Professional Profile: Matthew Decker | Laboratory manager

Matthew Decker, AIA, is an architect specializing in laboratory design at CRB in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Laboratory manager recently spoke with Matthew about his career, experience and personal interests.

Q: How did you start your career? Did you major in your field at university, did you get an internship, change careers along the way, etc. ?

A: My career in architecture began when I was an engineering student at Pennsylvania State University. I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering. I had the opportunity to do an internship with engineers one summer and with architects the following year. These internship experiences led me on the path to becoming an architect because I realized that while I could perform the tasks associated with engineering, I was more passionate about architecture. After completing my bachelor’s degree 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 that was offered to me at the time, but luckily I found the perfect career path! I joined a small firm and soon began to participate in many aspects of architectural practice. 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 would be doing instead?

A: I really like working with my hands. I believe I would be in one of the skilled construction trades if I wasn’t designing buildings. I was a laborer at a small commercial construction company for a few summers in high school. I remember being very satisfied when I looked at the daily progress of the projects. Taking things apart and putting things back together has always been interesting to me, and I think that translates into my role as a lab designer.

Q: What is the common misconception about your work?

A: Some people I’ve discussed the architectural role with in the past feel like we’re all designing fancy buildings, drawing expensive homes that are inaccessible, or spending our days choosing “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 about the types of spaces I’ve helped design and my approach to the profession, people go from feeling that architects are unapproachable to questioning some of the nuances of the immersion in the experience people will have in a setting before construction begins.

Q: What lab projects are you working on right now?

A: I have recently worked on many lab projects. These projects span the East Coast and range from one-room fit-out efforts to multi-story labs. Technology ranges from animal health to the latest advances in cell and gene therapy. The project I’m most excited about just entered the construction phase, but the building has been around since 1907. Our team documented the renovation of a building to serve as a life science technology development center, including many leading automation platforms. The balance between the technical research environments and the inspiring gathering atmospheres in harmony with the science that will take place promises to be impressive.

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

A: My hobbies and interests are changing rapidly due to my growing family. Historically, my interests have been related to the outdoors, ranging from mountain biking and camping to photography and gardening. One constant that I seem to find the most “free time” in is tinkering around in my carpentry shop. I think this interest connects two of my passions: solving a problem and bringing the solution to life with my hands.

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