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Shay Zak ’84

Shay ZakAs the founder of Zak Architecture and a 30-year veteran of the industry, Shay Zak ’84 enjoys creating buildings that can change how people view the world. “We use natural materials that are beautiful to the eye, pleasant to the touch, and age with grace,” Zak says regarding his company and staff. “For us, a building is not just a place to dwell; it’s a work of art and an expression of the dreams and passion within us all.”

A native of Mill Valley, California, Zak received his undergraduate degree in architecture from Syracuse University, where he took advantage of summer internships with Skidmore Owings & Merrill Architects at its New York, Boston, and Chicago offices. He also studied architecture in Florence, Italy. “SU’s School of Architecture has a demanding program, and the skill set I learned there put me at the top of my peer group in any office,” Zak says. “Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I loved the extreme weather patterns too.”   

Zak went on to earn his masters in architecture from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in 1986. Afterward, he spent two years in the design department of Skidmore Owings & Merrill San Francisco before co-founding Eklund & Zak Architecture and Planning in 1989. He established Zak Architecture in 1996, and the 10-person, San Francisco-based office focuses on residential and commercial projects in California and Hawaii. Zak is an American Institute of Architects (AIA) member, is certified through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), and is licensed to practice architecture in several states.

While his wealth of experience extends far beyond his days on campus, Zak credits SU for giving him the foundation for success. “SU taught me the importance of good design, everywhere, all the time,” he says. “It’s where I gained the tools to become an accomplished architect and run an excellent team of talented professionals.”

As a member of SU’s San Francisco Regional Council, Zak enjoys connecting with other Orange alums in the Bay Area, on both professional and social levels. “Koonshing Wong and I were classmates, and now we work together,” he says, for example. “We love to reminisce about the good old days at SU and about our old design professors.”

Zak also devotes his time to the School of Architecture Advisory Board, ensuring today’s students gain the same tools to excel in the business. For him, the reason to give back is simple. “Hey, it’s my school.  Gotta help your school.”