Influencers: The great ones are always pushing

Who inspires you? For me, it’s been a combination of people at different points in my life and career. One thing I’ve noticed is that the best mentors, the great ones, are always pushing.

I’ve been fortunate to have so many mentors and influential people in my life. Of course, my immediate family comes to mind, that’s where morals and work ethics are learned. Outside of my family were the various leaders in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol and believe it or not a brief venture into the 4-H Club. I know, you ask, a city boy in the 4-H Club, how did that happen?

The most important influences in my professional career started with my teachers. My high school drafting teacher was the first teacher to mentor me. As a junior, I already had an extreme interest in architecture and he knew that. As soon as we got past the fundamentals of mechanical drafting, he was able to direct me in my quest to learn architectural drafting.

He tailored my assignments in that direction and even found competitions for me to participate in. I entered several and achieved some honorable mentions. One was a model-building competition and the finalists were displayed at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I was so excited! Mr. O’s guidance created an enthusiasm for something I was interested in and then he helped make it happen.

Among all my college professors there were several that stood out. They were practicing architects who were doing significant work in the city. Some had designed high rise buildings I had first seen while growing up. Other professors worked on smaller projects with a tremendous amount of detail. The common element was how they taught me how to do things right, and at the same time, they were interested in my success. The great ones are always pushing the boundary, urging you to examine outside the box.

Also at the college level, another professor discovered I was very interested in renewable energy and passive solar design, which was big back in the late ‘70s. In the process of working with him, I designed a project that ended up winning design competitions, both on the state and national levels. That was not only gratifying, but also a lot of fun. Ultimately, it enabled me to go to the American Institute of Architects’ Research Corporation as a summer intern to work on a publication relating to renewable design.

Upon entering the workforce, I continued to learn from those around me, including several builders. It was through those builder relationships that I learned about residential construction from their perspective, making me a better architect in the process. Not only did we discuss what really works in the field, I also learned a lot about the necessity of proper paperwork and making sure all the trade contractors have the proper insurance and contracts in place. In comparison, other builders I ran into early in my career seemed like fly-by-night operations. The good ones do it right, which I took to heart when I started my own design+build firm.

I find, especially lately, that I try to do some mentoring as well and hope that I can be a positive influence on others. A few months ago, I was invited to meet with several children in a 6th-grade class. They were interviewing and writing about a profession that held their interest. There were three in particular that were interested in architecture and they interviewed me. I could imagine myself at that age, just starting to think about becoming an architect. So I tried to pass along a little bit of my insight and experiences to them. There was one student in particular that I believe will follow down the path to become an architect, I could just tell. She was very inquisitive and excited about architecture, she has a passion at an early age.

As much as others have influenced me, I try to share my influence and experience to help others along their journey. I hope to someday be one of those “great ones” that are always pushing others to explore their world. So how do you find that you “pay it forward”?

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