MHTN Professional Spotlight: James Knight

Here at MHTN, we strive to make our client's vision a reality. We want to recognize those who make this possible by highlighting our talented team members.

Celebrating his second year with MHTN, James Knight brings an interest in space planning and a passion for finding creative solutions to the office. We asked him to tell us a little bit about himself.

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I was born in Santa Barbara, California, and lived my first seven years near the beach and near UCSB in Goleta while my father finished school and my parents both taught in a local high school.  My mother taught art and my father taught history.  I attended an elementary school which was built in a 'pod' layout with three or four classrooms per pod building that could open up to one large space.  We did not have snow, but we had fog and felt an occasional earthquake and had a large walnut tree orchard in our backyard.  I also spent time in the summer with my grandparents in Pasadena, swimming in their pool, going to Dodger baseball games, and visiting interesting places such as Huntington Gardens and many tall downtown buildings.  When I was seven my father passed away and my mother, sister and I moved to Holladay, Utah to live with my maternal grandparents in their neat old Tudor home built by my grandmother's uncle, Henry Dinwoodey in 1925 just east of the Cottonwood Club where I spent much time swimming and playing tennis. The land where the Cottonwood Club was had belonged to my great grandparents.  I attended Oakwood Elementary, just like my Mom had, and then Bonneville Jr. and Cottonwood High School. And later, after serving an LDS mission to Switzerland & Germany, I attended the University if Utah for undergraduate and graduate studies.  

When did you first know you wanted to work in architecture?

While I did not realize it at the time, I had an interest in architecture when I was very young playing with legos at my California grandparents' house. I would sit down and build their simple yet elegant single story house starting with an accurate floor plan layout.  I was always intrigued with the flow of the house, and how some informal rooms could be closed off to other more formal rooms, and how the master bedroom had a huge bathroom and a back door to the library and formal areas. The three sided pool house was also a neat retreat.  My grandparent's home in Holladay was even more intriguing and I spent countless hours with my cousins exploring its many rooms, connecting closets, basement, and attic.  My artist mother encouraged me to draw, however I was always more comfortable drawing with a straight edge and compass so I would draw many random or geometric lines and color them in with crayons.  As I got older, I would spend spare time drawing dream house floor plans.  In high school I took technical and architectural drafting courses and loved it.  My Scout leader, Kevin Watts, was an architect whose work and 'glass house' I admired.  Like my father, I also loved history and historical buildings.  I actually started at the U with a one semester engineering scholarship, but when my aptitude for math hit a wall, I was drawn to architecture as an alternate path.  It just felt right that I would be able to take a variety of courses including art, history, physics, drawing (with a straight edge) and many fun architecture classes building models, and that my potential chosen profession would involve all of these, and include problem solving through measuring, designing, and drafting.  I also enjoyed building furniture as part of Japanese and Scandinavian Architecture classes.  The final confirmation that architecture would be my profession was an experience/blessing I had while helping an elderly neighbor build and repair some window flower boxes.  Her son-in-law, Craig Kitterman, had come over to the house while I was there....he was an architect just starting his own business and looking for a drafter ...and I was looking for a job.  I worked with him for 10 years designing homes and small commercial buildings, drawing with... you guessed it ... a straight edge.  I did not start using a computer to draft until 1998.

What are you passionate about and how does that intersect with your job?

One of my passions of late has been attending and thoroughly enjoying the orchestra concerts all three of my children play in.  Their school has become well known for their music department in particular the stringed instruments and a lot of credit goes to the teacher who has a passion for excellence and a love of her students.  Another credit to their success is the concert hall building they perform and practice in which was finely tuned acoustically.  Before I started at MHTN I had been in that building countless times, never knowing who designed it.  Now I do and I work for that great company.   In years past I have also been fortunate to work on other performing arts type spaces such as the Shakespearean Festival's new theater, and various auditorium seating remodels.  Perhaps this interest comes from my childhood experiences with the Shakespeare festival or from a grandfather who was a Broadway actor in his younger years.   While I am glad to be able to earn a living doing architecture I would also consider it a hobby at times as well.  I have had opportunities in the past to draw house plans for family and friends, including the house I lived in during college, the houses my parents and in-law's now live in and a fun cabin project I did for my Aunt in Brighton. In many cases I was able to gain additional experience about design and construction and the use of Revit as a 3D visualization tool and best of all, be able to live in and enjoy those spaces and critique my own work.  Like most architects, I enjoy visual imagery.  Whether it is the sculpture, color, and framed vistas found in nature or our built environment, I enjoy capturing those views in photography, however limited my talent and resources may be.  I feel that any kind of visualization whether it is sketching, painting, or photography is helpful in refining an architects abilities.  

For the last 6 years I have been a Neighborhood Watch coordinator for Sandy City Police and consequently involved with the Sandy Citizen's Council and CERT as well as many other emergency preparedness types of activities. This has led me to think more about how I would react in a crisis and how my built environment and neighbors would react around me and so I wanted to help others think about preparedness and safety as well.

What do you most love about your current job?

I have always enjoyed the multi-disciplinary problem solving aspect of architecture, starting with researching site design limitations and opportunities and coming up with creative solutions.  I enjoy meeting with client and user groups during the programming phase to discuss and document their needs and desires.  In fact, I did a program and concept design for an SUU science building before working at MHTN that was eventually designed by MHTN that turned out great.  Perhaps because of my early interest in floor plan visualization I have always enjoyed space planning exercises and fitting program spaces into a defined area.  I have been able to do a lot of space planning and program verification with my current project, the new Salt Lake City airport, specifically the ground level airport and airline support spaces.  On this project I have enjoyed being challenged to learn many new aspects of the Revit software and various supplemental applications which help track all aspects of space design in the building.  I also enjoy working together with others as a team to solve problems and accomplish tasks.  One of the most satisfying aspects of architecture is to see a building that I worked on rise up out of the ground, be completed, and finally see people use and enjoy the space.

What are some interesting things about you? What do you enjoy doing outside of the office?

When I am not in the office, my time during the week is typically spent with my wife Erin and our three children and their homework or supporting their activities such as volleyball, soccer, rowing, scouts, and strings concerts.  Weekends are for home improvement and service type activities but when these things are done I enjoy playing golf, mountain biking, hiking, tennis, photography and camping with my sons or with our local Scout troop.  As a family we like to take vacations to interesting places but with a limited budget. Like problem solving in architecture, we have had some great experiences in Utah as well as further away such as Washington DC, Boston, Costa Rica and Turks and Caicos. We have also enjoyed scuba diving and snorkeling together and when I am able I like to start my day doing laps in the pool.  

For the past 10 years I have been involved with a Knight Family organization who is linked back 7 generations.  We search for our living relatives and put together bi-annual reunions that are focused on family history and celebrating the stories and legacy they left.  Last year we had almost 600 people attend over 2 days. When I started at MHTN I was happily surprised to find out that I had a distant cousin at MHTN...Randy Knight, and who knows, there may be more of us who are related.  I have also been part of a historical restoration project on a little 200 year old farm house that my Knight ancestor built in upstate New York.  

Some of my more memorable 'bucket list' type adventures include working for the forest service during the summer doing trail maintenance, scuba diving with reef sharks, tandem hang gliding off of Farmington Peak with a neighbor friend, hiking half way up the Matterhorn, hiking Havasu Canyon, zip lining through the Costa-Rican rain forest, hiking to the top of many of the Wasatch Front Peaks, favorites being Lone Peak, Twin Peaks, and the Pfeifferhorn and recently experiencing India, from Kolkata to the Taj Mahal through the eyes of my daughter who went there on a service trip with school friends.  And very distant in my rear view mirror I ran the St. George Marathon twice.