Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

teach them the way they should go: #architalks

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Walter Q. Taylor, The Man, The Myth, The Legend. The coolest human scale figure.

Many years ago, in a galaxy far far away, I began my career as An Intern. The day before I was merely a Architecture Graduate. And as soon as I became An Intern I signed up for the Intern Development Program, or IDP, and began tracking the time I worked and the areas of practice I worked in so that I might eventually begin taking the Architects Registration Examination, or ARE. We really love acronyms in society today. It’s truly getting ridiculous. But I digress. As soon as I began tracking my time and categorizing said time into various areas of experience needed in order to be An Architect I was told I needed A Mentor. Little did I know that A Mentor was just “the guy in the office that signed your stuff so you could get licensed”. But eventually I did find a real Mentor, a trusted counselor or guide. And he taught me. He taught me in ways I didn’t even understand as learning at the time. And luckily for me I’ve written about this before in another blog, so I’m going to copy/paste like no one’s business for you. Right. Now…..

Mentorship in architecture is incredibly important and something that I wish was taken more seriously in the profession. There is a substantial divide between senior architects with the knowledge and experience to truly shape the next generation of architects, and the interns who desperately need that knowledge and experience through professional guidance. Early in my career I was fortunate to have a true mentor. He was the most senior architect at the first firm that I worked for and he quite literally took me under his wing and taught me the guts of architecture. Later in my career, after I had left that firm, I learned that the other partners were going to let me go because, quote, “I didn’t know anything” and so this one partner said “give him to me. I’ll teach him.” And so they did, and he did. Words can’t express how grateful I am for the chance he took on me. His name is Walter Taylor, FAIA, and at the time I was working for KBJ Architects in Jacksonville, Florida. KBJ, formerly Kemp Bunch & Jackson, had a very long and distinguished history in Jacksonville and in Florida, and has birthed some of the most talented and successful architects in the city, thanks in no small part to senior architects like Walter. I hope to live up to that legacy in my own career.

Working for and with Walter was always interesting. A brilliant designer and architect he was sometimes maddeningly exacting in his expectations and unwavering in his desire to have those expectations met no matter what. I remember many occasions when I’d be working through some task he had set for me and he’d walk over to my desk, lean over my shoulder saying “hurry it up, my meeting started 15 minutes ago.” Lets not discuss the fact I’d only been given the assignment 10 minutes prior. It was certainly never dull and while I worked on many projects with him the relatively short while I was there, the one project I worked the most on, and learned the most from, was the Orlando International Airport South Terminal Expansion. The project was a 1,000,000 square foot airside and landside addition to OIA which Walter had originally designed many years before with a glass of chardonnay and a cocktail napkin while waiting for his connection flight in another airport. The project was split between our two offices (Jacksonville and Orlando) and our office was responsible for the landside portion which included the main entry, ticketing, baggage, and all the other stuff before you actually get to your concourse.

As you can imagine, this project was immense and you might even think that on a project like that it’s easy to get pigeon-holed into doing nothing but door details for months on end. But this wasn’t the case. Even as a second year intern I was responsible for coordinating mechanical and electrical drawings with the architectural, creating the necessary stair sections and details for both service stairs and main public stairs, even editing and updating the myriad building sections and wall sections as were needed. But the most enjoyable and rewarding part was a specific design task that Walter put me in charge of – a cantilevered planter at the mezzanine balcony overlooking the main atrium. God how I wish I had some renderings or drawings or sketches of that detail….

Now, this may not sound like fun to some, but realize that the main atrium was nearly 1/4 mile long and curved. So, this planter is going to be one of the first things you see when you look up after entering the doors. No pressure, right? :-\ And it was during the design of this suspended planter that Walter gave me one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received and is a testament to how he mentored and helped shape me into the architect I am today.

One day I was working through some section details of this planter which had to attach to a steel beam support for the mezzanine and had to be designed in such a way as to carry the load of the plant material as well as a drain space for water, etc. The easy part was the prefabricated pan that held the plant material. The hard part was the rest of the framing that supported the pan and the finished metal panels. So, I’m slaving away at my computer trying to figure this mess out and Walter comes over and takes a look at what I’m doing. After about 30 seconds he starts asking me questions and he’s pointing to random lines on my screen. Questions like “what do these lines represent?” and “Where does this framing go?” After a few minutes he realizes that most of the framing I’ve drawn has no real 3 dimensional significance, so he stops me and says “no matter what you’re drawing, whether plan, elevation or detail, don’t draw anything that doesn’t represent something in physical space.” In other words, if the line doesn’t have a purpose, don’t draw it. This has been the singular most valuable lesson anyone has ever taught me. To this day I still think about my construction details in 3 dimensions even though they are still 2D on paper. Things like how the flashing for windows works; how it terminates; how it interacts with the corner flashing that turns up the face of the opening; how the counterflashing works; in elevations, how does the gable trim intersect with the eave trim, etc. – these are questions that I constantly ask myself as I design and detail my projects in order to have a correct understanding of how it will be built and how it will perform over time.

That one piece of advice, which didn’t seem like a lot at the time, has pushed me to understand architectural detailing, drafting, construction, and how buildings work so that my drawings will be more complete, more detailed, more clear and more easily constructed. That, after all, should be the goal of all architects.

Side note: I originally wrote this in 2013 before becoming licensed, before starting my own firm, but not before understanding the immeasurable importance of good mentorship in architecture. Walter Taylor is retired now. Still in Florida, and I imagine still scratching away on paper and napkins, probably using the bottom of his Chardonnay glass to create some fantastical new design for something or other. I don’t keep in touch with him the way I should, but I remember the things he taught me and I will encourage, guide, and help shape future architects in my own office through Mentorship. Without good mentorship there is little hope that the craft, the science, and the art of good Architecture will survive as the generational divide continues to widen.

For more words of wisdom check out the other Architalks bloggers below:

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood – Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Mentorship

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Mentor5hip is…