Helping Others Gain a Foothold
The James Kukla, B.Arch’85 and Family Scholarship
May 03, 2022
For More Info
NewsCampus and Community
“I relish the idea of architects helping and giving back to society, whether it’s with time or talents,” says James “Jim” Kukla, B.Arch’85. “Sometimes we get so absorbed in our own lives, whether it’s personal, professional, or otherwise, and it makes it hard to give back. I’ve been lucky because I now have time to give back.” Of late, that has been to The Boston Architectural College (BAC).
Jim is semi-retired in Jupiter, Florida and he and his wife Michèle recently donated a generous 5-year scholarship investment for BAC students with financial needs. Although he’d visited the BAC over the years and made occasional annual gifts, Jim worked hard to be able to make this major impact at this point in his life.
Why did he choose to make this meaningful move now? He explained, “If it weren’t for the BAC, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I certainly wouldn’t have had this colorful career and climbed the corporate ladder. It has been a rewarding career for me.” Now he’s in the position to help others gain a foothold.
As a middle-class kid in Portland, Oregon, Jim first designed a house in shop class and then enjoyed mechanical drafting classes in high school. After learning how to create architectural shop drawings at a door and window company where he worked after school, he got serious about pursuing a career in architecture.
He spent two years at Portland State University, crossing off the pre-Architecture degree requirements while working for a local firm. “I was the gopher doing grunt work,” he remembers with a laugh. “We worked out of a former Buddhist Temple, and it was interesting to watch how these talented architects collaborated.”
Jim visited Boston on a school field trip, and he appreciated the city’s academics and architecture so much that he decided to head East, immediately enrolling at the BAC because it was affordable and would allow him to gain professional experience along the way.
During his years at the BAC, Jim built the determination needed to get ahead in architecture. “It wasn’t a traditional education, but in my career, hard work is what has led me down the path that I’ve taken. It hasn’t been any amazing design talent, or great skill—just hard work, ethical behavior, and wonderful collaborators and clients along the way.”
But his life hasn’t quite been a 24/7 grind. In fact, Jim likes to say, “If it weren’t for the BAC, I wouldn’t be married to my wife.” He first laid eyes on Michèle, during his daily commute to the College on the #77 bus. Even though she was engrossed in crocheting baby booties for a friend, they eventually made eye contact and he summoned the courage to ask her out. They have now been married for almost four decades and have three sons and two grandsons.
Following graduation, Jim spent seven years at the Boston-based firm, Payette, before crisscrossing the country for various roles in Oregon and Florida, working as a corporate architect in a healthcare system, and opening a Florida Office for a large Ohio-based firm. He finally found himself in Florida, where he became the Vice President and Director of Healthcare for Heery International in several Florida Offices.
He never wanted to become a starchitect. What truly drove him was the complexity of the healthcare design niche and being able to increasingly dedicate his skillset to help the human environment. “I believe in healing. I believe in designing for wellness. And I believe that design can influence health outcomes,” he says with conviction.
Jim led the design team for Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach as well as major projects in China, Canada, Malta, and Syria, among others. He strongly advocated for designing with the patient and their family members in mind. His work for the Medical College of Georgia, a national leader in patient and family-centered care, further honed his approach— in large part due to profound interactions with cancer patients.
These days, Jim runs his own firm, KuklaPartners LLC, part-time. He devotes most days to volunteering at a local nonprofit, The Lord’s Place, where he is deeply involved in a job training and reentry program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals search for and gain employment. During the interview, his phone lights up with a call from a client at The Lord’s Place who he has been closely coaching for a job interview. It’s obvious that a passion for helping others runs through Jim’s veins.
He is also advising on the construction of the organization’s new headquarters. With real joy evident in his voice, he says, “It’s going to be a very open, healing space. This project bookends my healthcare design experience into a more socially impactful environment.”
Jim hopes that the namesake scholarship he and Michèle have established at the BAC will encourage an emerging generation of hardworking architects and designers to also give back. “I believe that everyone deserves a chance for an education and that the BAC is a fabulous place to get an architecture degree,” he says from his sunshine-filled Florida office before logging off Zoom to continue helping others discover their light.
May 03, 2022
For More Info
NewsCampus and Community