Building Blocks: Why I Became an Architect

A few days ago someone asked me why I became an architect. As I thought through it; it seems that I am just another cliche.  When I was very young – usually when I was home sick from school – I would spend much of the day with “building blocks” making cities and sky scrapers. I would constantly draw and soon realized I was actually pretty good at it.  Coming from a family of contractors I did have some insight on design and construction; however architecture never really connected with me as a career. It seemed like a huge reach for a kid like me – a small town kid lacking in both study habits and self-confidence.

As I would find out later – others thought differently; others knew better!

What did seem to make sense was to pursue a career in either art or science – two subjects in which I did have talent and self-confidence. Serendipitously, Indiana University’s chemistry program had another opinion of my science prowess, so I quickly turned to fine arts. I didn’t think I had another choice. I really didn’t have a goal other than graduating; playing volleyball for IU; and perhaps some more dates.

Three months after graduation I got a job as a fire protection designer – not an artist – and that is when things started to change for me.  People seemed to go out of their way to help me grow in my job. I worked with quite a few characters, including several who took the time to show me the business, both as a designer and as a constructor.  I worked long hours, but did so with people who cared. I made close friends at work, in great part because these folks saw that not only could I learn quickly, but I would listen and respond. Seeing this, they graciously gave of their time to make me better.

After six months I was lead designer, within 2 years sales engineer, and then lead sales engineer. In 5 years I had learned enough about construction documents and working on job sites that a week after Angela and I got married we headed off to the University Of Kansas School Of Architecture. My experience as a contractor, working for and with people who cared gave me the confidence I was lacking.

Needless to say the idea of breaking the news to my depression era parents about leaving a high paying job to return to school, albeit architecture school, made me very nervous. I decided to break the news at a Denny’s restaurant on Shadeland Avenue. This is where I realized – I am the classic cliche. The first words out of my mom’s mouth were -“I wondered when you would get around to it. You have always wanted to be an architect, but I don’t think you knew it!”

I didn’t even know she knew what an architect was; but that was just another example of someone recognizing my talents, having confidence in me and wanting to help me be better. My mother was an excellent role model as a servant leader. While my dad taught me to have a good work ethic, my mom helped me to dream and together they told me “architecture is the combination of art and science”.  Feeling very supported by them and a loving wife, I thought I might have a shot of making this work – and Angela and I took the risk.

School went well; jobs went well with fantastic projects and I finally was able to take on a leadership role as a full-fledged project manager. Here is where for me architecture started to change. Now my job became more about planning, communication, leadership, motivation, productivity and pushing great overall design. Maybe not my design, but that didn’t matter. The question was more about finding the best way to develop and build high functioning individuals in to a high functioning team.  My building blocks were no longer wood or stone but individuals.  Helping people recognize unrealized talents; develop self-confidence based on real performance; and reach their full potential – I have enjoyed this aspect of architecture much more than I ever imagined possible.  The rewards are amazing – especially when it becomes a sustainable and learned behavior and you see it shared. It is incredible the things that can be accomplished when you are willing to invest in yourself and others are willing to care about your development and growth.  We all, regardless of position, have the opportunity to provide others with a strong foundation and springboard.

Little did I know how those building blocks of yesteryear would continue to intrigue and delight me and my love of architecture all these years later.

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