Brian Pratt Builds with Purpose

Brian Pratt and his team tackle a massive-scale portfolio dedicated to keeping the University of California–Irvine one of the country’s best

UC Irvine’s Middle Earth residence hall is centrally located just off of Ring Road between Social Science and Engineering, and made up of 24 classic halls and two towers. Each residential community has a common space for studying and socializing, a small kitchen, and laundry facilities. Courtesy of University of California Irvine

If it was just the sheer scale of projects that interested Brian Pratt, he would have had his fill early on in his building tenure. The young principal would help build out—among other large-scale projects—State Farm Stadium, the home of the Arizona Cardinals. But there is another passion that drives Pratt, and it is the reason he didn’t immediately hang up on the recruiter that called him about a job lead.

Brian Pratt; Campus Architect, Assistant Vice Chancellor; University of California–Irvine Cedric Young

“Those calls usually just involved an abrupt hang-up,” he admits. “But I gave this recruiter just an extra beat.” The position was for an associate campus architect at the University of California–Irvine (UC Irvine), and as Pratt explains, “I’ve always loved the noble cause of higher education work and the diplomacy it requires. So, I threw my hat in the ring.”

Six-and-a-half years later, Pratt is the university’s campus architect and assistant vice chancellor, and in his tenure, he’s had more projects on his plate at one time that many might see in years. But the architect’s love of collaboration and his deep belief in his team are what keep his corner of the world moving full speed ahead on multiple healthcare and interdepartmental partnership possibilities.

“Brian Pratt has made a significant mark on the campus with delivering Design-Build Institute of America award-winning projects,” attests Rashmi Mehta, senior vice president of Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company, a vendor partner of UC Irvine. “He is very involved in guiding design teams to solutions that bring outstanding value for the university, and believes in a true partnership with the design-build team. We are very proud of delivering projects for Brian and his team at UC Irvine!”

Students gather in UC Irvine’s Continuing Education building. Lawrence Anderson

Team Building

Pratt is insistent that his team, and not him alone, is the reason why such a small team at UC Irvine is able to take on so many different projects concurrently. “I have an incredibly dedicated group of people, some of whom have been with the university for 20 or 30 years,” Pratt says. “The institutional knowledge and memory that comes with my team is of such tremendous value. These people are honestly just gems, and I’m lucky to have them.”

Part of the reason Pratt feels so lucky is that he understands that it can be difficult for a university to compete with the salary one might find in other areas of the facilities and building space. “I know it may sound a little corny, but I think the heaviest pull for a lot of us is the mission,” he says. “We are making a positive change in the world and we are imprinted on the memories of the people and students who come through our university—hopefully some of their best memories.”

Whatever the drive, Pratt’s team is required to be in near-constant communication with campus and vendor constituents all over the map, and at least on his team’s side, the collaboration is welcomed. “As a portfolio,  my team and I have had the opportunity to have really helped shape the university pretty dramatically in a short period of time,” he reports. “And in the coming years, it’s going to get more intense, not less.”

The Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building is the result of a unique funding collaboration among the campus, state, and private donors. It will comprise more than 200,000 square feet of research, office, and meeting space. Courtesy of University of California Irvine

Redefining Research & Health

One of the surefire highlights of Pratt’s tenure will be the completion of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building that first broke ground in 2018. The over 200,000 square-foot building is unique for myriad reasons, the first being the union of three schools at the university: engineering, physical sciences, and information and computer science. “This is a very deliberate move on the university’s part to bring these schools together because of the convergence of their research and collaboration opportunities that a building like this brings,” Pratt says. “Some of the research will even include the school of medicine, and we believe that this flexible layout in terms of workspaces is really going to help advance the future of research here.”

The university also has two massive healthcare projects underway. While the UCI Health Center for Advanced Care will house the Center for Children’s Health, a 108,200-square-foot building for the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences is joined by the 71,500-square-foot building for the Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing to act as a best-in class facility for integrative health patient care, training, and research.

One of the interesting complications of Pratt’s team is that they are responsible for issuing their own building permits, not the city of Irvine. “We are the building department,” Pratt says, laughing. “That means we not only have plan-check responsibility, we have inspection responsibility too.” It means that his 20-person team has more responsibilities than others like it, and with the amount of building going on at UC Irvine, they’re only going to be required to grow. “We are slammed right now, but again, it comes back to this great team that has performed so well given the volume of work.”

UC Irvine’s Anteater Learning Pavilion houses classrooms, lecture halls, study space, lounges, and breakout space. It’s also the first “active learning” building in California. Courtesy of University of California Irvine

The Value of a Mission

When it comes to future sustainability, Pratt says it’s nice to just be able to point to the numbers. “We lead the nation, by far, in our number of LEED-accredited platinum projects,” Pratt says. “We just received our 20th, and we’re incredibly proud of our program.”

That sustainability is going to be necessary because there is so much more underway: major new graduate housing, an art museum, a large research laboratory, community center renovation, and at least a half dozen more off the top of Pratt’s head, not to mention the litany of healthcare projects. But Pratt seems energized just by talking about the projects. For a man on a mission, the mission couldn’t be any purer.