I've received a few questions recently and thought I'd post them here along with my responses. If you have further questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try my best to answer them in future posts and maybe even eventually compile them on to their own page.
What lead you to want to become an architect?
I wanted to work in a creative field. I couldn’t conceive of a credible route to another creative career (i.e. musician, actor, filmmaker, etc.). Even if I had, I’m sure my high school “guidance” counselor would have steered me clear of it. Architecture was different. It had a level of respect with teachers, councilors, and parents. My high school math and drafting classes naturally lead towards it as well. To that end, the path was a 5-year accredited university program, followed by a minimum 3-year internship. Once that was completed, I was eligible to sit for the exams - which I took in late 1999 and was officially licensed in Oregon at the start of 2000.
What school did you go to?
I applied for and was accepted to Willamette University, the University of Washington, and the University Of Oregon. I chose the U of O because it was in-state (which meant lower tuition) and it also had a 5-year architecture program (which Willamette didn’t).
You mentioned math. Is that something you have to be good at?
Yes and no. The college math requirement at the time meant that I had to have three semesters of calculus. Thanks to high school AP calculus, I had the equivalent of the first semester already. I took and passed the remaining two semesters my freshman year, but I wouldn’t say I excelled at it or enjoyed it. Calculus was and remains a foreign language to me. But as an architect, you don’t really need it. I have always worked with consulting engineers (structural, electrical, mechanical, etc.) who do the necessary calculations for their disciplines. The math I’ve found that most benefits me is geometry – and even that is fairly basic. I’m not proving theorems. I am dealing with proportions, shapes, and relationships. If you can do basic math (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication and … fractions!) and apply it to the design process, then you are good enough at math to be an architect. Now, if you want to be the next Santiago Calatrava, then I would recommend not only taking, but excelling at those higher math classes (note: Calatrava is both an architect and an engineer).
I see that while you were with Ankrom Moisan, you were involved with a few of their projects in Portland’s Pearl District, but not all of them. Why?
It was a matter of scheduling. My time at AMAA lasted almost exactly six years. During that period, the firm was involved with around ten large mixed-use projects in the Pearl as well as a few others of that type within the city’s core. Given the other projects that went through the firm at that time, it would have been impossible for me to work only on the Pearl District buildings. I was involved in varying capacities on roughly half of them – not all of which were built.
Not everything you design gets built?
Not everything. Probably not even half. Any number of things can conspire to put a project on ice. As we’ve seen recently, the economy can be a factor. Markets can become oversaturated, prices can rise (or fall), owners can change their minds. One of my first projects at AMAA involved the creation of several detached guest cabins at Skamania Lodge. I worked within a team of three or four others in the firm to design the project and produce the construction drawings, but around the time that the project went to bid, the parent company that owned the Lodge, sold it to another company – which chose not to go further with the cabins. It was disappointing for us at the time, but it all worked out in the end as the new company returned later and hired AMAA to design a significant addition to the Lodge, which was built. I've come to discover that it’s the nature of the business. Some projects make the full journey from concept to drawing to reality. And for whatever reason(s), others only make it part of the way.