Curbed Young Guns, now in its first year, aims to identify promising up-and-coming talent (35 and under) in the fields of architecture, interior design, and urban development. For the next few weeks, Curbed National will run individual stories on each semifinalist; the inaugural class of Young Guns will be announced in mid August. In the mean time, though, here's a look at a semifinalist based in Chicago:
Michael Walczak may only be 30 years old, but he always tells people he's been doing this—"this" being building and development—for 20 years. "I grew up in the business and he always took me to work and showed me the ropes," Walczak says about his dad, who emigrated to Chicago from Poland "with five bucks in his pocket," founded a construction company, and eventually grew it to more than 100 employees.
Despite this, and the fact that his grandfather, too, had been a builder in Poland, Walczak wasn't always convinced that he should follow in the family footsteps. He ventured out on his own for a bit to study finance and entrepreneurship at Boston University, and at one point thought he might become a doctor—"but things didn't work out so I went the business route. I'm a little queasy when it comes to blood, so it definitely was not the right industry for me," he says.
Returning to Chicago after college, Walczak became a real estate broker; however, this move didn't satisfy him professionally. "I saw my dad building anything from single-family [homes] to multi-units to restoring landmarks and I thought it was very cool," he says, "and I didn't just want to be on the sidelines not getting my hands dirty. I like seeing a project go from start to finish—for me there's more satisfaction in building a house or rehabbing a house or building condos and making people happy, than just buying and selling real estate." Walczak worked for his dad for a couple of years and then branched out on his own to found Stratum Builders, a Chicago construction and development firm, in 2011, where—as a truly sweet plot twist in this "American dream," as Walczak calls it—he now employs his dad as lead project manager.