By Meghan Hall
When one thinks of the history of the Puget Sound region and its relative youth compared to the rest of the country — or even the world — it can be easy to dismiss the region’s oldest structures. But KK Clark, project manager at Clark Construction, a $4 billion general contractor working on some of the region’s largest projects, is spearheading efforts to preserve the University of Washington’s historic buildings through critical seismic stabilization work. The Registry spoke with Clark about the UW project and how prior experiences as a child and for major companies such as United Airlines led to a career in construction.
KK, what initially inspired you to pursue a career in design and construction? What about the industry do you find most fascinating?
Growing up, my dad was a vice president in industrial design and construction, a career position he still holds today. I was always his right-hand during home improvement projects so, naturally, when I needed a job as an undergrad, I gravitated to home renovations. I would have never imagined I would be here today, working in construction, on the other side of the country, far away from my home in Alabama. But that is what fascinates me the most about the industry: where it has taken me and the people who have positively impacted me along the way.
You have worked on a wide array of important, regional projects, including a Digital Classroom building for WSU, various projects for United Airlines as well as acting as a project manager for the Washington State Convention Center project. Given your prior experience in these roles, what were your biggest takeaways from these projects?
For me, it’s the mentors who invested in me at every one of the projects I’ve been part of. At Highland Hospital in Northern California, for example, I met Katie Twomey, who would become my mentor, friend, stand-in parent, and, really, family. At United Airlines, Hani Alawneh taught me how to manage projects from start to finish and how to grow my employees in sustainable ways. At the Washington State University Digital Classroom project, Vic Watson really drilled in me the importance of doing the right thing, and that the decisions I make in this industry can truly be that simple. And then I made it full circle, back to Katie Twomey at the Washington State Convention Center project, where she pushed me to rise to a level of performance I never thought possible.
How do they impact your current perception of the region’s built environment and construction industry?
I carry each of those mentors around with me every day. The overarching lessons they taught are in everything I do — do what is right and honest, produce the highest quality work, grow fantastic people and provide workplace environments that are welcoming of all.
Currently, you are working as a project and design manager for the University of Washington, leading the project’s seismic stabilization work. How do you think the project is setting an example for seismic stabilization and retrofitting work in the Puget Sound?
The University of Washington is a leader in Seismic Safety in the Pacific Northwest by being ahead of unreinforced masonry regulations and also continuing to protect the historic fabric of its beautiful campus. I hope this serves as an example that taking a step beyond what is required by law or building code to do the right thing for your people and historic preservation can inspire the local community to do the same. I’ve lived all over the country and traveled all over the world, and the Puget Sound region has some of the most beautiful historic buildings. My goal with this renovation work is to inspire other industry leaders to reduce their carbon footprint by utilizing the historic buildings we already have.
In your mind, what is the most important aspect of the project? Why?
The most important part of our work at the University of Washington is occupant safety. By improving the seismic resilience of their masonry buildings, we are allowing more time for occupants to exit buildings in the event of an earthquake.
What are some of the challenges that you, Clark Construction and the UW face in pursuit of this project?
The overarching challenge that our team — the University of Washington, Clark Construction, Schacht|Aslani, and Degenkolb — have faced with our seismic work is that we’re the first to pursue this type of renovation. Being the first means writing the playbook on best practices, safety, and historic preservation, along with setting the bar for others to follow.
How is the UW project an important part of Clark Construction’s regional portfolio?
This project is our first with the University of Washington and will extend through 2025. UW is a fantastic partner with great work aligned over the next decade, and we hope to continue this partnership for many years to come, across any number of projects. This is also our first partnership with Schacht|Aslani and Degenkolb in Seattle. For me personally, they have been great mentors on how to best manage a collaborative design-build team that prioritizes serving the client and project first while having a ton of fun along the way.
Is there anything else you would like to add that The Registry did not mention?
Today at Clark Construction, my focus is teaching our younger professionals the same guiding principles that were shared with me, with the overarching theme of going into the industry with purpose, serving our clients, partners, projects and communities, and supporting each other on a daily basis. My hope is that we all can adopt a servant’s mentality and elevate the industry by serving every person that we encounter along the way.