Architectural firm LS3P, built on a foundation of serving the community, celebrated its 50th anniversary in December.
James “Jim” A. Neal started the company in 1969 after leaving another firm, J.E. Sirrine Co., to strike out on his own. Neal initially focused on small residential and office projects until the firm won its first large commission in 1973 when it was awarded the opportunity to design the Greenville chamber building on Cleveland Street. After that project, the firm was able to expand into another sphere of architecture, rather than the smaller projects, according to Scott D. May, vice president/Greenville office leader.
In addition to building the business, Neal focused on serving the Greenville community even in the firm’s early days. he said.
“Jim served the community in a number of different capacities and I think he transferred that (community service attitude) to a number of our employees here,” May said. “Whether it was serving in his church or serving the community at large, or serving individuals. We tried to emulate what he established as a long-term commitment.”
Neal’s commitment to doing the right thing by providing quality design for reasonable compensation is a value the firm still holds today. This commitment led to the firm’s continued growth and expansion into other markets including K-12 and higher education by working on projects for Clemson University and other colleges. In 2005, Neal retired and the firm passed to May, who oversaw the merger of Neal Prince with LS3P in 2011. May said he felt the Greenville office’s values following the merger were very much in line with LS3P as a whole because its founder, Frank Lucas attended Clemson with Neal.
“They often called each other to chat about who was going to buy which firm and who was going to merge where,” May said. “We had a long legacy with the relationship between Jim and Frank.”
The merger with LS3P allowed Neal Prince to join with seven other offices throughout North and South Carolina and to expand its platform to offer more services. The firm was also able to expand into different markets.
“We have been enjoying that merger opportunity and the collaboration that has resulted from being one of eight offices throughout North and South Carolina,” May said. “Over the last nine years or so since that merger, we have continued that rich heritage of providing not only design services, but services to our community, which we feel very strongly about.”
With the Greenville office celebrating its 50th year, May said the company has had time to reflect on the changes. Besides moving from using lead pencils and transparent onion skin paper to draw designs to going entirely electronic, the company has integrated interior design from the beginning of a project.
“It used to be that, for instance, interior design was an afterthought in architecture,” May said. “Today it is integrated from day one in the planning that we do and how our interior environments work. We have grown a lot in our understanding of sustainable materials and how to build sustainable projects. In fact, our office here (Greenville) is going to be LEED (Lead in Energy and Environmental Design) gold interior office fit-up. That’s a sustainability certification organization.”
In addition to the changes with how designing is done, the makeup of LS3P’s leadership has evolved as well.
“Fifty years ago, you would see the leadership (in this office) as male architects,” said Kristie Holden, business development leader. “Today, that is not the case. We have people who do not hold architectural degrees in leadership. We have interior designers and accountants and a host of individuals, male and female in our leadership across the firm. It’s very diverse, which I think sets us apart (because) that is something that is not normally found in architectural firms is to have leadership with backgrounds outside of architecture. It’s a unique characteristic. It’s great to see how progressive the office has been.”
Along with all the changes that have happened over the last 50 years, the firm’s leaders also attribute the firm’s ability to survive the various economic downturns to its diverse portfolio of work, which includes faith-based and community colleges.
“Because we have a diverse portfolio of work, we think often that our faith-based clients are typically countercyclical to the business cycle,” May said. “When we have a good mix of commissions that follow the business cycle and those that are countercyclical, that’s how you create enough diversity to sustain some of those economic downturns.”
Ultimately, May said he feels that trying to make a positive impact in the communities LS3P serves is the root of the company’s success.
The company’s legacy is “making a positive impact on our communities, the people that we serve and individuals that make up our employee base,” he said. “I think reputation has certainly helped us stay open. I think the value system and the way we work with our clients and our employees, (by) just trying to do the right thing has helped us. We have a great reputation with our constructor partners as well as many of the legacy clients that have been with us for 30 years. Clemson is a great example. We have done hundreds of projects. Our latest is the new college of business facility that will open in April 2020.”
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