Passion in Practice: What We Love About Architecture

Where Love Meets Design…
Our Senior Leaders Share Their Heartfelt Stories

BY: Megan Mickey, CPSM

February is a month dedicated to remembering love and connection. Often this remembrance is rooted in nostalgia — recalling events, stories, and moments that have paved the way to where we are now. It seemed only fitting that this year, Studio Southwest Architect’s 40th anniversary year, we take a moment to reflect on our love of architecture and how it has impacted the lives of our most senior leaders.

We interviewed founding partner, Robert G. Heiser; senior principal, Del Dixon; and current president, Ron Burstein, to commemorate their careers in architecture and discuss what’s in store for the industry as we head into another decade of practice.


What was it about architecture that drew you to the profession? What do you love about it?

RH: While I was enrolled at Maple Dale Elementary in Milwaukee, local architect Donald Grieb gave a presentation to my 5th grade art class. Donald Grieb, who is well known for his award-winning design of the Mitchell Park Domes, spoke to us about his work and of the Frank Lloyd Wright projects in our area. My school went on several field trips after that, to the Domes, the Johnson Wax campus, Taliesin, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, and the Wingspread residence, all of which inspired me be an architect.

By 8th grade there was no other viable career option for me. I love that early exposure to extraordinary architecture can influence an elementary student for life.  

RB: I also knew I’d be an architect since childhood. I had been drawing and building things from an early age, but was 9 or 10 when I decided I’d be an architect when I grew up. The thing I love most about architecture is that it’s the perfect fusion of art and science.

DD: Well, I originally wanted to be a civil engineer, but it was a bit too dry for me. I liked the more creative atmosphere of architecture and the integration of design and technical components. I love that architecture is a balance of creativity and technology. Building something from nothing and finding ways to make design ideas work is a very satisfying aspect of the job.


What do you love about Studio SW?

DD: When I moved to New Mexico, I was straight out of Texas Tech. I had interviewed at several places but was drawn to Studio SW because of the size and potential for growth. They’d only been in business for a year and a half at that point, and I wanted to be a practitioner, you know, sign drawings as a practicing architect. I knew that if I got in on the ground floor Studio SW would provide me that opportunity. There have been challenges in the past 38 years, but it’s been very enjoyable. The dedication of the ownership and team drew me in back then and have kept me here since.

RB: Studio SW is definitely a family. We support each other through thick and thin. It’s a great team.

BH: The Studio SW team we’ve had over the last eight years, is perhaps the most creative and congenial group I have the pleasure to work with during my career. We provide staff the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects, oh yeah, and we also have a pretty cool office located near Old Town and the museum district.



What do you love about architecture in New Mexico? How do you like the region in general?

 RB: Architects in New Mexico are blessed to be able to respond to beautiful natural settings and abundant sunshine with designs that take advantage of these assets.

 BH: New Mexico, per capita, has a very high percentage of highly talented architects. I have been honored to learn and practice among them. Clearly, New Mexico’s culture, natural land forms, and beauty are inspirational for architects and artists. Unbounded recreational access in New Mexico makes it quite desirable to stay fit and reside and there is nothing like a beautiful trail for contemplating testy architectural problems.

DD: Oh yeah, there’s nothing like the southwest region. I’ve always been a fan. I love the weather and that architecture can be designed to maximize the seasons. The mixture of historical and contemporary aspects is great and of course there are the outdoors. Designing successful outdoor spaces is just as important as what’s on the inside of the building.



It was great to reminisce about the ‘old times’ with the partners during this interview, but what stood out the most was their focus on the future. Bob commented that while talking to veteran leaders of a company always seems to have appeal, the more interesting conversations are about the next set of up-and-comers. That’s where the intrigue and inspiration lie. Del concluded with a similar thought. He said he was inspired by “…the creativity and dedication of the young people who’ve taken on the challenge [of architecture]. Studio SW is sure to remain a leading firm in the region given the dedication put forth by the newer generations of architects.”