Meet the Principals: Jon Kanda

What project pushed you out of your comfort zone? What did you learn from that experience? 

My first significant construction administration assignment on a computer science building at Harvard: an important client and no-nonsense owner’s rep and contractors. I’m sure everyone was wondering what a newly minted architecture grad (who looked even younger) was doing on the job site.  The whole experience was two years of living outside the comfort zone. But I focused on the relationships. I took interest in the work of the subcontractors, spending hours on-site watching them work, asking them questions, and studying their sequence of construction. I tried to learn something personal about each team member.  I learned the value of self-deprecating humor, taking a good ribbing, and learning to give it back. I still recall lessons from that assignment to this very day.

What advice would you give to young architects?  

Does this question imply I’m officially “old?”  I’m not sure this qualifies as advice, but there are three things I would tell my younger self: 1. Embrace youth and naïveté as your super power, not your kryptonite. With age and experience, youthfulness becomes elusive in everything you do.  2. Have your “elevator speech” ready to explain WHY you do what you do.  Realize that it will evolve and change.  3. Beyond architecture, find one soul-filling, lifelong passion.  Dive in deep and don’t give it up.

What are your must-haves on your desk?

Three “tools” I keep here at my home office: cedar Blackwing pencils, Beyerdynamic headphones for music, and a candy bowl (currently filled with Werther’s, but usually swimming with Haribo Gummi Bears).

It’s your last night on earth – what are you having for dinner?

That’s both easy and hard: It’s the one dish I can’t get: my grandma’s fried chicken. While she was amazing at preparing Japanese food, her skillet fried chicken was my favorite. After she passed on, we’ve have tried to recreate it without success; even tried using her seasoned cast iron skillet. I’ll order it my last night on Earth; maybe she’ll have it waiting for me on the other side.

If you could interview anyone (alive or not), who would it be and what one burning question would you ask? 

Person:  Mick Jones from The Clash.

Question: “Did you stay or did you go?”


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