Mo Stein

Morris "Mo" Stein: Arizona's Homegrown Architect Icon

Recently AIA Arizona’s Director of Communications, Raquel Padilla, and Chairman of the AIA Arizona Communications Committee, Christopher Knorr, AIA, sat down with one of our long time members, Morris “Mo” Stein, FAIA and discussed his successful career and the benefits of being involved with the AIA, and many other organizations.

I recall as we all sat down and began talking with Mr. Stein there was a great look of joy and a calm that came over him as he talked about architecture and the path he had taken to get to where he is today. Growing up a Phoenix native and a graduate of Central High School, Mo was always able to value and appreciate not only what his city had to offer but what the State of Arizona as a whole embodied and could bring to the table for the rest of the world.

Mo was always motivated by the great potential that Phoenix had to offer and saw an even greater area for growth and development as well. Although his initial ambition was never to be an architect, Mo recalls that he always had a knack for sketching, and believes that was what ultimately triggered his mother to feel he would inevitably be an architect. Mo said in our interview that he always knew architecture was the right fit because nothing else seemed to be as “fun” as architecture was for him. For Mo, he truly saw that the greatest benefit of architecture and design was that it is a way to “bring people together”. With this mentality he knew without a doubt that this was the best choice for him.

Morris Stein was licensed to practice architecture by the State of Arizona in 1981. He joined the American Institute of Architects that same year, and has been an active member ever since. After joining the AIA, Mo felt as though his greatest goal and focus was unifying the chapters within the state. He believed that “without unifying them we would be wasting our valuable resources, and to bring our ideas together would only allow us to solve bigger problems.”

Mo has always taken pride in being a strong advocate in the push to make credentials and certifications necessary in order to reinforce the validity of the work Architects do for their clients; he remembered that in the beginning design groups were the only ones that didn’t have credentials.

In 2002, Mo received one of the AIA’s highest honors being named a member of the elite College of Fellows. He was extremely honored to receive this elevation and now takes the time to offer his mentorship to others who are taking the steps to become Fellows. Mo says his best advice for anyone looking to gain Fellowship, is to simply do as you are told, listen to the suggestions that your mentors have to offer, and follow the direction they provide.

Mo has always been heavily involved with his community through both the AIA and his multiple community development efforts; he has worked most recently with the Central Arizona Shelters program, on the AZ homeless shelters campus projects which he said was very fulfilling and a pleasure to be a part of. He has also been a past chairman of the City of Phoenix Planning Commission, and is currently Chairman of the Phoenix Community Alliance.

He credits a large portion of his success in community involvement to the passion he has for bringing people together to solve problems. He feels that architects are trained to solve really complex problems, and that their skills match up very well with community needs, thus making it easier for him to get involved. Mo says he feels that getting involved with things that you are passionate about always makes it easier to stay focused on the task, and in the end, the result is much more rewarding for everyone involved.

He took a large step forward in his mission to help others succeed when he took to the classrooms of Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Excellence in Design and the Arts; Mo believed that this was the best way for him to “be where the action is.” At the university his classes are comprised of a mixture of grad students, both architecture and non- architecture majors.

His students’ main focus is on healing architecture and current health problems. Mr. Stein believes that there are so many opportunities for students today that their possibilities are endless, and with his heavy involvement with the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA), it seems to be the perfect topic for Mo to teach.

In 2011, Mo gained yet another honor when he was awarded the ACHA Lifetime Achievement Award for Healthcare and Wellness for his outstanding work in the field of Healthcare Architecture. He was thrilled to receive this award because he believes that “people who have designed healing architecture are heroes!” With such a burning desire to be at the forefront of healthcare architecture, Mo finds the only real way to gain a deep understanding of the needs within a healthcare facility is by submerging yourself into that environment. In his opinion, you don’t get to be the best unless you are in the space “lying on the table.”

Mo has said that through it all he found that both the doctors and patients appreciate when designers spend a significant amount of time in their hospitals, because it allowed the designers to gain a deeper understanding of the work necessary within each specific hospital in order to make the most of their personalized needs.

In his newest role as Chairman of the Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA), Mo says that his main goals are fairly simple, and they are to clarify the confusion about the roles for the different groups working in downtown Phoenix, and remind them that though their missions might be different they need to work to deliver one message, “LEAD THE DISTRICT!” He would also like to focus on bringing disfranchised people or groups back to downtown. He understands that “people who know this community will contribute to it.”

With Mo’s heavy involvement in so many organizations throughout the years he has learned what has worked and what simply does not work. But for Mo, remaining focused on the end result has always given him the ability to take with ease the trial and tribulations of all he has learned. For Mo there are two ways to remain successful in the world of organizations and those are by only remaining involved with the things you are passionate about, and always stand for what you believe in especially when it is a tough issue.

Mo said, “Get people excited about tough issues, and once you do there is no stopping you.” He also credits the hard working staff behind the organizations he works with and notes that without them doing what they do daily none of it would be possible. As far as the business world goes, Mo says it is very easy and simply put “Lead your Profession, and enjoy what you do!”