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Insights from Principal Architect Johnny Shirley

Johnny Shirley, Principal Architect at Think Architecture

Meet Johnny M. Shirley, AIA, a Principal Architect at Think Architecture, whose journey into the field was inspired by his father, who is also a Principal at Think Architecture. “I spent time growing up walking construction sites and learning about luxury homes early in life,” Johnny recalls, reflecting on the experiences that sparked his lifelong passion for architecture.

Johnny’s expertise lies in residential architecture, a field he chose due to his love for the mountains, the desert, and open spaces. He enjoys working in environments that seamlessly blend with their natural surroundings, crafting a relationship between enclosed spaces and the great outdoors. For Johnny, designing homes that resonate with their environment is paramount. This involves integrating local geography, climate, and history to create spaces that feel inherently connected to their surroundings. “Regardless of housing type or value, it should have a connection to place,” Johnny emphasizes.

The Ridge Townhomes at Park City Mountain in Park City, UT | Utah Multi Family Residential Architects | Think Architecture

Inspirations and Influences

When asked about his architectural heroes, Johnny cites several architects known for their strong sense of Regionalism, including James Cutler, Rick Joy, and Marlon Blackwell. A pivotal moment in his education was visiting the Getty Center in Los Angeles by Richard Meier. “I was impressed by the thoughtfulness in the connection to the place and how well he designed into and with the landscape,” Johnny shares.

Outside of architecture, Johnny draws inspiration from his daily experiences in the Wasatch Mountains, where he observes the changing light from sunrise to starlit nights. “Inspiration comes from experiencing the joy of God’s creation,” he says, highlighting how this communion with nature fuels his creativity and underscores his design philosophy.

Working at Think Architecture

Working at Think Architecture is particularly rewarding for Johnny because of its family-oriented atmosphere and the collaborative spirit among colleagues and clients. The firm’s literal family history, including his father being a principal, enhances this environment. “Think is a family business in the literal history and in the feel. We have a great group of people working together,” Johnny notes. He values the strong relationships he builds with clients, who often become friends, and the teamwork that drives each project.

Green Architectural Using Natural Motifs

Notable Projects and Client Partnerships

One of Johnny’s most memorable projects is the Stein Eriksen Residences, a project that spanned a decade of his career. This endeavor involved navigating changing markets and buyer expectations while creating 54 unique condominium homes within a branded hotel. The challenge of integrating 5-star amenities and ski-in/ski-out convenience made this project especially fulfilling. “Each project brings new challenges. I believe that is why this profession is so interesting,” Johnny explains.

For Johnny, successful client partnerships hinge on dialogue. “Communication, communication, communication,” he emphasizes, believing that clear and constant interaction is the key to overcoming challenges and achieving the best outcomes.

Design Philosophy and Process

Johnny’s design philosophy is rooted in Regionalism. He aims to create designs that reflect their time and place while carrying a sense of history. One of his notable projects, the Silver Star Village, is a testament to this philosophy. Situated at the base of Park City on an old mining site, the project cleverly incorporates elements of the area’s mining history and historic imagery.

His design process always begins on site, taking in the views at different times of the day. Johnny prioritizes the flow of the floor plan, ensuring each space offers unique experiences and optimal view orientations. He believes that if the structural foundation is solid, any

style can be successfully applied. “The flow of the floor plan is foremost in my opinion while creating unique experiences in each space,” Johnny says.

The most rewarding part of the design process for Johnny is presenting the final work to clients. He enjoys walking them through the project, allowing them to experience the space as it was envisioned. “I love walking through with the clientele and allowing them to follow the process to feel the experience of the space,” he adds.

Local Influence and Future of Architecture

Johnny is excited about the growing architectural landscape in Salt Lake City, particularly the rise of high-rise developments downtown. He finds it thrilling to see the city evolve into a vibrant urban setting with enhanced entertainment, food, and cultural offerings. “Downtown is finally drawing the attention of larger developers,” he observes.

Looking ahead, Johnny is enthusiastic about the future of architecture at Think Architecture. As the firm expands and takes on larger projects, he is eager to contribute to the ongoing beautification and development of Utah. He also sees the potential of emerging technologies like AI, which can expedite the visualization of design options and revolutionize documentation processes. “AI is a big unknown with great potential,” he notes.

To those considering a career in architecture, Johnny offers simple but profound advice: “Patience, it’s worth it,” he says, underscoring the rewarding nature of the journey.

Personal Interests and Alternate Career Path

Outside of work, Johnny is an avid outdoor enthusiast. In the winter, he can be found skiing at various resorts, particularly Snowbird and Deer Valley, often engaging in early morning backcountry touring. In the spring and fall, he enjoys trail running and mountain biking, and dedicates summer days to road biking. Travel is another source of inspiration for Johnny, allowing him to observe and appreciate diverse architectural styles around the world.

If he weren’t an architect? “Easy, I’d be a mountaineering guide,” he says, reflecting his deep connection with nature and adventure.

Johnny Shirley’s insights and experiences highlight the thoughtful, client-focused, and regionally inspired approach that defines Think Architecture. Stay tuned for more stories from our talented team as we continue to blend innovative design with the unique beauty of our surroundings.

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