Who Inspires You?

Behind every good architect–and perhaps every good businessperson–is someone who inspired them, paved the way or set the bar. This week I’d like to share with you the story about the architect that influenced my vision for my own career, Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Next week I’ll talk about a business figure who did the same.

This tale harks back to my college years, when I was a young architecture student at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!). Walking through U of M’s campus, I passed the Alumni Center often and always stopped to take a moment to soak it in. The form and savvy use of materials were eye-catching. The simple, pavilion-style building with its clean lines and attractive modern edge was sleek, yet somehow warm. No matter how many times I looked at it, it never lost its appeal.

Of course, I wanted to know more. Turns out, I wouldn’t have to look very far. One of my dorm mates was familiar with the designer: he had designed his parent’s home. His name was Hugh Newell Jacobsen and he was known primarily for his residential work and use of pavilions like the ones I’d seen on campus, tied together through a cohesive aesthetic.

Years later, when I had the opportunity to design my own home, I used Jacobsen’s work as a precedent in an effort to capture that same sense of white-on-white purity of design that left its mark on me. While in Washington, DC, where Jacobsen is based, I was afforded a dream opportunity to spend a half-hour with him, showing him the proposed design plans for my home and meeting his son, who is also part of the business today. He graciously took a look and made suggestions on the roof lines, proportions and base of my design. It was without a doubt one of the most incredible experiences of my life — the closest I’ve ever been to being star struck.

While I can see Jacobsen’s influence in the look of my home, it translates over just as profoundly to my business. He instilled in me an early love of design and his style shaped the way I treat commercial architecture and interiors, striving for that separation of space, balance of proportion, use of glass and natural lighting, pure, clean forms and overall harmony that he seems to so effortlessly achieve. Whenever I’m faced with a decision about size and scale, I mentally reference Jacobsen’s designs and can always come up with an idea that works as well for a commercial client as it did in my own home and on my “home” campus.


Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 1,500 projects.

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