm on the health, wellbeing and potential of communities would be an understatement.
Over the course of even a brief conversation, Justin touches on the myriad layers of friction in urban environments that lead to negative outcomes for communities.
Things like access to education, fresh food, open public space, mobility, transportation are all equal and important components that must be considered by a good urban designer.
“I have a very strong opinion that, just as architects are morally and ethically obligated to design buildings that don’t collapse and hurt people, urban designers and planners are ethically and morally obligated to create places that provide equality for all people who live there,” says Justin.
Of course we talk at length about the difficult nature of achieving public benefit on private property but Justin isn’t phased by the challenge of bringing policy makers and property developers together for the good of all.
He’s seen it done and done profitably.
“The Wharf at Washington DC,” says Justin.
“That was a very challenging project for the private developer and the City. But the City worked out a partnership with the developer – it had great incentives – and their bottom line worked out very well.
“But at the same time it revitalised a part of Washington DC on the water’s edge that was, up until that point, a wasteland,” he says. We can’t help but think about the correlation between this story of Washington DC and Port Adelaide’s under-utilised waterfront.
City Collective has always offered the perspective to our clients – both government and private – that the best solution to any challenge is ultimately going to result in the best outcome for everyone involved.
We are so pleased to welcome Justin and Brenna’s global perspective to our design studio and leverage their experience to help underwrite our promise of only ever delivering the best, most innovative and effective outcomes for every project stakeholder.