The New Closers: Why KTGY's Jessica Musick Is One Of Commercial Real Estate's Next Market Leaders
When Jessica Musick was 18, she had no idea she would end up being an architect in the San Francisco Bay Area.
During her freshman year at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, she knew she wanted to do something creative and work in teams so she chose architecture as her major.
No other class was quite like her introductory architecture class. She had to bring her tools of pens, markers and tracing paper. It was when she started to create physical and digital models that she started to feel her growing love of architecture.
“That is when I knew it was right for me,” Musick said. “It was more of a gradual process.”
She has not regretted her decision. Musick, now 38, became the youngest female shareholder earlier this year at KTGY Architecture + Planning, where she started her architecture career 14 years ago.
“I got really lucky. If there is any career where effort really shows, architecture is one of those,” Musick said. “The more you put into it the more you get out of it.”
Much like her college path, she did not intend to spend her career at one firm, but she was lucky to find the right fit with opportunities to grow. She joined KTGY’s Orange County team out of college when it was a small firm and she was mostly focused on low-density single-family housing. The company was just starting to focus on urban infill solutions and high-density housing.
“It was a firm that was going someplace and I’d still say that about our firm that we continually are reshaping and just getting better and that is super-exciting,” she said.
Musick said she found her passion in designing high-density housing, joining the firm's Oakland team in 2014 to lead the high-density design studio. Urban infill projects are complicated and interesting, and she enjoys the richness and the challenges that come with these projects, she said.
She had already been doing a lot of projects out of the Orange County office, and KTGY wanted to grow its Oakland office following the recession. So Musick packed up and moved up to the Bay Area with her husband, Joel, to continue her passion.
Since then her team has been working with a variety of developers around the Bay Area designing high-density housing and mixed-use developments.
Finding Her Passion In High-Density Design
A recent project in Oakland had Musick and her team work closely with city officials. While Oakland has been receptive to Trammell Crow Residential’s Alexan Webster project at 23rd and Valdez, the project is complicated and has political layers that needed to be taken into consideration, she said. This included feedback from a very vibrant local community, she said.
As one of the first projects entitled under the Broadway Valdez specific plan, the process was a little easier, she said. The specific plan was created by the city to provide retail and mixed-use development along Broadway between Grand Avenue and Interstate 580 and streamlined the development process.
Being within a specific plan has been especially exciting since the neighborhood will be dramatically different in the next few years, she said.
One of her other labors of love is another Trammell Crow Residential project at 360 Fifth St. in the South of Market area of San Francisco. The recently entitled project involved working closely with community members and the neighborhood.
Her team worked with artists in the area to figure out what their needs were and how best to design the building, which will include residential, retail and production, distribution and repair space.
The PDR element has been crucial to the project since it would need to be incorporated back into the project, she said. In 2016, voters approved Prop X, which requires developments to replace PDR space of 5K SF or more removed from a project during redevelopment.
The design of the building includes 8K SF of PDR spread from the ground level and underground, she said. One of the challenges of this project was a cap of 85 feet on the zoning in the area, which led to more bulk within the project and much more efficient design for every piece of floor area.
“Every inch of real estate becomes so much more valuable,” she said.
She said designing this project was like a Rubik's Cube, but was rewarding when everything came together and it received positive feedback from community groups and planning staff.
“What she came up with is just stunning architecture,” Trammell Crow Residential Senior Managing Director of Northern California Bruce Dorfman said.
Dorfman, who has worked with Musick for six years, said he has found it easy to work with her.
“She is very collaborative,” Dorfman said. “She also brought creative and fresh ideas to each one of these projects.”
Dorfman said TCR is a challenging client since the company has high standards for design and how it should relate to the community.
“There is a lot of input that she’s received from us and responded well to,” he said. “It’s been very enjoyable for me and my staff to work with her and her firm and I think she’s done a very good job.”
When asked if she has a particular favorite project that really spoke to her, Musick said she could not pick one.
“They’re all your babies,” she said. “They all feel like your children. We’ve been fortunate enough to work on really cool projects.”
Her advice to young architects is to find a young firm that will allow for more personal growth and the ability to influence the future of the firm. She said young architects should also learn patience and to take the time to nurture and grow their talent.
She said one of the biggest lessons she has learned is to surround yourself with good people whether that be within the firm or clients so every decision is team-based. Surrounding herself with good and bright people makes the job more fun and rewarding, she said.
“Life is too short to not have fun at what we do,” she said. “We come into the office trying to have more fun than the previous day.”
Musick’s team-building skills have not gone unnoticed by KTGY principal and Chairman Jill Williams.
“I’m a huge fan of Jessica,” Williams said. “She is such a thoughtful leader in everything she does and how she addresses design work and how she works with teams and everybody in the organization.”
Musick is not about driving her own ideas, but also bringing the best out of everybody from new graduates to seasoned professionals and seeing what can be created in the process, Williams said.
“Everybody has a voice around the table,” Williams said.
Musick also is comfortable taking on new challenges, according to Williams. In addition to her full-time work, she was hands-on during KTGY’s move from Jack London Square to Uptown Oakland last summer. She wanted to make sure that the team had a great space, Williams said.
“She is just very passionate about everything that she gets involved with and takes it all seriously in what it could really be,” she said.
Giving Back To A Community She Helped Design
When she is not designing the next big housing project in the Bay Area, Musick said she enjoys spending time with Joel and their new labradoodle puppy, Penny.
She also enjoys staying active through trail runs, biking, hiking or other activities. She has an extended family in Bakersfield and visits whenever she can.
Since December, she has spent her Saturday mornings volunteering at Oakland Running Festival, where she helps pace the half-marathon training program. This is her second year volunteering and she said she loves running the streets of Oakland and trails all over the Bay Area. She also volunteers at Oakland’s oldest running club, Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders, and has volunteered as a race director for the Fourth Sunday Run, which are 5K, 10K and 15K races around Lake Merritt every month.
“It’s a wonderful way to give back to the community that I run in and enjoy every day,” she said.
In addition to her volunteering at the Oakland Running Festival, she participates in her firm’s sponsorship of a public school, Madison Park Business & Art Academy, via the Oakland Public Education Fund. KTGY’s Oakland team sponsors a sixth-grade class and two or three team members spend two days per month teaching about planning, architecture and graphic design.
As for what is next for Musick at KTGY, she plans to spend the next 14 years or more at the firm.
“I still think there is so much room for me to grow at KTGY,” she said. “It feels like we’re just getting started.”