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Two who put their idealism -- and financial skill -- to work

Black sweater or no, some architects find they can channel their idealism into real-world projects.

"My goal was to have an effect on the built environment, and I came to understand that design was only a part of that," said Daniel St. Clair, a vice president at Spaulding & Slye Colliers Development Services Group.

Trained as an architect in North Carolina, he spent several years designing in Washington, D.C., before returning to business school and entering real estate.

"Many of my architecture friends didn't want to hear about it," he continued. "They thought I had sold out to the dark side. But I needed to understand finance and other market forces. They don't teach you word one about that in architecture school."

After graduating at the top of his class from the Cornell College of Architecture in 1980, Kirk A. Sykes worked for a design firm, while on the side buying and renovating brownstones "by candlelight and with sweat equity." He went on to found Primary Group in 1986, building it into one of the largest minority-owned architecture firms in New England.

"But I realized that without controlling capital sources, you were always just waiting," Sykes said. So he built up development and financing contacts and studied real estate finance at Harvard Business School. In the late 1990s, he assembled a team of minority developers to partner with Corcoran Jennison Cos. to develop Crosstown Center, a $140 million mixed-use project -- including a hotel that opened in July -- on Massachusetts Avenue in Lower Roxbury. Sykes recently became president of the New Boston Urban Strategy America Fund, which focuses on economically driven development. "Part of my dream," he said, "is that architecture is a vehicle for social change."


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