I have been a licensed architect and attorney since 1975 and 1976 respectively. Elected to the College of Fellows of The American Institute of Architects in 1991, I managed the publication of AIA’s Standard Documents for nearly 20 years. I have written for such publications as Architectural Record, AIA Journal, Architect, AIA Handbook of Professional Practice and ABA’s Real Property, Trusts, and Estates Journal. My blog, www.architects-tales.com and its 30+ stories about architects’ lives has a worldwide readership. I currently practice construction law as Senior Counsel to the Washington, DC branch of the Carlton Fields law firm
Who inspired you to become an architect?
It’s in my genes.
I wanted to become an architect since my pre-teens when I read about Frank Lloyd Wright, whose picture appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. It turned out that he came from Wisconsin as I did. In high school, I read his autobiography.
The truth be told – major decisions are made for the flimsiest of reasons.
I did not like English courses with their mandated exercises in writing on such themes as, “What did I do last summer?” I liked geometry, math, and the smell of sawdust. Early on, I got over the youthful desire to become a policeman, fireman, or cowboy. So, what were my choices? I decided that there was something in the essence of my being about sawdust. Although my father was a watchmaker, my family has a long line of Scandinavian carpenters who brought that skill from the Old World. Through genealogy research, I discovered that many of my cousins are carpenters, contractors and at least four living architects. My father’s ancestors came from the city of Skien, Norway, which so happens to have been the home of the playwright, Henrik Ibsen, who wrote the story Master Builder – about a carpenter who dearly wanted to achieve the status of an architect. According to my family’s lore, my Great-Aunt Aaget Eigildsdotter was a maid in the Ibsen household in the 19th century.
Indeed, it’s in my genes.
Where did you go to college?
Testing the waters at the local University of Wisconsin in LaCrosse, I took a semester in calculus – wrongly following the common misconception that architecture requires a lot of math. I then transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to join a herd of 6,000 incoming freshmen where I was educated as a modernist in the School of Architecture under Dean Ralph Rapson, who used a modified Bauhaus Vorkurs teaching method combined with Gropius’ teaming approach.. (At that time, Wisconsin did not have an undergraduate school of architecture due to strenuous resistance by establishment architects in Milwaukee who despised Frank Lloyd Wright and his school at Taliesin. That’s another story.) After graduating from Minnesota, I moved on through an odd sequence of events to enroll in Atlanta Law School. Read that part of the story in my blog’s article, No challenge too small or too great.
Would you recommend studying architecture?
If you like to visualize and dream about being involved with big projects, architecture may be for you. But first, do you know the difference between an architect and a professional engineer? See my blog’s most-read article, Architect or Engineer – What’s the difference? It astounds me how people are confused about that!
The following is an excerpt from a letter I recently wrote to a high school student who wants to be an architect.
“It is not too early to plan and prepare for college. Many schools require a portfolio of original drawings, paintings, etc. from the prospective student. Now is the time to assemble that portfolio. Taking an art class in high school or at a community center is very helpful in preparing and organizing such a portfolio.
As for schools of architecture, there are about 75 accredited schools in the United States where you can obtain a professional degree – usually bachelors of architecture (5 years) or masters of architecture (6 years) – which will enable the degree holder to obtain entrance to take the licensing exam. Some community colleges offer two-year associate degrees that might get you a job as a draftsman, but no license.
Since 1953 according to the AIA, the vast majority of the accredited schools have chosen to teach a form of modernism derived from Germany ’s Bauhaus school (1919-1933) where “form follows function.” Prior to that, the Beaux-Arts School of Paris (founded in 1797) was the model for the dominant teaching method – where design begins with the exterior visual composition or “big idea.” Very few American schools teach the Beaux-Arts method, today.
For more information on architects, I recommend obtaining the book, Architect? A Candid Guide to the Profession by Roger Lewis. He has a list of schools at the end of his book.”
What does it take to become an architect?
Similar to a general in battle, an architect is expected to assess a situation containing multiple factors, be quick decision-making about them to visualize a solution, and have the tenacity to pursue that vision.
What are your current readings?
My nightstand may have a half-dozen books on it, which means I seldom read a book with one sitting as I switch from one book to another to suit my interests and attention span. Thus, I am not a Kindle fan. I am still a hard copy user. I also tend towards non-fiction – so the books on my nightstand are:
- The Holy Bible
- Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe by J.R. Gott
- Saxons. Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic roots of Britain and Ireland by Bryan Sykes
- Exploring The Sky by Richard Moeschl
- The JLC Guide to Production Carpentry
What was the best meal you’ve ever had?
My very first prime rib at a Christmas party in a fine Minneapolis restaurant hosted by Thomas Hendricks & Associate Architects where I worked as a junior draftsman during college. The steak was so well prepared that even the fat, which I still seldom eat, was delicious!
Why do you volunteer to work for the AIA?
Actually, I did work for the AIA as an employee. As a Fellow, I feel obliged to give back whatever I can to the profession. Architecture is still my first love.