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Nazir Khalfe of Powers Brown Architecture: “To not burn out”

I’m a principal with an architecture firm vs. being a retail executive, so I can speak to my personal shopping practices as related to the new realities created by the pandemic. As a working parent, I like that I can log on 24/7/365 and shop. It frees up time for my wife and me to […]

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I’m a principal with an architecture firm vs. being a retail executive, so I can speak to my personal shopping practices as related to the new realities created by the pandemic. As a working parent, I like that I can log on 24/7/365 and shop. It frees up time for my wife and me to spend with our son so we aren’t spending our evenings and weekends running around doing the shopping.

E-commerce already was racing forward at an extraordinary pace with Amazon, Walmart, Target and other big-box stores trying to get more facilities close to population centers in order to cut down on the time between ordering and delivery.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nazir Khalfe, AIA, RIBA, RID, a principal with Powers Brown Architecture.

Nazir has demonstrated the ability to design and document buildings that are attractive, economical and durable throughout his career as a project manager in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Denver and Washington, D.C. markets. His completed projects include industrial and office master plans, spec and corporate office buildings and distribution, and assembly and manufacturing facilities.

Powers Brown Architecture, founded in 1999, is a professional services firm that maintains a diverse architecture design, space planning and urban design practice that spans from regional to international projects. The firm has built a reputation for specialized design and technical superiority, producing award-winning work and gaining recognition from local, regional, and national organizations and have national and international capabilities with offices in Denver; Houston; Washington, D.C.; Denver; Toronto; and St. John’s, Newfoundland.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m an architect. It’s really quite funny to think back how initially I really wanted to be a pilot and go into the Air Force. But my parents weren’t too happy about that. So, my trajectory to become an architect started back in high school in England, where we had a subject called “design and realization.” In this class, we would design products, furniture, widgets and make the most extraordinary forms by chiseling away at a solid wooden cube. The organic nature of the class really made me appreciate how things are put together and yes, the wooden cube doesn’t have to be just a wooden cube. Driving past several famous buildings and the home of Sir Christopher Wren on a daily basis on the bus, whilst working in an architecture firm in London, confirmed it was the correct career choice.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are quite a few stories actually. One my most memorable stories was my first solo trip to a job site in Houston. It was Cole Creek Business Park by Trammell Crow Companies, constructed by Rosenberger Construction back in 2001. I was asked to go verify and review some glass on the project by my superior. I made it to the site in my father-in-law’s 1994 Toyota Camry, parked the car by the trailer and wandered around the site like a stray dog. The superintendent (Dave Vercelino) saw me and gave me the most fearful stare from afar. “Who are you, and what are you doing on my site?” Dave was the largest human being I had ever seen. I explained in a trembling voice who I was and why I was there. The response was swift, “Well hurry up and get me those submittals back quickly.’ I had the pleasure of working and learning a lot from Dave after that project, and it really made me appreciate that first you have to be a “sponge” and absorb all the information around you and secondly being part of a TEAM is the best way to succeed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

When I first started at Powers Brown Architecture, like any intern, I purchased supplies to be ready for my first day at work. The most daunting tool that I purchased was the scale rule. I was taught in metric; millimeters were my thing, and there was 3/16” on this ruler. What in the world is 3/16”? So, I made a fool of myself when I tried to use the scale rule for the first time.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We are very fortunate to be working on several great projects. From large speculative industrial buildings that truly are state of the art, to small intimate offices for family foundations. These are projects where you can leave the pragmatism behind and let words/feelings/thoughts be an engine to generate an expressive form of design.

I’m excited to have worked on industrial design, including the latest in E-commerce facilities, for the past 18 years, that helps companies get product to customers in the most efficient and timely ways possible, especially during these trying times of the pandemic.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

To not burn out, it’s important to be fluid in our thinking. As soon as the pandemic demanded the need to work from home, we immediately initiated in-house studies to develop protocols to systematically analyze clients’ and prospective clients’ office spaces, furnishings and traffic flow and adapt them for safe return to work. This is, of course, to provide employees with the most healthy and safe work spaces for them, and thus, their families.

With today’s ever-changing retail environment, we have spent the past several months doing a deep dive research into the economics of adaptive reuse of poor-performing retail malls and anchor stores. Our report, “The Future of Industrial Is . . . The Past of Shopping Malls,” provides the pluses and minuses of transforming close-in and suburban retail real estate into industrial space. We’ve concluded there is a possible 25–40% savings on construction costs, including a time savings of four months in some cases in renovation versus razing the mall or anchor stores to start building from scratch.

The pandemic really has changed the way I think as I work from home. Whilst being at home, I am able to see my child grow up, something that I never would have been able to do going to the office every day. So, it is a case of taking a step back and just appreciating the moment you are in, and appreciating the loved ones around you.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Success is not down to one person, but I am very grateful to:

1. The professor that said I could never be an architect, and I should look at another profession.

2. The folks that gave me an opportunity and took a gamble when they didn’t need to, folks that forgave my mistakes, folks who had patience, folks who listened to me complain, the folks who stayed late at night to meet a deadline and all the other staff members who make our firm run on a daily basis — they are the engine that make one a success.

3. My wife who has endured the craziness of me and supported me throughout my career

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

( Still not successful, I’ve got a long way to go :-) — this is a comment 🙂

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

I’m a principal with an architecture firm vs. being a retail executive, so I can speak to my personal shopping practices as related to the new realities created by the pandemic. As a working parent, I like that I can log on 24/7/365 and shop. It frees up time for my wife and me to spend with our son so we aren’t spending our evenings and weekends running around doing the shopping.

E-commerce already was racing forward at an extraordinary pace with Amazon, Walmart, Target and other big-box stores trying to get more facilities close to population centers in order to cut down on the time between ordering and delivery.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

I personally think retail will exist but in a very niche way. The large exclusive malls will always be the large exclusive malls, as they will be seen as a destination, but the suburban mall may no longer exist. In my opinion the suburban mall, (pre-1990) will be used a “land play’ for the Amazons of this world, as they are Ideally located within the Amazon catchment area for last-mile delivery.

We’re seeing changes like ShopFulfill: Hybrid; App-driven, where technology blurs the lines between shopping at home and in-store — you can shop either way. Showrooms in the front, where retailers could display their merchandise, and integrated warehousing and fulfillment in the back. Goods can be delivered, picked up, or walked out from the ShopFulfill space. First iteration will be as a backfill of vacant mall anchors. Geared to digital companies seeking physical locations, along with reduced costs of fulfillment.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

This is not my expertise, so I will defer to the retail experts.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Again, I will defer to retail experts.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Two thoughts. I think everyone should be accessible to electricity. Solar power is now more accessible to the masses, so I believe there should be a “solar kit with battery” that should be provided to everyone in all remote areas in the world.

Get the 10 richest people in the world and the top 20 scientists together in one large ego-free room. Come up with a plan with appropriate funding, without the influences of the private sector and government and find a cure for the most violent strain of cancer.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow our firm on our website at www.powersbrown.com. # # #

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


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