Lessons from Legends in the Home Building Industry

We are thrilled to bring you the latest installment in our Lessons from Legends in the Home Building Industry series. For this discussion, we were fortunate enough to sit down with none other than Art Danielian, architect extraordinaire.

The Legend: Art Danielian

Art truly is a legend in the industry. His long, illustrious career is chock-full of awards, accolades, and stories. Below is just a fragment of his story. Enjoy!

LD:  Art, thank you so much for sitting down to talk with us. As you think about your career and what you do, how would you describe it?

AD: I feel like I get to go to the candy factory every day! I love what I do and look forward every day to working.

LD: They say when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.

AD: Exactly!

How It All Began

 LD: So how did you get started in the industry? What is the Danielian backstory?

AD: You could say I was born into it. When I was nine years old, I would spend a lot of time, just hanging out at my architect uncle’s office. He would give me a quarter for sweeping the floors and removing trash from his office. Occasionally he would take me to construction sites in his restored classic Model A truck. (Which he also taught me to drive.)

LD: How fun! I love that he would take you to job sites. I’m sure that made quite an impression on you.

AD: Absolutely. Seeing the hand-drawings in his office come to life, into beautiful, three-dimensional buildings was quite literally life changing. That experience solidified my decision to pursue my life’s work – to become an architect.

LD: How poetic. And how wonderful to know at such a young age what you were meant to do. So, I know you have quite a history with the University of Southern California. Did you attend USC straight after high school?

[Editor’s Note: Art was recently honored with the USC Architectural Guild Lifetime Achievement Award  an incredibly prestigious distinction.]

AD: No. After graduating high school, I served in the US Army then went to Pasadena City College (PCC). While at PCC, I took an elective course in architectural drafting. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to take this class. The instructor gave us a semester-long assignment to design a one-story home and prepare the working drawings, with given exterior dimensions.

The instructor told us that at the end of the semester, he would select the best solution, and the winner’s plans would then be used to build a model home on campus by the college’s construction class. And when this home was completed, it would be sold to the highest bidder. Well, as things turned out, the instructor selected my design. Then the next semester, I enrolled in the construction class and I actually got to help build the home I designed.

LD: Wow. That’s amazing, talk about being hands-on. So, then you attended USC?

AD: Yes.

LD: What was your experience there, at USC? Were you involved in any memorable projects?

AD: Yes. I completely immersed myself in the field and worked for several prominent structural engineering and architecture firms. Two notable projects that I worked on while at USC included the Apollo launching structure and the Space Needle in Seattle.

LD: Oh wow, very cool! Then how did you end up working in residential architecture?

AD: Well, in my third year at USC, I received a scholastic scholarship. This honor (and my work) caught the attention of Ed Fickett who, at the time, was one of the nation’s pioneers in master-planned residential communities. Ed was impressed with my work and offered me a job. I joined his firm full time when I graduated.

A Remarkable Career

LD: You didn’t stay with Ed for very long, did you?

AD: No. After a couple years I decided it was time to start my own firm. I went on my own and after one year I had eight people working for me. Within six years of graduating college, I had designed 20 houses. It has just grown from there.

LD: I’ll say! Your firm, Danielian Associates, is celebrating over 53 years in business this year. That’s just amazing.

AD: I’m very proud of all that we’ve accomplished. We have worked in 44 states and 15 countries worldwide. We’ve designed production housing, custom homes, multifamily housing, mixed-use, affordable housing, senior communities, clubhouses, transitional housing for US military veterans, master-planned communities, and much more. Danielian Associates have designed over 1 million homes on the planet.


LD: Incredible! Your contributions to the industry are almost too much to mention.

AD: It has been a terrific ride. One thing that I have truly enjoyed in my career has been being a part of NAHB. I started going to the NAHB convention in 1972. By 1973, I was conducting presentations where I would share best practices, ideas, and other architectural knowledge. Almost immediately the sessions were incredibly popular with each session drawing an attendance of over 500 people. I’ve stayed heavily involved with NAHB over the years and was chairman of the National Housing Committee for seven years.

LD: Very nice. What spurred your expansion oversees?

AD: It was a combination of the recession in the 1990s and the Kobe earthquake. The economy was struggling here in the US and the housing market was weak. At the same time Kobe, Japan was hit with a massive earthquake. There was so much devastation and destruction, I wanted to help.

[Editor’s Note: According to National Geographic, the January 17, 1995 earthquake was one of the worst in Japan’s history, killing 6,433 people and causing more than $100 billion in damages.]

AD: The entire city was devastated, and people needed housing. We were one of only three firms that went to help: we built over 100 houses in 30 days.

LD: That is so incredible. And I’m assuming once you got your “toes wet” in Japan, you wanted to expand more.

AD: Yes, exactly. We worked on some large master-planned communities in China after that. To date we have  worked in 15 countries worldwide.

LD: Your impact on the industry is so impressive and inspiring. And, we haven’t even mentioned the copious number of awards you and your firm have earned over the years. Not the least of which is the USC lifetime achievement award. You truly are a legend in the industry!

Ongoing Motivation

LD: After all these years and accomplishments, what keeps you motivated?

AD: It’s a joy. I still come into the office every day, all day. It invigorates me.

LD: What’s next for Danielian Associates?

AD: So much! My son John became president of the firm about 2 ½ years ago. I see a long future ahead of us working locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. We are still making a difference in different communities across the globe.

For instance, we were part of the first master-planned community in Costa Rica. The community is turning trash into electricity. We have helped change the attitude on what development means in Costa Rica.

LD: So glad to hear that Danielian Associates will continue to make a positive impact on the industry. To what do you attribute your long, successful career?

AD: I think it boils down to passion. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, then you won’t last. And integrity. You can have talent, but if you are not genuine and honest in all business interactions, there is no long-term career. Humility, positivity, and honesty go a long way.

Parting Advice

LD: Wonderful words to live by. Is there anything you’d tell your younger self?

AD: I’d tell him to go for it! If you love what you do, you’ll be successful and happy!

LD: Love it. We have taken so much of your time and are incredibly grateful. I know we have only scratched the surface of your long, illustrious, inspiring career, any last parting words?

AD: No matter what, maintain a positive attitude. Treat people fairly and with respect. Be honest and humble.

LD: Thank you so much, Art. It was a pleasure talking with you.

Learn More

To learn more about Art, his accomplished career, and Danielian Associates the company he built over 50 years ago, please visit his website.