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Arlan Collins combines lessons learned from four decades in architecture with new technologies changing the industry. (CollinsWoerman Photo)

Arlan Collins has been in architecture for more than 40 years. For the past 30, he’s owned his own firm, CollinsWoerman, with his college buddy Mark Woerman.

“I still enjoy the fundamentals of what I went to school for,” Collins says, but he’s also made a point of incorporating new technology into one of the world’s oldest professions.

His firm is developing virtual reality applications to complement small-scale models and help clients get a better sense of what their projects will look like.

CollinsWoerman also recently formed a proprietary company, Sustainable Living Innovations (SLI), focused on pre-fabricated, sustainable housing. SLI does what’s known as “modular building” — that is, prefabricating walls and other building components in a factory-like environment before bringing them to the build site.

“I primarily focus on this effort and track down innovative building components and partners to reach the highest levels of sustainability and performance for these buildings,” Collins said.

We caught up with Collins for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location:  Seattle.

Computer types: Standard office desktop, but I prefer to use my iPad or Surface.

Mobile devices: iPhone.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Outlook, to stay connected. I like products that are experience-driven over feature-driven — mostly I stick to big image searches via Google, etc. over apps, in order to find new parts and inventions that help reimagine how to build buildings. 

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? The office is open which is good for company culture. Mark and I tried to create an environment for people to feel empowered. We still like to work on fun projects rather than simply handling the business side, and believe that by allowing our designers and architects to manage themselves, the work produced feels co-owned by all employees. We’re never going to limit someone’s creativity when it may add value for the company!

Our virtual reality efforts are a great 3D option that was initially taken on as a passion project by an employee. I never believed clients understood design value more than with models and now VR keeps pushing that experiential factor to the next level. Customers now get to actually see what they’re going to get beforehand and I think it’ll continue to influence the quality of what we produce. 

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Attitude matters! If you’re looking forward to the day or week, then you’ll work harder and better. All of my kids have worked in this office at some point and I used to tell them that their work was measured by attitude and effort. 

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? None; I’m on LinkedIn occasionally. 

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 3,000+ … It probably goes back five years, but it’s not a goal of mine to empty it since I get so many a day! I just go with the flow, if it’s important people know how to get ahold of me.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 12-14 is standard; for me, no more than one-third of a 40 hour work week should be scheduled for meetings. I’d prefer my week to be 1/3 meetings, 1/3 collaborating on projects, and 1/3 doing my own work.

How do you run meetings? Set a clear understanding of desired outcomes before the meeting and send an agenda so people can come prepared. Technology has set us up to produce better work quicker with less planning meetings in between.

Everyday work uniform? Now, it’s more jeans and the occasional sports coat.

How do you make time for family? All five kids are young adults (ages 23-33 years old) so we make time in social settings — over dinner, movies, etc.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Fly fishing — even searching flies and new inventions over lunch can be nice.

What are you listening to? I like music that tells stories; it can be whoever if it tells a story that’s awesome. Jordan Winston resonates lately.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Since it’s summer, I’m usually planning trips and reading up on new fly fishing techniques to share with the group. There are two professionals I follow through Olympic Peninsula Skagit Tactics (OPST) and Trout Hunter — these guys’ techniques couldn’t be more night and day, but they’re both religiously devoted to their preferred style and have been perfecting and creating new gear and methods for decades.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? Just finished reading The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? Early riser.

Where do you get your best ideas? When I “let go.” I do a lot of meditation to become more open to things outside myself.

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