Lab Design and Furnishings

Professional Profile: Matt Brady

Lab Manager speaks to Matt Brady of HED

MaryBeth DiDonna

Matt Brady, AIA, is associate principal and science & technology studio leader with HED in San Diego, CA. Lab Manager recently spoke with Matt about his career, experience, and personal interests.

Q: How did you get started in your career? Did you major in your field in college, get an internship, switch careers mid-stream, etc.?

A: In a weird way I’ve done just about everything else before I came to architecture. In college I majored in political science and my first job was working for Congressman Bob Barr in the late 90s. I realized in time that it wasn’t for me. While working for the Congressman I was playing in a band and after my political stint I went back into heavy construction like I had done during my summers in college.  My job was open cut or drill and shoot tunnel work. It was there I was drawn more to the design-side of the work. 

Later I worked in advertising, and like when I was working in heavy construction, I was drawn more to the design side of the industry, particularly film and set design and construction. The pattern of my life kept tying back into architecture and design, and at that point I went back to school for architecture and have been at this ever since. As an aside, I also designed and ran my own ice cream shop for five years—which I sold the day the lease was up. Turns out it was more fun to design and build than operate.

Q: If you weren’t in this profession, what job do you think you’d be doing instead?

A: If for whatever reason I couldn’t be an architect, I would return to film and set design. Believe it or not, the pace and cadence and process is remarkably similar to the architecture industry. Writing a script and hiring the crews to execute the work is very similar to building a set of construction documents and working with consultants and a general contractor to get it built.

Q: What’s a common misconception about your job?

A: When people hear I’m an architect they immediately think I’m going to help them pick out their kitchen cabinets. I’m a life science architect, so I care more about where you’re placing an LN2 tank than cabinets. I have that conversation pretty regularly when I meet new people, but I continue to get questions about what color a wall should be or what finishes would go best in a bathroom. The few times I ever did a residential project, which have all been small side jobs for friends, I got calls in the dead of night about what toilet to put in. I will never do residential again. 

Q: What is your favorite building, lab-related or not?

A: My favorite building in my hometown of San Diego is the Illumina I3 building. I love that building. 

Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at work?

A: My sister was working for a Jewish organization in New York, and they had heard I was a pretty talented young carpenter and designer, so they asked me to design their mezuzah. I thought I did a pretty good job, and when I called them later to find out if they had chosen to use my design, they said, “No, Richard Meier submitted a design and we chose to go with him”— Richard Meier, of course, being a world-renowned artist and architect, so I started reading about him and learning more about architecture and really falling in love with it. So, ultimately, I owe my career to Richard Meier for beating me out of my first design job. 

Q: If you won a million-dollar lottery tomorrow, what would you do with your winnings?

A: If I won a million dollars I’d still be working, because a million dollars doesn’t go far particularly in southern California. But if I won a multi-million-dollar lottery there are a couple startup ideas I would love to fund and build.

Q: What kinds of hobbies or interests do you have outside of work?

A: I’m still passionate about carpentry, and I do still play the bass and acoustic with some guys in the neighborhood, just playing some covers and the like. I really love to sing, but I’m very bad at it so my kids make fun of me and my wife says it sounds like an animal being tortured. Most of what I’m playing is campfire songs for other people to sing to Stones, Oasis, Neil Young, etc. I even know a few Taylor Swift songs, but nobody wants to hear me sing that!