For iARCHiTECTURE owner Jeff Spikes, being a young business owner is the most rewarding and frightening thing.
“Here I am starting from scratch with no backup plan,” Spikes said. “Somedays, I think I am gambling with my kids’ future. Other days when my 7-year-old and I are the only ones who biked to the park to play tackle football because it’s his fall break, I think I may be teaching them a thing or two about how they can shape their own future.”
iARCHiTECTURE formed in 2011 and has been a part of many projects in and around Shreveport-Bossier City. Stepping into 2015, Spikes said he will have a firm hand in making businesses more attractive through design, construction or engineering.
Walking into iARCHiTECTURE, everything from Prince to Pink Floyd is playing at the Lake Street location. The architecture, construction and engineering firm is anything but stuffy or uptight. Spikes said he wanted a space to encourage creativity that would lead his team to “pump out great work.” Whether it is the office space or working with the right people, iARCHiTECTURE has worked on several projects within the past three years and will continue this momentum into this year. Some of iARCHiTECTURE’s notable projects are:
• Construction documents and permitting consulting for Rhino Coffee.
• Montessori School for Shreveport at Provenance- designed a brand-new satellite campus for the school at the providence development south of town.
• Adapted a few corporate restaurant chain’s prototype design to fit into the setting with renovation for Burger King (locations in Shreveport, Bossier City, Minden, Arkansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia), Wendy’s (locations in Shreveport, Bossier City, Natchitoches, New Orleans, Marrerro) and Dunkin Donuts (locations in Bossier City, Shreveport, Covington and soon in Dallas).
• Jackson Courts Apartments – three site apartment complex in Jackson, Miss.
Cohabiting the Foundation
Spikes’ wife always jokes he can walk into a room anywhere not knowing anyone and know someone before he leaves.
He said simply just talking or networking is a major part of attracting clients.
“I just like people and getting to know them and finding things I have in common with them,” Spikes said. “Also, I have a great team of guys and gals backing me up. I feel client retention is just as important as meeting new ones because I get just as many, if not more, from referrals of happy customers. A crucial part of that is the rock-solid staff I have who all share the same common goal – doing good work and having fun at the same time.”
But long before his team of design professionals, Spikes started his company off at Cohab. “I am adamant that if it weren’t for Cohab, I firmly believe I would be back working for someone else,” he said.
Spikes referenced the sense of business community during his time at Cohab.
“Within hours, I am serious, hours of walking in the door my first day, I met people who would shape the way my company would grow – and that’s just the members,” he said. “At any given day, councilmen, [the Shreveport] mayor, sometimes even state representatives and senators made their way through the space. It always felt like I was at the grand central station of Shreveport hipness and goings on. Not to say that everything happening in Shreveport goes through Cohab. However, a lot of the people who are major players at making things happen Shreveport-wide are either connected to Cohab or knows who else.”
Spikes said he spent time learning and practicing his pitch as a new business owner.
“The most important thing to me was that feeling of connection with the other members. We were always down to help each other and still are,” Spikes said. “I still find ways to refer business back to my fellow Cohabbers.”
If business associates aren’t impressed with the office DJ busting out Metallica or Pink Floyd, some might be more interested in the general uniqueness of the office itself.
The Lake Street office houses a big orange slide beside the stairs and a convertible conference room, which happen to be converted from two large garage doors. The building renovation for the iARCHiTECTURE location was a joint effort between Jason Cram with Vintage Design Group, with whom they currently share the space.
“Everyone that has come in seems to like the space. Some are more amused than others,” Spikes said. “The reason for the slide was basically to set our tone. It’s just part of what makes it a neat place to work. I wanted everyone to feel like it’s their space and to be comfortable and at ease because I feel like a tense work place is an unproductive work place.”
Spikes said he likes the location because of his neighbors: The Agora Borealis, Aiden’s Place Granola and Nicole Spikes Photography. “The best thing about Lake Street is that I seem to have a block-long Cohab-esque guild of like-minded business owners,” Spikes said. “Every one of the five businesses who moved in this year are generation-X’ers who all get along and have fun.”
Previously, Spikes worked with notable firms 10 years before owning his own business. As an architect, Spikes describes himself in a simple manner. “As an architect, I would say I’m just a guy likes to build stuff as much I like to draw it as much as I like to write about it,” he said. “The product of generations of constant tinkerers, I sort of backed my way into the field of architecture as I grew up learning to build things with anyone with a project going. That experience led to summers and holiday breaks working in construction while earning a bachelor of architecture degree at Louisiana Tech [University]. I, too, am a constant tinkerer, which I believe helps strike a balance between the domains of drawn and built form.”
David Ostrowe, president of O&M Restaurant Group, a firm that works with Burger King, was beyond satisfied with iARCHiTECTURE’s work on their local projects. “He was the first architect ever that was engaged with our best interest in mind. He’s a part of our team. He is completely integrated into what we are trying to achieve every level,” Ostrowe said. “In the games that I play in the restaurant industry, you pay an exorbitant fee to an architect that produces a set of plans for the city that are not accurate and then he disappears after you pay him. Jeff has been involved as an architect and a project manager on our behalf. He was beside us holding our hand from start to finish.”
Spikes said over the course of his career he has renovated numerous houses, dabbled in concrete countertop production, built numerous pieces of furniture, art pieces for the children, worked on several installments of Christmas in the Sky sections and most recently taken on a century-old building renovation for the office.
“Consequently and not at all by accident, most of my staff has at some point in their career worked under hard hats in various areas of the construction industry,” Spikes said. “I like to think that through working on my own building projects and having staff members who have done the same, we are able to identify better with the guys who swing the hammers every day on the buildings we design. And that through that understanding, we are able to serve our clients better by designing buildings that are easier and more efficient to build.”
Plans for the Future
At the top of Spikes’ list of “things he wants to put in buildings” are C-box storage containers as seen on ships and trains.
“I look at my space as a lab for things that I’ve tried to talk clients into but have not quite coaxed into built form yet,” he said. “There were some things we wanted to do but simply didn’t fit within the budget.”
Aside from cool yet functional office additions, Spikes would like to have a hand in developing downtown Shreveport and the immediately adjacent neighborhoods.
“I feel that our downtown, like many others, has suffered a major setback for the last several decades,” Spikes said. “It boggles my mind that to this day people my age are flocking to the suburbs to build steroid-induced faux-cadian cottages that are crammed 7 inches from each other. This when there is approximately 1,000,000 square feet of vacant building stock just in our downtown area.”
Spikes said the key is re-investing into everything within a 6-mile radius of downtown, similar to what has worked in larger cities such as Dallas and Los Angeles.
“I’m not talking about gentrification. I’m talking about wholesale economic development that builds a place for all socio-economic levels as it revitalizes the area,” Spikes said. “It’s not about re-inventing the wheel. It’s about studying successes from other places and replicating the formula here.”
iARCHiTECTURE also has a hand in one of Mayor Ollie Tyler’s campaign platforms, Cross Bayou. “This latest iteration of the Cross Bayou study is sort of déjà vu for our city. There have been several similar studies, the latest being funded through a brownfield grant by the [Environmental Protection Agency] and coordinated by Roy Jambor with the Metropolitan Planning Commission,” Spikes said. “I was one of two local architects selected to volunteer as a local representative of the design community and Shreveport in general. A firm from New Orleans is doing the work, which will be handed over in the form of a report suggesting uses and the community vision for the Cross Bayou corridor.”
Spikes said he wants to see a park area interspersed with commercial development that makes enough money to keep the place maintained.
This year iARCHiTECTURE will expand to Texas for commercial ventures and Lake Charles to be on the forefront of the liquefied-compressed natural gas push along the Gulf Coast.
“There will be a five to 10 yearlong multibillion-dollar economic impact on the southwestern quadrant of the state specifically around the Lake Charles and Cameron areas. This rising tide has the potential to touch all areas of the state if we prepare properly. There is plenty to go around, and the key will be mobilizing a statewide effort to keep it all local. Otherwise, national and worldwide vendors will move in and capitalize on our area’s lack of preparedness. The key is personal businesses like myself to be ready and organized enough to fill the gap.”
At the end of the day, Spikes likes making Shreveport and local surrounding areas more attractive for future generations. “My favorite projects are the ones that I know my kids will see or use,” he said. “I like them having visual reminders of what comes from a strong work ethic and treating people right.”