Thank you to Utah Construction & Design Magazine for the awesome article which tells the origination story of Eric Jacoby Design, and Eric’s background at Jacoby Architects.
Here is the full text by Brad Fullmer:
It’s been almost exactly one year since Salt Lake-based Jacoby Architects underwent a transition in ownership as Joe Jacoby took sole ownership of the 42-year-old firm August 1, 2017, buying out his father (and company founder) Robert (Bob) Jacoby, who retired after a lengthy career spanning five decades, and brother Eric, who founded his own product design company, Eric Jacoby Design. What’s unique about Jacoby Architects is that it was never ‘planned’ for Bob’s only two sons to follow in his footsteps as architects, much less carry on the Jacoby family name into a second generation. It just sort of organically happened, which adds an interesting twist to the firm’s history. “I had no idea they were interested in architecture until they went to school, and no idea that Joe would call one day (in 2005) and say ‘Let’s go to work together’,” said Bob. “Joe and Eric brought ideas for growth, and the ability for the firm to grow.” “We had planned this transition for about a year, so there was an official ‘changing of the guard’, said Joe. “People know us for our high quality design and high quality service. We’re selective about our projects, where we can make sure each one is special.”
A native of Idaho Falls, Idaho, Bob initially attended the University of Idaho in Moscow before transferring to the University of Utah’s School of Architecture in 1967 in Salt Lake City, where he eventually graduated with a Masters in 1972. He worked for a couple of firms in Salt Lake, including Scott, Louie and Browning, but decided after a few years in the industry that he’d be best served working on his own. So he up and left his job, immediately embarking on a planned backpacking trip to the rugged Escalante area in Southern Utah to “contemplate life in the desert,” he laughed, with a certain feeling of “pure panic” at the prospect of starting an architectural firm from scratch.
Bob founded Jacoby Architects in 1976, and gradually built up his client base. When work was slow, he’d consult for other firms. One of his first notable clients was Development Associates, a Utah-based company he designed hospitality projects for, including the Hilton Hotel in Eugene, Oregon. “It was a huge leap for me,” said Bob of starting Jacoby Architects. “My personality just did not fit working for someone else. (Business) was pretty gradual – it was a roller coaster ride at times. I had good years and bad years.” Jacoby was perfectly content with his small firm, and developed a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades designer, the kind of architect who ultimately could design just about any kind of project, in part due to an unwavering desire to design it exactly as the client needs it, and to learn about the different nuances and complexities of each building so function and form integrate seamlessly. “I think I’m probably a generalist,” he said. “I liked being alone, or having 1-2 people. I had to be able to do it all – the management, the bookkeeping…it was all hands-on, with an ability to be multidisciplined.”
Eric said his father’s all-around knowledge of architecture is unparalleled. “The unique thing about him is he’s good at so many different layers of design and construction, with so much expertise about a lot of different things,” he said. “The value of that is he didn’t think he was necessarily good at something and was always open to learning; the ego never got in the way.” “He was just kind of like a master craftsman in a way,” added Joe. “He was able to solve any challenge that came through. Even to this day he’s great to have around to bounce tough questions off of.”
Sons Come Home, Form Strong Trio
Eric, 41, and Joe, 38, both earned Master of Architecture degrees from UC Berkeley (Eric got his undergrad at the University of Utah) and gained professional experience at firms outside of Utah, both in the U.S. and internationally. Eric spent three years working for design juggernaut HOK – including two years in London and one year in its Dutch office outside Amsterdam; Joe had a quick five-month paid internship for Ian Ritchie Architects in London before being drawn back to San Francisco-based Holt Hinshaw Architects. That experience of working for big-time firms outside the Beehive State gave the Jacoby brothers invaluable experience from a social/cultural and professional standpoint. “When I worked in London the firm had people from 23 different nationalities, so it was great to have that global view, and seeing people’s different opinions and personalities and approaches to work. Just seeing that caliber of architecture – a high caliber of people and projects – that was just big.”
By 2005, both brothers were looking at a career change. Joe called his father first and came aboard in the spring; Eric followed a few months later after giving serious consideration to working for firms in Japan or China. The three Jacobys formed a strong trio with a collectively diverse skill set. Bob had 30 years of all-around experience, Joe brought a flair for creative designs, and Eric provided sound technical experience. Their timing was fortuitous, and as a sign of good things to come, Bob and Joe landed a job on their very first interview together, the design of the Animal, Dairy & Veterinary Science (ADVS) Building at Utah State University, a project they didn’t think at the time they had the experience to win, frankly. “We look back and laugh at the interview,” said Bob. “We didn’t have many graphics and just winged it – it was way out of our knowledge base. But it was a great learning experience and we always tell ourselves these new projects are good because you get to take a fresh approach.”
Another notable project in recent years is the Donna Garff Marriott Honors Housing at the U, a $30 million building that was the firm’s first design-build competition. It partnered with Madison, Wisconsin based design firm Potter Lawson and local contractor Gramoll Construction of North Salt Lake to achieve a stunning final product with complex design elements, a nod to Joe’s creative talents. In addition to higher education projects for the U and USU, Jacoby has designed two schools for the Utah Schools of the Deaf & the Blind, including the award winning $14 million C. Mark Openshaw Education Center in Salt Lake, and a new $9 million school in Springville that is slated to break ground in August. “The family aspect of (working together) was cool and complicated, but I think it worked well because Joe and I had different interests and skills and things we’re good at,” said Eric. “Bob was awesome at everything, the high-end ‘glue’, Joe quickly sat in the director of design position where he’s good at concepts and the look and feel of a building. My skills are more systematic, how systems and buildings work well together, how a project is managed.”
A year after buying out his father’s 50% ownership stake and his brother’s 25% share, Joe is focused on keeping the 9-person firm progressing forward, and confident in its future success. “We will do anything that is a unique challenge,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of higher education and schools, but we just enjoy learning about what other people are doing, other practices. Our niche has been schools and higher ed, butif someone came to us and would like a custom project – a building that hasn’t been done before – that’s the kind of project we like.”
Eric said his first year in business with Eric Jacoby Design has been very positive, with the creation of three patented chair designs, another in the patent review process, and three table designs that also are patent pending. The firm specializes in handmade furniture and toys for high-end, modern residential homes. “I wanted to do product design before I went into architecture, it’s what I always wanted to do,” Eric said. “The first year has been great – we’re right on schedule developing intellectual property and getting different levels of marketing going. The timing was good. We had a couple of good years and I knew [Jacoby Architects] was going to be in good hands and my thought was I don’t want to keep going without ever exploring this other opportunity.”
“I’m so proud of them,” said Bob, adding that the final quarter of his career working with his sons was simply idyllic. “There were a couple of firms that offered me a partnership, and it was during a slow time and I would think about it…but with the success we’ve had I have no regrets. Having Joe and Eric here, their ability to work together, it was a cool dynamic.”