Morgan Rushnell joined Beauxwright as a development manager in June 2023. Past experience in the construction, design and development industries provides her with a unique perspective on project underwriting, site analysis, land development and construction management. At Beauxwright, she is focused on bringing residential and commercial projects to life throughout the entire development process. Here she talks about her creative and varied background in architectural design and project management, as well as the "wild ride" of turning to the development side of the industry.
You studied interior architecture and design at Florida State University and have a master’s degree in architecture from North Carolina State University. When did your interest in architecture begin and what do you like most about it?
I think I was initially (and continue to be) drawn to the design field because the profession melds the analytical and creative sides of my personality in a seamless manner. The initial creative programming and subsequent problem solving are necessary to bring projects to life, keep the work interesting and exciting, while having the integral function of placemaking within the communities we serve.
After beginning your career in architectural design and project management, you transitioned to land development and acquisition. What led you to making this change? How did working in this field differ from your prior experience?
In 2017, I shifted from the formal profession of architecture into land development with the goal of becoming the type of developer/client an architect would want to have.
Developers help organize the talent that transforms an idea from lines on paper to the built form, which has immediate and sometimes drastic effects on our communities, economy and city fabric. With a better understanding of placemaking and design principles, plans can be less at odds with municipal and neighborhood pressures, while still making a profit. I firmly believe that more thoughtful design does not necessarily equate to a higher budget for the cost of the building or construction. I think it’s more so about pausing at the right moments during the lifecycle of the project and continuing to revisit preconceived notions about the solution in an effort to deliver the best end result for the greatest number of people along the way.
The task-related work of development and architecture differ, but at their core, they’re both about creative problem solving. In architecture, I’d be tasked with a blank sheet of paper and some guidance from the ownership group about the vision for their building, neighborhood, home, restaurant, apartment, etc., and would then create a subsequent set of construction documents that could be executed in the field with the help and guidance of contractors and engineers. In development, I am tasked with the step preceding this work altogether. This includes identifying land and determining via the site constraints its highest and best use based on the local competition, job sector, schools, municipal constraints, etc., and to manage our engineers and consultants who will then create a set of construction documents for a site contractor to efficiently execute.
In 2023, you started at Beauxwright as a development manager. How do you think your background in architecture and land development and acquisition influences your day-to-day approach in your new role?
I’m sometimes asked if I miss architecture as a field, and my response is generally consistent in that I never left architecture behind. I’m truly thankful for my background in architecture and design, and wouldn’t trade this route and avenue into the development field for a degree in real estate, for example, any day. As a development manager at Beauxwright, I lean into my education and past design experience on a daily basis.
With my most recent experience leading the land acquisition in Charlotte and previously working on land entitlement and development for a national homebuilding company, I have the unique opportunity of being “on the other side of the table.” I have a firm grasp on the types of information, hurdles, site analysis and general negotiation sticking points a particular partner might have on projects. As a team at Beauxwright, we’re able to leverage both that knowledge and contact network to find the best builder partners for future projects.
What drew you to Beauxwright initially, and what ultimately made you decide to join the team?
The short answer is the people and the opportunity to work on interesting and challenging project typologies.
I first met Chris Warren via a mutual contact when I moved up to Charlotte from Sarasota, FL, back in 2019, and while the types of projects Beauxwright was working on drew me in initially, it was the way that Chris described the approach the team took when evaluating deals in varying contexts and at differing scales that was especially appealing to me.
After that initial meeting, I kept tabs on Beauxwright throughout my career in Charlotte as I gained more experience within the homebuilding and development sector, awaiting the right time in my career and for my family to consider making a change. Being a new parent with a toddler running around, it was important to me that I work with a group of individuals who balanced their time with family and the work.
When I met the rest of the team, the excitement was palpable when they spoke about their projects and the way they approached community engagement, and the importance of design in each of their projects. The conversations felt fluid and I leapt at the opportunity to join a team full of high-performing individuals, making a real difference in North and South Carolina.
Beauxwright was built on the foundation of creating and cultivating long-term relationships. Why is this so important in what you do?
The scale of the development community not only in Charlotte, but in the macro Southeast is a small network of individuals. Relationships are the basis of long-term success in most fields, but particularly in real estate. Working with the right set of individuals is critical to the success of the group as a whole.
What about your job do you find the most rewarding?
Having the creative freedom to work on a variety of project typologies is the most rewarding aspect of being part of the Beauxwright team. This, in conjunction with feeling immediately able to leverage my experience to move existing projects forward while simultaneously continuing to expand my overall professional skill set has been a great experience thus far. It’s also beneficial to listen and learn from the dialogue between team members with varying levels of experience and differing thought processes when analyzing a problem.
If you had to choose only five words to describe Beauxwright, what would they be?
Honest, creative, grounded, open/inviting, effective.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Trust your gut and take the leaps as they come. Those micro-decisions will lead you on a wild ride that you won’t regret, and you’ll have a blast experiencing it!
- Favorite restaurant: Hello Sailor
- Beach or mountains: Lake surrounded by mountains
- Favorite day of the week: Sunday
- Call or text: Schedule a call, otherwise text me
- Favorite hobby: Woodworking/building and hiking