22 Oct 2010

Interview with an Architect!

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George Costanza (of Seinfeld fame) always pretended to be an architect, and while he was in love with the thought I’m not convinced George knew what it means to be one. Under his pseudonym, he claimed responsibility for railroads, an addition to the Guggenheim, importing latex and exporting matches, but the only thing he designed or built were tall tales. Well, I interviewed a real architect to find out the real story behind the slanted desk and big ruler.

I’m Joshua, a high school student at a private school. My assignment was to interview a person working in a profession I was interested in. I decided to meet an architect and chose Eric Faulkner because he worked with my dad. It was fun interviewing Mr. Faulkner because he makes architecture sound like the greatest profession in the world. Here’s a few highlights from my interview with a real architect.

question how did you decide to become an architect?

A: I’m almost embarrassed to admit it was by accident or fate (if you’re a glass is half-full person). I had enough credits in my high school senior year to attend a mechanical drafting course at a vocational institute every afternoon. I never had drafting or drawing talent and thought it would be a pleasant challenge. I liked it! “Liking” it inspired me to study architecture [architectural engineering] at the university. I struggled through the first two years, but once I earned admission to the professional school of architecture (only 40 students a year graduate to 3rd year architecture school) I realized architecture is not something I do, it’s something I am and I’ve loved it ever since.

question what does it take to be a good architect?

A: Academically and technically it requires an accredited degree, a documented internship, comprehensive practice and a license, but the critical architectural qualities are creativity — think like a child,  construction knowledge — understand what it takes to assemble buildings, organization — know where everything is and why and communication — explain concepts and instructions graphically, verbally and in written form to help clients, builders and partners understand projects. Do those right and you’ll be good at anything, but I believe they are critical to being a good architect.

questionwhat do you like most about being an architect?

A: I like that every design problem has many viable solutions and there’s no one right way to design. Also, no matter how many years you practice architecture there’s always more to learn. Every project regardless of size or scope challenges and surprises you. It’s well-known that architects become better designers with maturity. That maturity is a small part age and a larger part practice. I aspire to improve my skill every year.

questionwhat is your most memorable project and why?

A: I remember so many projects for different reasons; positive and negative. [Title] is memorable because the client trusted me unconditionally but demanded bold elements and volumes. [Title] was memorable because the owner was so detailed I wondered who was the better architect. [Title] was memorable because it made so much sense to everyone who experienced it virtually and in reality.There was a client who described a bland production home on a spectacular 360-view lot. The landscape was so inspiring, I designed several special homes, but nothing pleased her. It didn’t start or end well. I remember a fun commercial dog park I patterned after a golf course. I’m fond of the 12 recycled plastic playgrounds I designed in 1994 because no one experimented with recycled building products then. Around the same time, I designed a speculative project for completely self-sufficient runway supervisory units (self generating utilities and waste treatment). These were concepts few people embraced or even attempted in the early 1990’s. That was enjoyable because it seemed cutting edge, but is commonplace today.

questionwhat is your greatest disappointment?

A: I’m reluctant to admit it, but I’m disappointed in the two people I need most — clients and builders. I’m disappointed in clients who want the low-price provider who generates the cheapest plan set. Real estate is the most substantial investment a person makes in their lifetime so, I’ll never understand why they hire an unqualified low-bidder. I want clients to hire me because they know I care about them and the environment and provide meaningful creative solutions. I’m also disappointed in builders who ignore building science. I’m shocked how oblivious some installers are and how uninvolved some builders are. It’s disappointing to watch installers wrongly assemble details with no appreciation for proper assembly and the builders who let it happen either because they are ignorant or apathetic. I’m not implying all clients and builders are clueless, and architects are omniscient. I have more success stories than disappointments and am blessed with spectacular clients and talented builder-partners, but a disturbing percentage don’t take design or construction talent seriously.

questionhow did you decide to start your own practice?

A: I’ve always believed if you say something enough times, it will happen and if you tell others, they will hold you accountable so I set education and experience milestones (graduation, business experience, license, business school and company formation) and shared my vision with friends and family who kept me motivated to start WishingRock Studio. In retrospect, I picked the right emotional time, but the wrong financial time. I started my practice 2-years ahead of schedule when the design/construction industry suffered it’s lowest low. I was ready, but the industry wasn’t ready for new architects to start new practices. I still believe low times equal slow times which provides better opportunity to intimately learn your business, IF you can survive.

questionwhat advice do you have for others starting their own practice?

A: Get your “Cs” in order. Have contacts, cash, clients and confidence. You need contacts to help you navigate this industry and refer work. You need cash to start-up and clients to keep going. You need confidence to make the leap and continued confidence when industry, clients and life interrupt your well-laid plans. Work for someone else first…in fact, work for several companies first because learning from other’s mistakes cost less than learning from your own; although, you learn much faster from your own.

questionif you had it to do over again, what would you change?

A: It may sound cliche, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m thankful for my personal and professional experiences and recognize each played its part in my past and continued maturation. There are a few things I wish I’d done sooner to better prepare me for college and the real world, like art classes and summer internships. Since I had no artistic training, I wish I’d taken art or sculpture classes in high school to keep pace with other architecture freshman. If you played junior league sports, you probably remember there were some kids that excelled. While I believe in natural talent, those kids were better because they practiced every season to refine their skills. Architecture is the same way. Practice won’t make you perfect, but it will make you much better. I also wish I pursued architectural or construction internships during summer breaks. You can learn a lot from a book, but hands-on experience is life’s most valuable teacher.

Before meeting Mr Faulkner, I didn’t know what an architect did. I heard the job title before and knew it sounded fun, but I didn’t know why. After meeting Mr Faulkner, I wasn’t sure if I met an architect, a philosopher or a motivator, but I certainly met someone who could make a student feel excited about the rest of his life.

About the Author

Your Architect is Eric Faulkner -- an architect licensed in Texas & Oklahoma with 32 years experience in design, construction observation and life.