When I was young (and very arrogant) I got the chance to work on a dream project. My firm at the time (GLPM now Treanor Architects) was designing a new Arts Center right downtown – The Lawrence Art’s Center. It was a joint venture with a non-profit and the city. It would house an auditorium, galleries, art studios, dance studios, jewelry studios, pottery studios, and an art’s based preschool. Sounds sexy right? Plus, it was complicated. It would be an addition to a Carnegie Library that was on the national registry of historic places. Yeah, I kind of wanted to work on that project… but, I was young and inexperienced, and the job was too important to the firm to throw to a rookie. Right?
So, of course, the project went to our best Project Manager and designer in the firm. The team worked on the job for over a year. They came up with a great design. No seriously, I mean a really amazing design. But, the addition was twice the size of the original historic structure. So, the State Historical Board voted against it. The city was the client, and they didn’t want to face the certain outcry from upset citizens. So, poof… the project was dead…
But,my boss was a VERY smart man. Over a weekend, he met with everyone involved in the project and pitched a new site. “It’s 2 blocks away, It’s still right downtown, There’s no historic building to add onto, and it’s right in the middle of a mixed-use development that we happen to be designing right now.” And, Poof… the project was back on. It just so happened, I was working on that Mixed-use project. So, Poof… I get to work on the Arts Center too.
The team that had worked on it for over a year was running out of steam. They kept trying to re-use ideas from the old design. The client wasn’t happy. They wanted to push the boundaries a bit. They wanted something new. So, one of the partners came up with a ridiculous design. Seriously, it was stupid. The client didn’t like it. The team was spinning their wheels. So, fine… ” let’s give the rookie a try” …(crickets chirp)… oh crap.
Over the next year I had the privledge of working on this project. The team was amazing and the client was unbelievably supportive. I learned more in that year than I had in my whole career. The project came out well. We won some awards. I was in the paper. (cute huh?)…
But mainly, while I worked on the project, I learned why I want to be an Architect. The painting instructor HATED the design. At every meeting he would shake his head slowly, and tell me he just didn’t “get it”. I would pitch the project. “the light will come in from the north and flood the room with … blah,blah blah”. He would just shake his head and say “I don’t get it”.
After a year of design and a year and a half of construction, the project was finally finished. There was an open house to show off the new building. So, I took my wife in and walked her around. She was only mildly impressed. I think she described the building as “3 guys wearing berets”. But, then we walked into the painting studio… I love this space. It has a barrel vaulted ceiling with an asymmetrical truss, and clerestory glass along the north that floods the space with natural light. The painting instructor was standing in his new space. He saw me, and came over and put his hand on my shoulder. He told me that he never liked the design while we were working on it. He said he just didn’t get what we were trying to do. Then he looked up at his space for a minute, and waved his arms around a bit, and said. “But, look at this…I mean, you’ve designed me a cathedral here…it’s beautiful” ….
That’s why I want to be an Architect.