30 Years of Noll & Tam

A Conversation with Chris Noll & Janet Tam

How did our company get to be 30 years old already?

Noll & Tam was founded almost 31 years ago with the same drive and ambition with which we pursue projects today. We approach all projects with the desire to influence and make a lasting change in the communities we serve. It’s our driving force, to collaborate and partner with our clients in support of their visions.

We sat down recently with Chris Noll and Janet Tam to discuss how our company has grown and evolved over the last 30 years, observing what has changed and what has stayed the same, and how we got here.

How did the Noll and Tam partnership start?

Janet Tam: Chris and I went to grad school together and started our serious architectural careers together, and that bond is what has facilitated our work. We share a common sensibility in many ways, although we came from very different backgrounds and are very opposite. Chris is from the East Coast, Ivy League schools; I’m a California girl born in Chinatown, but somehow, we ended up together at Wurster Hall at UC Berkeley, at the same time. We would walk over to Strada for coffee together before class with Chris’ dog Tristan—Chris has always had a three- or four-legged sidekick.

Chris Noll: As grad students, we always had this idea of starting a practice together, but we never could have dreamed of what it has become. We just continued to put one foot in front of the other and remain curious about where things could go. It’s evolved in a way that has been influenced by our amazing staff over the years and our clients who believed in us. We always wanted to do meaningful work in the public area, but the scale of what we’ve managed to achieve, and the professional reputation we have built in the last 30 years, exceeds our expectations in a really wonderful way.

Janet: We have been really lucky to have had some fantastic role models over the years. The firms we worked for before starting Noll & Tam helped us develop our strong firm values and ethics. A lot of those architects and consultants still come to our annual holiday party, and we are fortunate to still have those foundational relationships. We have a lot to be grateful for. Our culture has been incredibly important to our work!

It all comes back to the relationships we build. We truly couldn’t be where we are now without the advice we’ve received from our professional community. We are a firm that has always been grounded in service, to our client relationships and to the variety of communities, organizations, and campuses we have partnered with over the years.

So what’s next for the firm?

Chris: I have a hard time feeling that we need to pigeonhole ourselves. We want to be big enough with a deep bench of resources so that we can compete for significant projects, but it is important to Janet and me that we maintain a little bit of our “anti-corporate” mentality. We do maintain systems that function well for us, but we are fundamentally only as good as our staff. We pride ourselves on being incredibly professional and maintaining a standard of excellence that has kept us going.

Janet: We think a lot about our succession planning, which has been a big ongoing plan for quite a few years now. How do we transfer energy, entrepreneurial spirit, and especially 30 years of knowledge and experience to the younger people in the firm? How do we enable continuity and healthy change? It’s something our leadership group and new partners are helping us think though. We’ve come a long way since the days of the Chris and Janet show! We are constantly transitioning and looking towards the future.

Chris: I think moving forward we’ll be proud to see a strong firm that’s centered on collaboration and is a healthy, meaningful place of work. Right from the beginning, we have been focused on designing uncommon spaces that center around community, and we hope that we continue to design “uncommon spaces for the common good”, our firm mantra, and bring on people who share that drive and inspiration.

We’re lucky enough to have spent 30 years in the same office, which has grown and expanded with us in a beautiful way. We have made a conscious decision that we want Noll & Tam to continue on, we’ve invested in it all these years, and we would love to see it thrive well into the future. On to the next 30!