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As you may have heard, Chambers has recently opened an office in Minneapolis headed by the company’s new Vice President and long-time architect Rick Christensen, AIA. With over two decades of experience working almost exclusively with private clubs, it’s fair to say that Rick is an expert in the field. Here he shares his beginnings, as well as some of the wisdom he has accumulated through years of hard work and dedication to his craft. We couldn’t be more thrilled to grow the company and explore new horizons with this industry veteran!
CR: When did you first start working with private clubs?
RC: The very first club that I designed was in 1986 – the Municipal Clubhouse in St. Paul, Minnesota. The clubhouse was in a prominent city park that had a really cool pavilion building – almost like a conservatory. We followed the architecture of that structure and created a really beautiful clubhouse. After that project I didn’t design anything in the club industry for about 4 years, until I joined a new firm that decided to go into the field. I ended up being partners with Dick Heise for 7 years, before he was Senior Vice President at Chambers. For the exception of a few projects, I have only worked private clubs from 1989 until today.
RC: I love golf. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend my free time, so my affinity for working with clubs partially ties in with that. I also just enjoy working with people and committees. You are taking a diverse group of people and creating something together, which is pretty incredible. It is just fun to get everyone excited about a new project and then actually see it executed.
One big motivator for me is having someone tell me that we exceeded their expectations at the end of a project. I once had several meetings with the membership of a particular club and there was one member who would always say “You’ll never be able to make a building that’s as nice as this building is now.” But once that member walked through the completed building, they approached me and said “I was so wrong. This is so great and I just didn’t understand it. I couldn’t picture how it was going to be.” Club renovations can be very emotional for members, because it’s tough to part ways with something that they are familiar with and love. It was nice to hear that we had far exceeded her expectations.
RC: It all comes down to the center of the club. Today, it is the casual place where everyone – adults, kids, families – can sit and enjoy a meal together. It’s important to create an environment that’s more like a restaurant and less like the traditional “stuffy” country club. This has really been a mission for me since the 90’s.
For example, around ’97 and ’98, I began pitching all of my clients on the open kitchen. It took 10 years to get clubs on board, and now many clients want them because members love it. I like cooking and grilling, so a great club kitchen with quality facilities and good food is a hot button issue for me. Partially why I joined my last firm was because they had designed a lot of nice restaurants in the area. I thought it would be best to mix that restaurant feel with clubs to create comfortable places where people can sit in different environments – like outdoor spaces. Clubs are finally starting to adopt this view 10 years later.
CR: What club architectural tradition needs to be put to rest?
RC: For some clubs, it might be time to take serious look at the living room. In many clubs, you walk into the building and the first thing you see is a mostly empty room with a fireplace. Of course, you have to have some sense of entry, but many architects spend so many resources trying to create that with this living room space that is never used. Instead, clubs should consider separate entrances for each space. For example, the restaurant entrance would introduce members to a restaurant experience, while the health club entrance would feel more like entering a spa.
CR: Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?
RC: I’ve looked at the work of many famous architects from the early 19th century. I’m really inspired by that style, as well as the food and beverage industry. Overall, I like buildings that have more fun or modern styles, but also feature the traditional style hovering in the background.
I’m also inspired by my competitors, because everyone does certain things stronger than others. Some people are stronger in design, but not as great with the business aspect of things. But you really need both to be effective in the marketplace, and that is what attracted me to Chambers.
CR: What qualities do you most look forward to bringing to the Chambers team?
RC: I look forward to bringing my experience in the industry and really just doing what I do best: selling the membership on the project and truly exceeding their expectations. I’m confident that Chambers will provide a lot of opportunities because of their status as a national firm. Honestly, I see this as the pinnacle of my career because of the great resources, people, and industry connections that the company has. It feels like what I always wanted for my career.
Want to learn more about Rick Christensen? Send him an email!