The Little Firm that Could…and Did.
“We’ve finally become the firm I had always hoped we would be,” says Daryl Johnson, founder of Johnson Architecture, Inc. “It’s taken 27 years and now that we’re here, it’s deeply gratifying.”
Throughout those nearly three decades, Johnson’s firm has been transformed—from his early years as “the little firm that could” to achieving the stature today as one of the top architectural firms in Knoxville and, well, beyond. Johnson Architecture currently employs 23 professionals, including 10 licensed architects. Johnson’s firm has delivered award-winning designs across the spectrum of project types, from residential, commercial and master plans to spiritual, educational, restaurant, and healthcare and works with clients such as the University of Tennessee, Blackberry Farm, Dollywood and KCDC. Ironically, while his firm has truly been transformed over these years, Johnson has not.
Well, perhaps that isn’t entirely true. Yes, old habits die hard, such as his tendency to hand sketch designs when facilitating client meetings and the passion he has had for his craft since the sixth grade. But there are areas where Johnson has been altered by his firm’s growth, such as the even greater satisfaction he now gets from developing the talent around him. While he has always viewed mentorship not just as an opportunity but a responsibility, he sees it a bit differently now, appreciating it more. Perhaps being a father himself has something to do with it.
“One of my favorite moments,” he says, “is when a new architect walks into the firm for the first time. I love watching them come in full of enthusiasm and ideas and so incredibly eager to get to work and become better architects…This has always been fun for me.”
Johnson has always considered himself a good mentor and, apparently, he is—more than one architect has left his firm to start their own. Some, in fact, are even competitors of his now, which is absolutely fine with Johnson. “I enjoy the competition, which, of course, makes us all better. And I really love the feeling that I’ve contributed to someone’s development.”
Johnson recounts the early days when “we used to joke a bit about the bigger firms.” As he went up against these large, “really great” firms, he saw himself as nothing more than a mosquito buzzing around their ears. “For years,” he remembers, “we were getting swatted, slapped, or squashed by them. Every once in a while, though, we’d get a job that we competed with them on. Now, in 2021, we’re one of those players that younger firms look at in the same way. It’s gratifying, the feeling that you’ve gotten to where you’ve wanted to be; a place that you were never really sure you could get. It’s a bit intimidating, too, now that we have these mosquitoes buzzing around our ears now!”
The firm has been transformed in other ways, too. “We’ve been doing this long enough to know what’s in our wheelhouse and what isn’t,” Johnson says. If it’s a master planning or restaurant project, for instance, that’s a good fit for us and we’d definitely be interested. What I’ve seen over the years is that a great number of our projects are the result of referrals, with a significant number of those coming from clients with whom I’ve been doing business for two decades. That’s pretty gratifying… to be in relationships that have truly stood the test of time.”
Johnson Architecture Inc. 865-671-9060 2240 Sutherland Ave., Suite 105 Knoxville, TN 37919 www.jainc.com