We always love meeting with our tenants to find out what inspires them. As an architectural design and construction management company, Level-5 Design stood out to us in one of our favorite pieces of architecture, Arena Place. We stopped by to meet with CEO Juan Alaya to get his perspective on the office space and the latest trends in commercial architecture.
What does Level-5 Design do?
L5D: We specialize in commercial architecture and construction, but we do everything including interior design. My primary focus is managing the construction sites, and Huang helps me out with the interior design. But we both have a background in design.
Most of my clientele is in the restaurant sector, or just commercial developments – shopping centers and office spaces. I do a lot of dental offices and medical practices.
What’s the story behind your business?
L5D: I have a Bachelors in Architecture, and graduated together with Huang. After that I started working on my licensure, and ended up getting that shortly after I started the company. I worked for an architecture design build firm for 6 years, and started wanting something more challenging and different so I started this firm.
I started this firm on my own and was managing everything. I would do the design and then the construction as well. So, I would draw for x amount of time and it got to the point where I designed at night and would run construction during the day. I have the Surface Pro, which can runs the design programs, so I would be designing in the car a lot of the time. I use the Surface for sketching – I love to sketch. I was waiting for that one thing to come out that could be a computer and a drawing utensil at the same time.
Do you primarily work with clients in Houston?
L5D: We work all over – for example I mentioned a project we were working on in Dallas. My ideal would be all four major cities in Texas. But they’re also so different. Even Sugarland is different than Houston , Missouri City, Baytown or the Woodlands. So you never know what you are going to get in to in terms of permits. Commercial deals with different problems than residential though – it’s more legalese.
How would you describe your style?
L5D: My personal style is very modern, as you can probably tell. I love modernism. If I could do that I would, all of the time.
Mies van der Rohe is my favorite architect and designer – he designed that white chair. The MFAH was done by Mies van der Rohe. That’s the only Mies van der Rohe building here. Houston has a couple of really cool buildings – there’s also the Menil, which is an architectural masterpiece done by Renzo Piano. I could float over there all day.
I’m working my way into art, too. I’m not there yet completely. I’m actually a big fan of graffiti – if I could do my house in graffiti, I think I would. I also really like Pop Art like Andy Warhol, or Surrealism like Salvador Dali.
How do you balance your personal interests with what you do for your clients?
L5D: One time I was watching cake wars – I’ll watch anything that is creative and we all get inspiration from the weirdest places – but there was a girl on the show who wanted her wedding cake to have these specific elements. Three of the cake makers were creating around what she wanted, and there was another lady who made what she felt like she wanted. I remember thinking that I never wanted to be like that. I’m modern, but people like different things, like contemporary or antique.
The one thing I will never sacrifice is function. If something isn’t functional it bothers me. A lot of the time, specifically with residences, I would want to make sure that they were open and fluid, and minimize hallways. It can be a real challenge to design for more traditional tastes. But then there’s also a good chance that if they have traditional tastes, they won’t be coming to me.
I’m actually meeting with a more traditional client this week to discuss if they’d like to do something more expressive with their space. Right now this more modern look is a good direction to go in. Look at all of the McDonald’s that are going up: they’re all hyper modern with open space.
How did you first hear about the Boxer Property?
L5D: It was a referral. I started this company three years ago, and I worked out of my house. It was a smaller office space than this one, and the space got to be a little cramped. I have an engineer who also works in Arena, so I came by and they toured me, and I liked the space. I had to repaint it, because it was all white. I feel like this building has aged well. And they recently redid this office building.
Level – 5 Office Space Amenities in Houston
What are the needs and amenities that you looked for when finding your office space:
L5D: They are really on top of the maintenance – the person who balances this building always does a really good job on the AC and the elevators.
The elevators are always there. It’s like they’re always waiting for me. We install elevators in some of our projects, so I’m really particular. Every elevator I get into, I’ll see who made it. I’m completely aware of how it’s functioning and how much it costs. Most elevators are terrible.
How does the daily workflow of your business inform the use of your office space?
L5D: Most of my meetings are off site; I’m mainly offsite. I’ll be in the office for maybe 2 hours a day, and then I’m running around. In terms of office space, I can never have enough printers. I can never have enough space. If I let it, it will be full of drawings.
I am a contractor, so I do work with a lot of subcontractors. If you point out anything in here, I know how to get it, and who installed it, and how much it costs. It bothered me for a while because I didn’t know how things were built. In architecture school they don’t teach you that at all. We felt like when we got out of architecture school, they didn’t prepare us enough. We all started pushing to get on with an architecture firm and learn, and you realize that it’s totally different than school.
As you can see, I can’t have enough screens. If I could have 17 screens I would have 17 screens with drawings, pdf, excel, word all around the office. They really do help. My big thing is tech – if it’s there I need to use it. And if I’m not using it, I’m falling behind. I have my Note, my Surface Pro, my computer here, my computer at home, my truck. I have two mice and I like to sketch a lot when I have the time.
If I were back in school, I wouldn’t worry as much about what the professors thought of me. I always needed to see a point to what I was doing, and there were a lot of times when I didn’t see the point. I wouldn’t draw something if I didn’t know exactly how I was going to build it, and keep it within a budget. There’s so much to it.
Developments in Level – 5 Office in Houston
What changes have been happening lately, or are around the corner? Have you seen an increase in clients lately, with all of the recent developments in Houston?
L5D: Everywhere! Up North in Spring the Exxon Campus just opened, so that was a big flux. There’s been a giant flux in Katy Fwy too. My friend who works for the company that did the Asia house is also on the Phillips Company project. The Phillips Company is on Beltway and Westheimer. So if you see a ton of cranes and four buildings going up, that’s that project. The Exxon campus was the big one, and everything else went around it. But they all started competing at the same time. Shell started putting up their buildings, and then BP started putting up their buildings too.
What’s next on the horizon for Level 5 Designs? How is your company evolving or growing in the office space?
L5D: I’ll probably need more space pretty soon, depending on how many more people we bring on. I need space for peripherals. This year has been pretty busy for all of us.
For more information about Level-5 Design & Construction Management, visit their website at level-5.net, or hit them up on Twitter @level5designs.