When the first assignments were returned in mechanical drafting class in seventh grade Hardy Brown was shocked to see that he received a C- on this first-ever mechanical drawing. He had been looking forward to that class since he turned nine and decided that being an architect like his grandfather and his dad would probably be even cooler than being a fireman. But now he was realizing that mechanical drafting and architecture with it was not for him. He endured that class but his thoughts of being an architect died for the next four years. But his sophomore year in high school spending time up at Brown, Brown & Associates he noticed that in the firm they did not draw many cubes with threaded holes, in fact, he saw that the churches the firm was designing were extremely fascinating and his desire to be an architect bloomed again. A good friend was able to get him in Architectural Drafting in his senior year of high school without taking the prerequisite high school mechanical drafting again. Suddenly drawing houses and buildings the love was confirmed once again.
Hardy was accepted into Texas A&M just like his father (class of 60) and grandfather (class of 33) before into the class of 1988 and entered the Corps of Cadets (Heavens Eleven) just like his father and grandfather had done. Hardy loved the Corps and loved Architecture but unfortunately, the two are extremely unfriendly to each other and of the end of his sophomore year it looked like a choice would have to be made either to continue in the Corps or to continue in architecture but both would not be possible. After a long phone conference with his parents he decided he would press on and do what seemed impossible, he was admitted through the sophomore gate into the upper-level school of architecture and double down in his efforts to be a good cadet and a good architectural student – which he did. Finishing his undergraduate degree in December of 1988 he was accepted into the graduate program began working on his Masters of Architecture. During this time he hired as the first resident director of the first coed dorm on the Texas A&M campus which allowed him to marry the love of his life (Robyn) and live with her coed dorm and the resident director’s quarters.
Each summer during these years he would check in with his dad and his grandfather for advice on how to spend his summers. He always hoping for an invite to the firm but most summers their council was to work construction. In other years their direction included cabinet detailing, air conditioning repair, civil engineering and only occasionally and working in the back room of the office of doing light detailing. These summers in the back office were his favorites (the air conditioning was nice) but during the summers categorizing, and preparing the old projects for long term storage Hardy would get to spend entire days looking back through the old work of the firm. These drawings all started with the hand drawing of the title block on vellum and there were schemes detailed meticulously that would never be built that only he got to see. He would spend his days marveling at the beauty the creativity and the technical precision of these drawings.
In the summer before his final year, Hardy made a presentation to his father and grandfather that the firm should buy him a computer. If the firm would Hardy would promise to do his final projects entirely on CAD and would help the firm move from hand drafting to computerize drafting when he joined the firm. After a summer of contemplation, his father and grandfather agreed and Hardy went on to finish his Master’s thesis project on church design on the computer.
When Hardy completed his Masters in the spring of 1991, N. Texas was just coming out of a severe downturn and the family firm was able to offer him a job. The firm at that point was running about 75 to 80% church work which was good because that was Hardy’s main passion and interest. As soon as Hardy joined the firm it went to 100% churches and its been that way ever since. Because of the complexity of architecture, architects do not hit their prime until their mid-60s and fresh graduates are worth very little to the firms that hire them. But one area that Hardy established himself as having immediate value was in the area of client relations. When he joined the firm it was not uncommon for a draftsman to work an entire week drawing the Fellowship Hall of a project in great detail only to receive a call on Friday that the Fellowship Hall would not be included in this phase. So seven or eight completed sheets would be stacked up put back in the drawer, and seven or eight fresh sheets of vellum would be taken out and the draftsman would begin with a new title block on the new blank sheets. Hardy showed immediately that more often than not he was able to predict such moves he was able to read the eyes of committees and hear what they were saying and not saying. But he also began improving the process and structuring the meetings so that the process became much clearer to the church. So the firm started to be able to put their energy where it mattered the most and Hardy began working on new systems to take the church through the process even more clearly so the church could understand what was at stake in each decision. This process evolved over the years until the firm had almost no backup work and rework and was moving fluidly through projects. Clients were happier, the firm was more productive and things were getting done the way they needed to be done.
Growing up Hardy had often gone over and painted with his grandfather who was a Southwest Watercolor Society highly accomplished painter. Hardy remembers one of his earliest paintings when he had drawn the earth at the bottom of the sky on the top and white space in the middle of the page. His grandfather began to teach him the sky actually comes down and meets the earth but Hardy knew this could not be true. His grandfather walked him out they stood in the middle of the street and looked at the horizon. Hardy quickly pointed up and said, “Look, there’s the sky pointed down!”, and said, “Look, there’s the ground!” and his grandfather pointed to the horizon said and “Look, there’s where the touch.” While standing in the street his grandfather took the time to show him the vanishing point of the street and began revealing the concepts of how artists see and portray space correctly. John Hall Brown Senior had a ritual whenever his grandson would spend the night before he would go home, he would take them around look at all paintings in his home and they would critique each one what do you like what would you change what you see?
In grade school, many of Hardy’s sports teams were coached by his Father and Grandfather. He remembers often running into the office to catch them both standing drawing up plays for the single wing offense the team ran. Hardy played tailback in those days and scored lots of touchdowns, not because he was good at football but because he hated being tackled so much.
The three Browns were able to work together for eight years. During that time Hardy was able to spend many hours standing side of the desk above his father and his grandfather watching and learning. The thing that always fascinated him the most was, “How do you go from a blank sheet to a concept?” During this time Hardy was becoming very proficient in editing the ideas and in progressing the ideas put forth but the blank sheet always terrified him and he knew that someday he would need to be the head of the firm and be able to slay the blank sheet. After eight years of working together, his grandfather retired from the firm and Hardy was able to watch as his father stepped into the head role. He knew his dad was convinced he would never be the architect his father been but over the next 10 years, Hardy watched his dad become as proficient as an even more capable than his grandfather had been. During this time Hardy was able to go to every client meeting and his dad would stop for Mexican food after most of these meetings and analyze what had been said, the direction of the project and what they should do next. His dad relied upon him to track the projects to keep the clients informed and educated and in the sequencing of the engineering team. Hardy relied on his dad for the initial design ideas, the layouts, and the experience. These were amazing years.
During these years Hardy began to have deep conversations with contractors, subcontractors and consultants to look at the process in the technical side of the projects. He reflected on some of the traditions of architecture, like architects taking weeks to design cabinets that will be handed off to cabinet detailers (Hardy had been one for Fabian and Associates Cabinets) who would take weeks to redesign the cabinets in greater detail. But after an arduous approval process often involving weeks of back and forth the design was handed off to a master cabinetmaker who knew all along how to make the cabinet and who would make them better than either party had designed. Hardy began to look at ways to refine these inefficiencies many of which were based on traditions that went back hundreds of years. He was always looking to improve the process. He began looking less at the minutia and more at the big picture. He began to spend less time drawing and more time organizing. Organizing the team, setting the sequence of design so that his whole team was more efficient and more profitable and the design solutions were better because more time was being spent where it mattered most. Finally after 22 years working side-by-side John Hall Brown Junior passed away in 2000 and now the firm and those dreaded blank sheets belonged to John Hardy Brown.
Like his father before him, Hardy was convinced that he would never match the excellence of his father or his grandfather but was encouraged that the long mentorship had brought him into a place of proficiency where he knew he brought value to the churches he served. He realized that in his lineage he had a continuous chain of knowledge that went back before all buildings were air-conditioned, before sound systems, before video projection. He realized he had access to the true proportions of Colonial design, Gothic design and Modern design.
Mr. Brown set about defining his era on “Ministry Based Design”. Based on the idea that churches are not generic structures but that each local church is unique in its calling, its function, and its site is unique and the ultimate design must be hand tailored to that church. He began listening more and programming more deeply in seeking out the way each church functions uniquely. He began educating his clients better to free them from simply rebuilding what they were used to and looking intently at what they really need. He began asking better questions, using the process of design better engaging his clients more deeply in producing amazing designs.
Many architects will candidly tell you that churches are the least desirable type of architectural project. Many consider them a necessary evil to balance out a firm’s portfolio. Many firms will compete hard to get a church but then will hand it off to a third-year junior lead and a brand-new support team for its execution. Many of them have never seen a second phase they don’t really understand the way churches grow, the way their finances have to work to be successful or what makes them truly unique.
Mr. Brown has had the privilege of completing 10 consecutive phases with a single church. He has watched churches grow over his entire career. He has diligently learned from two Masters in the trade and is the holder of over 70 years of continuous experience in serving churches. Mr. Brown is as excited as he’s ever been about designing church facilities to carry the church into new realms of effectiveness in a new era of the church.