Faces of the Force: James “Jay” Clark

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COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Architectural Branch, Civil Structures Division, Engineering Directorate, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
TITLE: Architect
DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in facilities engineering
EDUCATION: Master of architecture and bachelor of architecture, Oklahoma State University; registered architect
AWARDS: Commander’s Award for Civilian Service; Employee of the Year (2), U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, Alabama; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Architect of the Year

Excellence by design

By Susan L. Follett

What began as a summer job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) turned into a career for James “Jay” Clark, thanks to a boss’s encouragement and an early assignment that provided a young architect the opportunity to do more than just design restrooms.

Clark started with USACE in 1982 while he was in college. “I only expected to be there for that one summer,” he said. “But I received a nice letter of commendation for the work I had done, plus my boss had told me he really wanted me back the next summer, so I reapplied and came back the following year.” After a couple of summers, the Army offered Clark a temporary position at a higher level than most young architects. “Also, I had been involved in actual design projects, not just doing toilet details like would have been the case at a large architectural or engineering firm,” he said. “Even before I graduated, I was put in charge of a project at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to develop final working drawings.”

Much of Clark’s work over the past 30 years has been in standard designs for several types of facilities, including physical fitness facilities, child development centers, school-age centers, youth centers and fire stations. “Developing these standards has led to major improvements in the quality of life for Soldiers and their families across the Army, while at the same time conserving taxpayer dollars,” he noted.

Jay Clark reviews architectural drawings at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. (Photo by Debra Valine, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center Public Affairs)

Jay Clark reviews architectural drawings at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville. (Photo by Debra Valine, U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center Public Affairs)

He was also involved in establishing centralized procurement of furniture for unaccompanied housing, providing a uniform level of quality and durability across the Army and reducing the amount of money the Army spends on furniture. His work has taken him to physical fitness facilities in Germany, DOD schools in Puerto Rico and planning meetings in Alaska, as well as sites across the United States for a wide variety of projects. He credits his career longevity to that diversity and to the satisfaction of a job well done.

“I think what is most memorable for me now are the facilities that were built in the last 10 years to the standards I developed,” Clark said. Around 2000, he was involved in a complete overhaul of the standard design for physical fitness facilities, providing uniform criteria, guidance and conceptual plans similar to those found in college and municipal fitness facilities.

Following the revision, he took part in the design and construction of the Aquatics Training Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, working with the design-build contractor, users and the Little Rock District of the Corps of Engineers. It’s not exactly your dad’s gym: The center has three different pools—with color-changing LED bulbs for the underwater lighting—as well as a half-court basketball court and a rock climbing feature with waterfalls. “I find it very rewarding to visit those facilities now that they’re completed—to hear all of the positive feedback and to hear from the facility managers how popular the new facility has become, mainly due to a number of the features that I incorporated within my standards.”

One of the biggest changes he has seen over the past four decades is in technology. “We used to draw on Mylar sheets using plastic lead in our mechanical pencils. Everything was done by hand.” Clark was one of the first architects in the Corps to use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) when the organization introduced it in the mid-1980s, and he used CADD to create the first standard designs. “In fact, to make the drawings look better, I created the drawings on CADD and the verbiage on a word-processing type of computer, and stuck the text onto the drawings with clear sheets.”

The other noteworthy change Clark has seen is the role of the architect in USACE. “When I started back in the Tulsa [Oklahoma] District in 1982, they had just created the architectural section, and we only had one or two licensed architects. The role of the architect within USACE at that time was also not well-known or defined. Over the years, the value of the architect to a product team has become much more apparent and accepted.”

In spring 2016, he applied for a temporary promotion to serve as chief of the newly formed Interior Design Branch in the Civil Structures Division at Huntsville. Over the summer, he applied for the permanent position and got the job. The new role represents a big change, managing nearly 30 interior designers and handling architectural designs, criteria and review, but it is one that Clark takes on without hesitation. “When I started here, architecture wasn’t a common profession within the Corps. Over my years here, I have helped grow the role. Now I feel it’s time for me to give back. Interior design has not had a predominant role in the Corps, and I’m really committed to this great group of designers and to changing that culture, like the architects did.”

This article was originally published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.

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