Life is full of first and it’s those first that create our core memories (yes, I have been watching Inside Out with my kids), I think it was my very first “core” memory of construction that sent me on this path of my life passion in architecture. Though my memory is a bit rusty on the details I can say for certain that many a day was spent in the back seat of the family car driving through my hometown of Pontiac Michigan and in the early days of the 1970’s the skyline of Pontiac was dominated by the cranes that were building the Silverdome the future and former home of the Detroit Lions. I watched in wonder as this building rose from the ground and ultimately was capped with a shiny silver roof. It was these memories that formed the start of my path into architecture.
Pontiac Silverdome, 1974
Mine was a very unconventional path, though I knew what I wanted to do and I seemed determined to get there, I also seemed to lack the ability to get out of my own way and stay focused on that goal (an affliction I still suffer with today). What I mean by that is I didn’t go the conventional route of good grades in high school on to college and then the profession. No I chose to walk around with a chip on my shoulder coming from a lower class blue-collar upbringing, I believed the world was working against me adding roadblock after roadblock and it took me decades to learn how to get around them, once I realized that I was the one putting them up. But I digress, my path was long, and I am still on it, but it is these “first” that this next episode in the ArchiTalks #14 are talking about and it is these first that keep me coming back for more.
As a parent I am keenly aware of the first, like that first child when you hear those words “we’re having a baby” your life is forever changes. Architecture is much the same, you spend all this time in school learning toiling over the tools of our trade learning in hopes that you’ll be that next great influence on the profession only to graduate and if lucky begin to draft up and detail bathrooms while patiently waiting on opportunity to change the world.
My opportunity came relatively early in my “post-graduation” career. I was working for the small firm of Wannemacher Russell Architects in St. Petersburg Florida. I had worked pre-graduation for a firm, where I advanced my construction document knowledge well past the toilet room plans. I was entrusted to take a new albeit small project on from concept to completion, when by boss Mike Russell told me this I was sweating bullets. A new project? I have to design and detail it? I was stupid enough to think “yeah, not a problem”, “it’s a small project, how hard can it be?” Typically those are famous last words, but I was confident enough to know that I have done enough detailing of projects before that this shouldn’t be that hard “really”. So here I am pumped for this new project my firm was about to bestow on me. My firm, we were known for our design work, and have done fantastic civic and recreation projects for the City of St. Petersburg that were real exciting projects. So I was excited to hear my new assignment: Community Center? Pool? Rec Center? We were slated to do several in the coming months, surely they are going to entrust me with one of those? Right?
Monday morning came, I remember it well, Mike had been meeting with the city the week prior to discuss future projects and at the Monday morning meeting we typically talked about project workloads, current and new projects, so I would be learning about my new task. Mike started off the meeting discussing the projects we had on the boards, asked the PM’s the status of their projects, deadlines, milestones the usual. New projects where next, it seemed to draw on for a while, he talked about the meeting with the city, talked about a 2 year plan in Parks and Recreation, and then FINALLY got to me. I remember that feeling when I enlisted in the Army and there was a time when I was raising my hand at the swearing-in session and that I seemed to be floating outside my body watching what was happening and how this was to shape my future. I had this feeling again here I am on the cusp of getting MY very first solo project, it’s mine, from scribble on the paper to the handing over of the keys I would oversee this project. Time to make my mark. So as I am floating overhead watching this all transpire I finally understood what poor Charlie Brown’s life was like. “Cormac, you’ll be working on the new Vinoy maintenance shed”. FUUUUCK, really?
Vinoy Park Maintenance Shed, my first
I GOT A ROCK. A 20’-0” x 20’-0” CMU maintenance shed, shingled roof, tucked into a dirt patch in the middle of a parking lot. I wonder what the look on my face must have been when I realized that was to be my glorious “first” project. I’ve looked back at that project many times since and I don’t have any shame in that being my first, I got to learn quite a bit about mechanical, electrical coordination, framing plans and even foundation plans. But mostly I was thrown into the fire on consultant coordination and later contractor coordination which to this date I feel are my strongest side and it was all due to a simple maintenance shed.
So when we are thinking about our first we rarely do them right, they wouldn’t be that life shaping event if our first were perfect right out of the gate, that’s too easy. But our first shape who we are, teach us what we know, what we don’t know and how we can improve and get better. Most of all our first teach us (if we are really paying attention) to recognize if we are even on the right path.
Oh, and as far as that building that first pointed me towards this path I’m on? Well as of 2002 the Pontiac Silverdome was replaced by the shiny new Ford Field, the Lions had moved, recessions had hit, the dome went up for sale and only brought in $583,000 for a former NFL stadium. And as of spring 2016 the start of my path will be demolished. But the path will still be pointing forward.
Pontiac Silverdome, 2015
Thanks for spending a lit bit of your time reading about my first project, and please stop by, read and support all of the wonderful entries for this month’s #ArchiTalks. They can be found at the links below:
Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (@bobborson)
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: My first project
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
first project first process
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“My First Project”
Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[first] project [worst] crit
Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
My First Project – The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks
Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
Why every project is my “First”
Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
My “First Project”
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project – Again
Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The First One — A Tale of Two Projects
Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Early Years of My Architecture Career – My Role
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project – Again
Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
my first project
Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project
Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project
Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage
Nisha Kandiah – TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
The Question of Beginning
Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Fake it ’til you make it
brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
I Hate Decks
Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)