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How this Young Architect Built an Award-Winning Firm in Architecture School | RADLAB

Imagine being in architecture school, and your thesis to transform an entire block in a major city takes off, and then you go off to build an incredible award-winning architecture firm.

Well, Philip Auchettl doesn’t need to imagine. This was his REALITY!

Philip Auchettl, CEO of RADLAB, shares his story of becoming an award-winning architect, developer, and business owner. If you've ever wanted to run a successful architecture firm or build using shipping containers, this is the episode for you! Find out more about RADLAB here.

This story is incredibly inspiring for emerging professionals and young architects looking to take the reins of their architecture journey and have fun while running towards success. I KNOW you’ll find so much value in this interview. You’re all in for an AMAZING story!


Philip Auchettl is the CEO of RADLAB, a brilliant San Diego architecture firm that works on projects all over the country. RADLAB’s gone on to win multiple awards, including San Diego AIA's Young Architect of the Year. When he’s not at work, he loves traveling with his family.

He recalls that he was always interested in architecture AND development. In college, he ended up taking up Visual Art and majoring in Painting. For several years, he was a traveling artist doing shows across the world and finally decided to pursue architecture.

With the passion and experience he gained from being a painter, he wanted to challenge himself as an architect.

“When you paint something on a canvas, people have an emotional reaction to it. When we create a building and people step into the space, I wanted to get that same reaction. How can we do that on a larger scale and get the same fulfilling feeling,” he says.


After the recession, there were tons of empty properties. Although the city had plans to improve a bunch of these areas, the plans weren't going to be into play anytime soon. This prompted Philip and his thesis team to think of something for the community that served as a temporary placeholder while waiting for future plans to take place.

Besides the helpful classes he took before their thesis year, he used his connections to get in touch with developers in San Diego who were more than happy to teach him a thing or two. From helpful professors to educational mentors, they all taught Philip how to move forward as a young architect developer.

Philip figured if he was going to spend an entire year on a project with some of the best people in the industry, he might as well create something that could be actualized. And most importantly, they wanted to design something that had an impact on downtown San Diego.

This is how Quartyard was born.


The first step was to find the perfect spot for the project. Philip and his group were eyeing a lot that was 3/4 of the city block in downtown San Diego. According to the local police department, it was a troublesome lot known for being a dump and a hot spot for drug dealings. Philip and his group mates wanted to take the challenge on and turn that spot into a safe and fun community space for everyone.

They approached the city mayor and pitched their idea of a public-private partnership and activating city-owned land. The mayor fell in love with the idea and immediately connected them with the right people.

“We just wanted to build a safe place for everyone in the community to socialize,” Philip said.

Quartyard became everything a community could wish for! It’s complete with a dog park, beer garden, restaurants, retail, food trucks, and live music. They even put up a coffee shop in the dodgiest corner of the area. A place people would avoid or keep their heads down when walking through was now a fun-filled and safe place for everyone.

The city gave them a lease on the property, they got support from the local community groups, and they got proper funding. Beginning with a Kickstarter and raising over $60,000 in 30 days, everything was falling into place. Everyone wanted better for their community, which was validation enough for Philip and his group to fulfill their promise.

They sought out investors and asked for help from family and friends.

"You get used to people saying no, but that just drives me anyways," Philip said.

Despite all the hiccups along the way, they managed to push through.

Quartyard really transformed that entire area. They had a HUGE part in the improvement and cleanliness of that part of downtown, making it more inviting for people to visit East Village. Through the constant efforts of the team and unending support from the community and investors, Quartyard DID make the impact it intended to.


In addition to its impact on East Village and its numerous things to do, Quartyard is also known for its playful aesthetic.

The use of shipping containers as infrastructure wasn't something you saw everyday, especially for an entire city block! Philip recalls that even though the use of shipping containers wasn't their first idea, it ended up making sense for the project. Not only were they cool-looking, innovative, and sustainable, they ended up helping them save time in terms of off-site construction.

Philip's advice for those who are planning on using shipping containers is to see if it makes sense for your project. From local permits to vamping it up, there are tons of things to consider when using them. It's definitely a balancing act, but just remember to have fun with it (and hire the right professionals!).


Philip explains that when it comes to starting and growing an architecture firm, the most important thing is to take on the projects you can, put yourself out there, and connect with as many people as possible. Also, know that not all clients are the same, and you'll have to learn how to navigate those relationships. Sometimes you'll get great ones, and sometimes you'll encounter some that aren't your cup of tea.

He said, "There will be a lot of things that won’t go your way, but ultimately, just do it." Do the work and years from now, you’ll look back on how far you’ve come. Always remind yourself that what you're doing now isn’t what you'll be doing 5 years from now. There’s a progression that’s NEEDED.

RADLAB went from designing bathroom renovations to now working on multi-unit projects in San Diego and a massive project in Waco, Texas.

"It really takes that leap of faith. People will tell you you can’t do it, but if it’s something you want to do, you just have to push forward," he said.

I’m so glad I got the opportunity to interview Philip and talk about Quartyard because it’s so nostalgic for me. I remember starting in NewSchool and their team presenting their thesis during the orientation. I would even go to Quartyard for happy hours or fun concerts between classes (I got to see Milkey Chance for FREE before Studio. It was the best!). Fast forward to 8 years after Quartyard opened, the story of how the whole project started is still so inspiring.

This conversation had so many nuggets. I feel motivated to be ambitious with my firm, and I’m already trying to think of ways to take it to the next level. Philip and his partners’ ambition is obviously inspiring, but how they immersed themselves in the community makes their story one for the books. They took their vision of “what could be” and turned it into reality.

This story made me realize the impact our architecture has. We don’t just design. We could increase the value of an area, bring beneficial connections, and even clean up communities. The altruism that this story highlights in our industry is just so enlightening. The fact that we can create beautiful pieces of art that people can be in and enjoy just made me really proud to be an architect.

I KNOW you're as inspired as I am after listening to what Philip had to say.

So go ahead and DREAM BIG! It'll be worth it, you'll see.

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