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UC Architecture Alum Builds News Business by Building Unique Partnerships

In recently founding and working full time in his new architecture firm, young alum James Cornetet and a partner already have 30 active projects. In fact, they generate a new project about every two weeks by building unique relationships in their Orlando, Fla., community.

Date: 6/24/2012
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by James Cornetet
When the owner of an Orlando, Fla., convenience store came to a young University of Cincinnati architecture alum for advice, UC’s James Cornetet, the co-founder of a new design architecture firm, told the small business owner that he didn’t need architectural services.
 
“He didn’t need to expand his space, he needed to better use the outdoor space he had,” recalls Cornetet, 30, a 2006 graduate from UC’s top-ranked School of Architecture and Interior Design in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).
 
So, Cornetet and his partner, Wes Featherston, co-owners and co-founders of Process Architecture, LLC, in Orlando, Fla., advised the store owner to spend $50 on outdoor table and chairs and place them in available space in front of the shop.
 
States Cornetet, “He merely needed to create an urban space to encourage people to gather, and that’s exactly what happened. You can’t drive by anymore without seeing people sitting and enjoying themselves, and his business is up 20 percent.”
 
It might seem like a strange way for new entrepreneurs, who opened the doors of Process Architecture full time in 2011, to conduct their new business; however, in this case, it’s a recipe that’s working.
UC alum at left
From left, UC alum James Cornetet along with Wes Featherston receive an "unbuilt" award from the Orlando AIA for an innovative bus-shelter design. Also pictured are local commissioner Patti Sheehan and AIA Orlando president Hank Wolf.


 
Cornetet, originally of Cincinnati’s Anderson Township, and Featherston have 30 active projects ranging in value from $50,000 to $1 million, and they usually generate a new project every two weeks. What’s more, one of their municipal design projects in Orlando recently earned an “unbuilt” award from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects; and better yet, that project – innovative bus shelters – are set to be built.
 
What’s more, work by the partners was recently included in a University of Miami (Florida) exhibit that featured 13 Florida designers under the age of 40 who exemplified excellence in architecture and urban design.
 
BUILDING UNIQUE PARTNERSHIPS
The “Mills 50 Bus Shelter” project is a good example of how the Process Architecture owners have generated so much client interaction. In short, much like the case of the convenience store owner, Cornetet and Featherston generated a project (bus shelters) that no one was specifically thinking about by broadly looking a problems and needs in the community and then beginning broad-based discussions.  
 
The Mills 50 Main Street District in Orlando consists of a conglomeration of businesses on a strip and in an area with a good deal of visual clutter and no unifying architectural, demographic or commercial theme. To advance, the area needed to create a sense of place.
 
The Process Architecture entrepreneurs opened discussions in the community and walked the streets of the area to ask what would be something that the community could do quickly and inexpensively that would have a big impact in terms of both practical need and to help create a sense of place.
Rendering of bus shelter design
A rendering of the innovative bus-shelter design by UC alum James Cornetet and his business partner Wes Featherston.


 
The idea of bus shelters eventually came to the fore, and those shelters are now on the threshold of construction.
 
“The area didn’t need expensive design to meet its needs, it actually needed greater simplicity in a number of ways. Simplicity stands out, especially in a busy area. That’s why we designed simple, uncluttered, L-shaped bus shelters that will, to some extent, blend in during the day when there is a lot of visual diversity already. At night, however, when the visual clutter of the area blends together as the natural light fades, the shelters will stand out with lighting to brighten and enliven the space,” explains Cornetet.
 
The shelters also incorporate energy-saving options and communication tools, enabling pedestrians to report an emergency, with such a report generating red flashing of lights at the shelter. And motion detectors dim the night-time lights if the shelter is not in use.
 
And, of course, there’s more.
 
When walking the community and studying its needs, Cornetet and Featherston met a visually impaired pedestrian and discussed her transportation needs and how she finds her way to public transportation.
 
“What we found out was that there was no good way for the visually impaired to determine if they were indeed at the correct place to catch the bus. The visually marked bus polls aren’t distinguishable from other polls by means of touch, nor is there an audio cue,” says Cornetet.
 
And so, the bus shelters designed by Process Architecture incorporate a unique steel poll that is differentiated by its tactile properties. It’s a design innovation that will be reserved only for bus stop polls, and while first proposed as an innovation in the Mills 50 shelters, this innovation of a unique poll to define bus stops for the visually impaired will now be adopted more widely in the area.
Rendering of bus shelter at night.
Rendering of bus-shelter design at night.

 
 
It’s efforts like this that have spread the reputation of the new firm: “Yes, you need exceptional design talents, but it’s about people first and always,” says Cornetet, who adds that he and Featherston are constantly on job sites with tradespeople.
 
“People think designers live in rarefied offices, but it’s necessary to be on the ground where the community lives and works. When that happens, you’ll get a call from the carpenter on a job that they’ve found something that might affect the integrity of the design, and it’s time for everyone to come together on the site,” he adds.
 
In fact, that’s just what happened on a challenging job where they helped save a local structure called the Starter’s House  at an area golf course. The converted structure served as a pro shop; however, due to age and other factors, it seemed to hold little value, and many thought it needed to be demolished and a new structure built.
 
Cornetet remembers, “Basically, it seemed to hold no hope for being architecture or even a nice, serviceable building in any way.” But, after the young designers created a vision for the building, it’s now a reason to pause and appreciate its features.
 
UC’S CO-OP PROVIDED VALUABLE WORK EXPERIENCE
Via UC’s celebrated co-op program, Cornetet was able to obtain valuable work experience in large firms while at a young age and has built his career from there.
James Cornetet and Wes Featherston at work on the Starter
James Cornetet and Wes Featherston at work on the Starter's House project.


 
And while in the DAAP classroom, Cornetet reports he received good training and advice from faculty who were, at the same time, practitioners – UC faculty like Terry Boling, David Niland and Michael McInturf.
 
“They always taught me that for a design practitioner, it’s about the relationship with the client, not just a business transaction with a client,” Cornetet recalls.
 
It would seem to be a lesson he learned very well indeed.