Perkins and Will’s Justin Parscale: ‘Take Risks, Explore What Ifs, and Deliver’

The architect thinks a great life is having a job where you can have "crazy, stupid fun" along with a mission to "do something badass" to help others. That's why working on catalyst projects, like Red Bird Mall, and passing along a “can do” message to young people are part of his plan.

How do you turn a good life into a great life?

According to Justin Parscale, you find a job where you can have “crazy, stupid fun,” then you find a mission where you can “do something badass” to help others.

Parscale, principal in the Corporate and Commercial Studio of the Dallas office of Perkins and Will, is finding ways to put his passion for architecture to work to improve the lives of others. And building relationships has been a key part of the process, the architect says.

“You get one shot at this whole big life,” he said, adding “it’s less about me, and more about others.”

Two significant projects Parscale is most passionate about involve helping others.

He’s working on a 15-story apartment complex that will provide low-income tax credit housing for service industry workers in the CBD. The complex, located right next to Perkins and Will’s own office in the historic Dallas High School building, will designate a little more than half of the 217 units as low income, but the overall design and the remainder of the units will be competitive market rate.

“This is about getting affordable housing into the CBD,” the architect said. “It doesn’t exist right now.”

The other project also is low-income tax credit housing. He’s working with Cece Cox from the Resource Center to design a complex for LGBTQ senior citizens. Many in the LGBTQ community don’t have children to help care for them in their later years, so a designated retirement living complex can help fulfill that need.

Parscale calls Cox “the coolest client ever.” Both are graduates of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas program, and their common background as “LD” grads helped him connect with her right away, the architect said.

Parscale also credits involvement with Leadership Dallas for a connection with Peter Brodsky. Perkins and Will is working on a piece of the renovation and repurposing of Red Bird Mall, he said. The firm is working with UT Southwestern and Children’s Dallas to develop 150,000 square feet of medical space at the former mall.

“Without LD, I’m not involved in all these catalyst projects,” he said.

Beyond Leadership Dallas, Parscale’s knack for building relationships helped Perkins and Will land more “catalyst projects” like early planning for the three high-speed rail stations from Dallas to Houston with developer Jack Matthews and master planning for Fair Park.

In 18 years at Perkins and Will, he’s worked on a wide range of projects.

Parscale joined the Dallas office to help diversify the business beyond healthcare and helped design the UT Arlington Chemistry and Physics building and Hector Garcia Middle School in Dallas. In more recent years, he got into designing cancer treatment centers, including facilities at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, and BSA Hospital in Amarillo.

Parscale became an expert in radiation treatment vaults, creating designs that improved their efficiency. Now that design is getting copied in sites all over the region, he said.

The project at UT Southwestern took years to build and helped him tap into a network of brokers, developers, and local politicians. As he drove to and from the job site, he kept seeing cranes all over the area.

“Not enough were Perkins and Will cranes,” he said.

Now he spends more than half of his time in business development—working for more PW cranes—while still keeping his hand in architecture design.

His business motto? “Take risks, explore what ifs, and deliver.”

It’s easy to see that Parscale enjoys what he does and that he has enough energy to lap the Energizer Bunny. How’d he get to be that driven?

Growing up with his mom and brother on the east side of Enid, Okla., he didn’t realize how poor they were until he reached his teens.

His mom had a friend who was an architect. Parscale used to earn money vacuuming the floors and pulling weeds at the Enid architect’s office. And he saw the possibilities.

But it took the encouragement of his high school vo-tech teacher to stick with a drafting class when he wanted to quit.

“He believed in me,” Parscale said.

Now he tries to pass along that “can do” message to young people by showing them the possibilities.

He serves on the board at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas, and one of the students he mentors is headed to Parscale’s alma mater, Oklahoma State University, to study architecture.

“Kids are going to do things when they know of things,” he said.

A version of this story first published in the Summer 2020 edition of the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.

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