Lindsay Jonker: Real Estate Developer and New SEGD Member

Read Time: 6 minutes
Would you be surprised to learn that not all SEGD members are experience designers? Many come from other fields, such as real estate development and management. In recognition and celebration of May Membership Month, contributing writer Franck Mercurio interviews Lindsay Jonker, a new SEGD member, and an associate principal at DaVinci Development Collaborative. Read why Lindsay, a former architect and current real estate developer, decided to become an SEGD member.

FMM
Hello, Lindsay, and welcome to SEGD!

Lindsay
Hello Franck! It is a pleasure to meet you (virtually).

FMM
So, Lindsay, tell me why did you decide to join SEGD?

Lindsay
At Davinci Development Collaborative, we have several museum projects currently, and we had several that we delivered previously, so we saw SEGD as a way to better understand the experiential design industry and better understand its context, so we could make sure that we serve our clients in the best way possible with the best information and access to world class resources. And, frankly, we just wanted to get to know people in this space since we have two current projects in this arena of experiential design. We’re thrilled to be managing the delivery of the expansion of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, and also the Culinary Institute of the South’s innovative new Foodseum in Bluffton, South Carolina.

FMM
And do you have a design background?

Lindsay
Yes, I’ve long had a passion for graphic design. I also worked in the media space on various small exhibit and graphic projects during my career, even when I was working full time as an architect. And I've always been a reader of Graphis magazine—since I was 14 years old! I found it in the local public library. So, I've always had a passion for graphic layouts and fonts and typeface and all that.

FMM
And you started your professional career as an architect?

Lindsay
Yes, I trained as an architect in South Africa, graduating in 1999, and then worked there for several years. (I was an intern at a large national firm from my second-year of architecture school—it was a six-year degree—so I had quite a bit of experience upon graduating.) I had also lived and worked in Germany when I was a young architecture student. After 2001, I worked in architecture and urban design in the UK, in the Middle East, and briefly in China. All of that work resulted in me applying for—and being awarded—a scholarship to study real estate development and finance at Harvard University, as a Harvard South Africa Fellow. So, I arrived in the US in September of 2007 to study real estate finance. Seemed like a very good idea at the beginning of that year, and then of course everything changed!

FMM
So, you got into real estate development after you trained and worked as an architect?

Lindsay
Yes, it was in late 2009 that I made the transition into real estate development properly, after completing my master’s degree concentrating in Real Estate Development, graduating from Harvard University.

FMM
So, what brought you into real estate development, and more specifically to Davinci Development?

Lindsay
After 10 years of working in real estate development, and having completed several multifamily projects nationally, I realized I missed the opportunities inherent in developing complex real estate projects, projects with more program to them than the typical multifamily I was engaged with. And having had the experience working on real estate transactions and understanding the deal side, which I didn't before 2007, I was looking for project challenges which had more scope and program to them. And that's what DaVinci Development’s projects have—they have scope. We've been around for seven years, and we've got a wonderful slate of clients and real estate opportunities, and in that, we have a few museum and cultural projects that require experiential design.

FMM
Can you explain more? How does DaVinci Development and real estate development tie into museum exhibition development?

Lindsay
At Davinci Development, we are not a museum or exhibition design firm. We call ourselves real estate development managers, and we operate from a foundation of project management and program management. However, we bring an owner/developer lens to the project management side—almost all of us at DaVinci Development are in what I would call the second act of our careers, having worked on the owner side of real estate development earlier. At DaVinci Development we are driven by delivering not just any real estate, but real estate that has a mission and a purpose; real estate that meets the needs of an organization. Many of our clients have a need for real estate to meet their business goals, but don’t want to get into the business of real estate development itself.

The best example, for us, is our client Children's Healthcare of Atlanta’s new Children’s Hospital (recently named the Arthur M. Blank Hospital). We have a team currently delivering that hospital campus. There we have a client with a clear mission, and an organization that has a purpose that demands a complex high-performance real estate asset. We focus on delivering complex real estate transactions and projects to assist mission-driven organizations meet their needs. We don't work on strip malls and that kind of thing.

FMM
And, so, which of those mission-driven organizations are museums?

Lindsay
So, we have three museum projects in Davinci Development’s completed project portfolio. There’s the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the College Football Hall of Fame (adjacent to each other in downtown Atlanta) and then also the Cox Discovery Center & Museum, which is the corporate museum of Cox Enterprises.

It’s been a really interesting set of projects for us. Football is a sport that is ideally a unifier of people. And the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is an increasingly important space especially with the re-emergence of our acute social issues that need to be addressed, and then the Cox Museum acts as essentially a recruitment and retention tool for the corporation. So, vastly different programs responding to the needs of the client, but within the broad space of the museum/exhibition format.

FMM
Awesome. So, Lindsay, just one more question. At the beginning of our interview, you mentioned wanting to be an SEGD member to become more familiar with the EDG industry. Can you expand on that a bit more?

Lindsay
Yes, for me exhibitions and museums are spaces that recognize the value of “cultural creation,” and I think they are spaces that should allow us to step back and observe ourselves and our interactions with others—and hopefully celebrate those interactions and really provide a platform for a better understanding of each other. That’s so very necessary today.

And so SEGD, I think, is an opportunity to meet with the practitioners, have engaging conversations, talk about their role, and try to observe what we're doing and how we can do that better. I see this as a platform to engage with people who are  like-minded, and those who can challenge us, but also expose us to those producers of these really important spaces in our society.

That's the goal for our joining SEGD. SEGD is a place to have meaningful conversation, have some fun, and have an opportunity to connect with people in a meaningful way about these spaces that are really important tools for the valuing of our cultural exchanges.

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