Designing Utah's Landscape
Linda T. Kennedy
November 1, 2008
Don’t expect to ever find Prescott Muir boxed in with his designs, his building drafts or his perspective on Utah’s future. As president of Prescott Muir Architects for 32 years, Muir has his hands on many tables besides the drafting board, which this year earned him membership in the College of Fellows of The American Institute of Architects, an acknowledgement by the National Association of Architects (AIA) for a career-long contribution to the field and community. The recognition is considered a rare honor by professionals in the industry; he joins only 16 other Utah architects to ever receive the honor. “It’s nice to be in a position where you can seemingly help make things better,” says Muir. “Builders tend to be optimists.”
Muir is one of those optimists. Branching out from his loft office on Pierpont Avenue, he’s laying a foundation for future architects by serving on the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce Board of Governors where he gains community support for their projects. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Utah College of Architecture & Planning, teaching an annual design studio.
“When I started [practicing architecture], it was very much hands-on, hand-drafting and there was a lot of pride in that sort of draftsmanship,” says Muir. “Where I originally started in California, there were almost two different careers—one in drafting and one in architecture.”
It wasn’t long, though, Muir says, that the profession embraced computers. “I think the original sales pitch of the computer was that it was going to drastically reduce the time required to prepare drawings for a building as well as ease changes,” he says. “But I think you still actually draw faster by hand.” While he says schools initially gave up on hand drawing, he sees that reversing now. “The minute you start making changes, though, the computer is really effective.”
He says, though, technology’s viability can’t be disputed for providing the answer to the world’s energy problem, which he says doesn’t have as much to do with architecture as it does with business practices. In addition to leading a firm dedicated to a sustainable building approach with on-staff LEED accredited professionals and several projects earning LEED certification, Muir serves as the chair for the AIA Utah Chapter Committee on Design and the Environment. This year, he oversaw AIA Utah’s first annual carbon footprint competition for architects.
“One very viable way of solving our energy problem is with technology. Well then, let’s start creating that,” says Muir, who adds that there’s an entirely new economic development area in the building industry for sustainable products and materials.
“I don’t know why Utah couldn’t be a hotbed for [creating new Green products],” he says. “Why not jump on something that’s on the ascendancy? And that’s green product design. I think it’s the new frontier.”
Muir is modeling his belief that utilizing available resources will forward the development of “great urban environments.” To get to his office, you’ll ascend stairs encased in a grain silo he transported from a farm in Centerville to protect the stairs from the weather. It’s a modest icon amidst Salt Lake’s Downtown Rising, the Federal Court Building, the Performing Arts Theater and the Main Street revitalization—architectural accomplishments Muir has seen develop under his watch.
“A lot of good environmental design is very practical, common sense,” says Muir. “It should just be a matter of common practice rather than something that we have to worry about as being an additional effort on the part of developers and business owners.”