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Professional Profile: Matthew Decker

Lab Manager speaks to Matthew Decker, architect with CRB

MaryBeth DiDonna

Matthew Decker, AIA, is an architect focused on lab design with CRB in Philadelphia, PA. Lab Manager recently spoke with Matthew 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: My career in architecture started during my time as an engineering student at The Pennsylvania State University. I was pursuing a bachelor’s in architectural engineering. I had the opportunity to intern with engineers one summer and with architects the following year. These internship experiences sent me down the path to becoming an architect because I realized that although I could complete the tasks associated with engineering, I was more passionate about architecture. After completing my bachelor’s focused on structural engineering, I began the grueling process of finding my first position with an architectural firm. I say grueling because I graduated during “The Great Recession.” Honestly, I would have taken any job offered to me at the time, but as luck would have it, I found the perfect career path! I joined a small firm and quickly started participating in many aspects of practicing architecture. My entire career as an architect has been focused on the life sciences sector, which I find truly engaging and deeply rewarding.

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

A: I genuinely enjoy working with my hands. I believe that I would be in one of the skilled construction trades if I were not designing buildings. I was a laborer with a small commercial construction company for a couple of summers in high school. I remember being very satisfied when I looked back at the daily progress on projects. Taking things apart and putting them back together has always been engaging for me, and I think that translates to my role as a lab designer.

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

A: Some folks I’ve discussed the architectural role with in the past are under the impression that we all design fancy buildings, draw up expensive unattainable homes, or spend our days picking out “the right colors.” Others have the perception that we are artists and disconnected from the building trades or the people who occupy our structures. Often when I share information on the types of spaces I helped design and my approach to the profession, people transition from feeling architects are unapproachable to questioning some of the nuances of immersing myself in the experience people will have in a setting before construction starts.  

Q: What lab projects are you working on at the moment?

A: I have been working on numerous lab projects recently. Those projects span the east coast and range from single-room fit-out efforts to multi-story laboratories. The technology ranges from animal health to the latest in cell and gene therapy. The project I am most excited about is just entering the construction phase, but the building has been around since 1907. Our team has documented the renovation of a building to serve as a life science tech development center, including numerous cutting-edge automation platforms. The balance of technical research environments and inspirational gathering atmospheres dovetailed with the science that will take place is shaping up to be awe-inspiring.

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

A: My hobbies and interests are quickly changing due to my growing family. Historically, my interests have been outdoors-related, ranging from mountain biking and camping to photography and gardening. One constant I seem to find the most “free time” is tinkering in my woodshop. I think this interest ties two of my passions together: figuring out a problem and making the solution come to life with my hands.