Influential Interviews: Steven Paynter’s tech transforms cities

How one architectural expert is making the world a better place.

* Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series of interviews conducted with winners of SiteNews’ recent awards program, Construction’s Most Influential People

As building transformation & adaptive reuse leader, principal, for global design firm Gensler, Steven Paynter is using technology to help revitalize downtown areas around the world.

When tasked with assisting the city of Calgary in converting vacant office space for other uses, Paynter and his team developed a digital tool that uses information any broker would know to feed into an office building conversion algorithm. The tool then determines if the stripped down bones of the structure would work for residential conversion. After creating thousands of new housing units, this approach has now spread to other major cities, including Toronto, New York and San Francisco.

We caught up with Paynter to learn about building teams, being creative, leaving the UK for Canada and more.

SiteNews: Is there one book, podcast, video or piece of content that you think everyone in construction should check out?

Paynter:“Creativity Inc.” by Ed Catmull. It’s not about construction, but it is about how to organize and manage creative teams across complex tasks. It explains how to do that better than anything else I’ve read.

Did you have a mentor or role model early in your career? How did their guidance or example shape your path in construction?

The two early mentors that shaped how I work were my first Managing Director, he was a creative risk taker that always looked for what was next in the industry. That company led the way on BIM, Digital Twins and sustainability a decade ahead of others. The second was a drywaller that I worked with on site, as an architect having a person on site that could really tell you how things worked was great

What was the biggest calculated risk you took in your career, and what were the rewards (or lessons learned) from that experience?

Leaving the UK in 2012 and coming to Toronto because there was more opportunity here. The payoff has been huge, most people I worked with in the UK have since left the architecture industry because there was no space to grow. By moving I’ve been able to do what I love and massively expand my influence across North America.

What advice would you give to your younger self, just starting out in your career?

Learn everything! You never know when you’ll need it or what else it will inspire.

What strategies have you found most effective in building and leading high-performing teams in construction?

I think it starts with hiring, I’ve always hired people that have skills that I don’t have and focused on people that were better than me in skills I do have. It’s allowed me to create an amazing team that can achieve almost anything. That diversity of skills and people is also great for building team cohesion as they collaborating, not competing

What single issue are you most passionate about in the construction sector?

Leaving the world in a better place than I found it

What would you like your professional legacy to be?

The work I’m doing on conversions at the moment has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of houses and really bring life back to downtowns. I would like my legacy to be better cities


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