Design Manifestos: Trace Jacques of ESG Architects

Trace Jacques (Photograph courtesy of ESG Architects)

Trace Jacques, AIA, CID is a Partner at ESG Architects in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Even though Trace is a senior design principal involved in every area of ESG’s expertise, he remains a hands-on leader. Trace is keenly aware of the ways in which new buildings can transform the character and livability of a neighborhood. Always working within budget, Trace creates refined, context-sensitive projects that fulfill client objectives for functionality. At the same time, his projects “tell a story about place, and how design is bettering the lives of people who live in our buildings and who pass by them on a regular basis.”


On becoming an architect
As a child growing up (surrounded by perpetual construction) in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, I was captivated whenever we got close enough to see the silhouette of the downtown skyline in the distance. I would see construction progress on the Sears Tower and Standard Oil Building and compare them to “Big John” — The sheer scale of those towers was awe inspiring to me. I loved them so much that I started building scale models of them and collecting any information that I could find in an almost obsessive way.

On pursuing the profession
Making architectural models starting at age eight, began my exploration and education in architecture. Even early on, those models explored the fundamentals of each building’s design (i.e. Form, color, composition, and eventually contextual urban fabric). Building models brought attention my way and having an uncle who was an architect (the only professional in a very large extended family) also played an unquestionable role in determining my direction in life.

Junction Flat (Photograph by Trammel Crow and Farm Kid Studios courtesy of ESG Architects)

On discovering his voice as a designer
Looking back, it was from the immense amount of model building done in my youth (which evolved to building designs from my own imagination) where my confidence grew. With the support of a few key art teachers who allowed me to display my work, my voice began to be heard. That voice was quite naive to say the least until my eyes were opened in college art history classes and more importantly as an architecture student at the College of Architecture at the University of Minnesota during the 1980’s.

Professional influences: I would list Leonard Parker first as my early mentor and Mark Swenson as my most important mentor (as well as partner today). I have always been a consumer of great design — firms and designers such as: KPF, Rafael Moneo, SOM, HOK, Perkins & Will, SHoP, NBBJ to name a few have steadily fed my appetite for high quality design.

Educational influences: The University of Minnesota College of Architecture in the 1980s was marked by the recent retirement of long-time head Ralph Rapson with its intense practical approach to design and was transitioning and experimenting with bold new academic based studios so I experienced quite a range of differing design approaches and it helped me to be able to sift through and see which approaches truly fit my own sensibilities.

Personal influences: I am a person of many passions. I have a passion for aviation, skyscrapers, ocean liners, navy ships, and stadiums to name a few. My other passions are with family (especially my wife and children) and my Catholic faith.

Latitude 45 (Photograph by Farm Kid Studios courtesy of ESG Architects)

On joining ESG Architects
I joined ESG after working eleven years for The Leonard Parker Associates and I needed a change and was given an opportunity to be a lead designer and the joy ride hasn’t stopped. Unlike TLPA, ESG was a younger firm that focused on private sector work which meant faster, seat-of- your-pants work and a lot more opportunity for hands on design experiences.

On how his approach has changed since joining ESG Architects
Because of the fast pace and the sheer number of projects and the variety of clientele, efficiency and flexibility have been the keys to success. I am a modeler by nature and able to self-teach when I have a need to possess a certain skill set. Interns also help that process of learning new skills. That drive has steered me into designing much more hands-on with the aid of computer modeling software like Sketch-up and V-Ray.

NIC on Fifth (Photograph by Farm Kid Studios courtesy of ESG Architects)

On specific principles he strives to adhere to
As cliché as it sounds, a customized, creative, client driven approach that reinforces the value of design excellence by enhancing the residential and guest experience all the while contributing to the design awareness and expectation level of the general public as they experience and engage our designs on the community level.

On his role as Vice President & Design Principal at ESG Architects
My role is still very “hands-on,” meaning creating the overall baseline design vision as well as refining that vision for many higher profile projects at ESG in all categories of project types. I am a designer at heart and see every new project as a fresh opportunity to explore the ways a design can be approached and executed. In that role, I hope to lead and mentor (by example and engaging) the younger staff as well as the more seasoned staff regarding not just how I think, but how they can think about (and execute) quality design and what that means.

On recent projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
As stated earlier, ESG is very creative and very well versed in blending our specialties in mixed use, multi-family residential (of all kinds), commercial, office, and hospitality. Mix in a very creative interiors group, and it is a great environment to try things out and make people happy.

I have many favorite projects so it is really hard to single out just 3–5 but if I have too, they would be:

  • Radisson Blu MOA
  • Latitude 45
  • Nic of 5th
  • Junction Flats
  • Oregon Convention Center Hotel (Hyatt Regency Portland)
Oregon Convention Center Hotel at the Hyatt Regency Portland (Rendering courtesy of ESG Architects & Leo Mao)

On his design toolkit
I try to immerse myself in the built context and history of site, as well as the end client, operator, and user. I believe, that successful design has a purpose and should exceed people’s needs, it should tell a story and enlighten people about place and quality design. As stated earlier I am a modeler through and through so I start sculpting and shaping from the get-go using mostly SketchUp. I use a lot of V-Ray and Photoshop as well to communicate design intent and vision.

On the state of design software today
A lot of it is very good today, but the expectation bar rises by the day on our end as well as with our clients so in my ideal world, there is an even more intuitive, simple software that renders and animates much more quickly and has access to current materials and objects with up-to-date information to help aid in selection, pricing etc.

On the future of architecture
I feel architecture is evolving beautifully and should continue pushing boundaries naturally and exploring and adapting as it has…

Radisson Blu MOA (Photograph by Farm Kid Studios courtesy of ESG Architects)

On how the industry will change in 5–10 years
Smarter, faster, more flexible, and more interactive during design.

On the future of ESG in the next 5–10 years
At ESG, you always feel like you are in the front of the pack on a very fast race track of design opportunity and success means embracing that feeling because that is how we have flourished — I don’t see that changing, I only see it propelling us to even greater opportunities.

On advice he would give his younger self
I am a firm believer that we live out God’s plan for our lives and not so much our own so, as much as I would like to say that some wisdom of today would have put me in a better place, I don’t think it would have. Passion has always been there for me and I found the perfect partner in my wife and that has made all the difference for me, if there is anything moving forward, it would be to experience more with her before it’s too late!

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