‘We can tell our client’s story’

Scott Bowen of MSB Architects


Coffee Break

From the fish tank in the wall to the guitars by the desk to the trademark bow tie he wears, Scott Bowen’s office atmosphere reflects a bit of his personal story.

The architect, based in Hagerstown, Md., said that’s what his firm tries to do for its clients — to blend practical needs with an artistic vision that tells a client’s story. Three-dimensional models and large photographs show off some of those projects, such as the picture of the Lucy School in Frederick, Md., and the model of the planned expansion of the Schmankerl Stube restaurant in Hagerstown.

Bowen is a graduate of The Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning. His website notes that he spent time with the award-winning firms of Carlton Abbott and Partners in Virginia and Centerbrook Architects in Connecticut. In 2004, he co-founded HarneBowen Architects and Planners, which became MSB Architects in 2009.

A member of the American Institute of Architects, he is a licensed architect in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia and the District of Columbia. He also has been involved in several community endeavors, including serving on The Maryland Theatre Board of Directors. He is a graduate of Leadership Washington County.


On a break, is it coffee, tea, soda, water … ?

Coke, preferably in a glass with crushed ice, has always been my drink of choice. It’s kind of funny because, stereotypically, architects drink a lot of coffee for the caffeine boost to help get through all the late nights in the studio. But I’ve never been a fan of coffee, and we don’t really have any coffee drinkers working here.


An average day for you includes … ?

One of my favorite things about architecture is that every day is different. Our office has between 30 to 50 active projects at any one time, which provides a constantly changing set of challenges. Thirty to 50 projects might sound like a lot for a small office, but most of our projects have a two-to-five-year lifespan, so not all of them are in the foreground at once.

Most days begin with checking my email because we usually have a couple projects under construction and we need to ensure there isn’t a critical issue that needs resolved ASAP. After that, we tackle the design workload, which differs depending on how developed the design is. When projects are in the early design stages, my staff and I work very closely to understand our client’s needs and the stories they want to tell, then incorporate it into the design. We might do hand sketches, 3-D models, and/or animations to really express the story we are telling through architecture. As projects develop, we collaborate with other design consultants and are the master coordinator for the entire project. And, of course, there are meetings.

We work hard, but it is common for us to sing, dance, or generally do silly things throughout the day. While our day officially ends at 5, we often spend many late hours working on our projects. Many of our great ideas occur late at night under the pressure of the next day’s presentation.


What projects have brought you the most personal and professional satisfaction?

The projects that bring me the most satisfaction are ones where we can tell our client’s story and blend their spatial needs with artistic vision. One really great example of this is The American Public University’s IT Center. We used the history of communication technology to shape their architecture, so there are subtle touches of this throughout the building. We spelled the school’s name in Morse code using the window patterns and again in binary on interior glass walls. Their building also includes a telescope above the lobby, so light placement there was based on Orion’s belt. Similarly, at Innovative’s new offices, we used their logo as inspiration for their entrance canopy. The Saint James Fine Arts Center also embodies this design philosophy. The main entrance and recital hall are at opposite sides of the structure, and their architecture is Georgian, like the rest of the campus. But between these two pieces, is a curved, contemporary connection illustrating the tension between classical and modern art.


What projects are on your short-term and long-term calendars, and what challenges and opportunities will they bring?

In the short-term, both Saint James Fine Arts Center and the Schmankerl Stube are under construction, each with its own unique challenges. The Fine Arts Center, while all new construction, has some complicated details that are sure to generate discussions in the field, and the Schmankerl Stube is renovating a very old building, which is always fraught with challenges. Looking out a little further, we are thrilled to be working on several projects to revitalize downtown Hagerstown, including the Pioneer Hook and Ladder building, which will be our new office. We are also always searching for projects that allow us to tell our client’s story and flex our creative muscles.


Outside of work, what are your ambitions and aspirations?

Architecture fills much of my life, both at the office and out. It’s not something that turns off when I leave the office. When we go to a new restaurant or city, I’m still looking at the architecture. Now that my kids are nearly grown, I hope to travel and enjoy more musical and theatrical performances. I would also like to complete my scuba certification, so some of that travel will be to check out aquatic life. And, of course, I’d like a bigger fish tank. 


Want to share a cup of coffee with our readers? Send an email to facetime@crossroadsbizjournal.com or call reporter Mike Lewis at 301-791-7482.