AS A GLOBE-TROTTING principal designer at architecture giant Gensler, Steve Weindel is not unfamiliar with the drudgery of air travel. But with the design of San Francisco International Airport's newly renovated Terminal 2, which opened in April, he believes he has built a winning experience. "We strived to completely turn things around," Weindel says. That includes big moves — like an expansive post-security seating area filled with art — and green ambitions. "It's on track to be the first LEED Gold terminal in the U.S.," he says, pointing to extensive natural light, energy-saving ventilation, paperless ticketing systems, toilets that use reclaimed water, and local- and organic-food vendors. But for all those progressive ideas, Weindel trusts the tried and true when it comes to an architect's tools.
In a modern world of digital renderings, Weindel stresses the importance of physical models . "Architecture is three-dimensional — there's no substitute when it comes to really studying spatial aspects."
Carved fisherman figure
"The story of the Inuit tribe that makes these carvings  is really tragic," says Weindel. "They live on this very thin island off the north coast of Alaska, and because of global warming, it is slowly disappearing. This reminds me that what we do has a huge impact on the earth."
Kept at Weindel's desk, this shows a mountain of parts used in Eames chairs . "My favorite quote about design is from Charles Eames," he says. " 'Thinking of how a chair looks comes pretty far down the list of things I worry about when designing one.' Beauty comes from solving the problem."
Alvin architectural scales
The big brothers of ordinary rulers, these scales  help architects measure and draw building plans. Weindel's vintage models have been through years of abuse but are still going strong. (From $11, dickblick.com)
"One of my first jobs was checking shop drawings for stone paving," says Weindel, who bought this abacus-like machine  to help with the task. "There was no calculator back then that could add up fractions of inches and turn them into feet. This does it." ($75, ebay.com)
Weindel always keeps this brand of colored pencils  nearby. "There's nothing like them," he says. "When CAD was becoming common, clients would ask, 'Why aren't you using the computer on my projects?' We've come full circle. They love hand-drawn work again." ($19 a set, officedepot.com)
Weindel's son and daughter love jumping off of rocks into water. Over the years, he's amassed almost two dozen photos of them in free fall . "They're risk takers," he says. "These photos remind me to take a risk every now and then."
Though Weindel is struggling to learn Chinese calligraphy — "I'm an amateur at best," he says — he keeps these brushes from Hong Kong  in a glass jar on his desk. As sculptural pieces, they serve as examples of "how beautiful simple things can be."
A version of this article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.