Dream Job: Architect

Back to the Drawing Board

As a child, Alan loved to draw and make models. Today, he spends all day drawing-and getting paid for it. When this senior architect at a prestigious firm picks up his colored pencil to begin sketching ideas for a new building, he is at the start of a multiyear process that will result in the construction of a brand new space. Tim and David, architects with a comparable firm in Seattle, add that architects share the urge to create something that has an effect on people around them.

Creating Spaces for Butterflies
What if you could recreate a rainforest, indoors? For the past eight years, Alan has been working on a glass building for a Midwestern botanical garden that will house a simulated Costa Rican rainforest, complete with butterflies. This project's complexity and creative challenge have made it one of his favorites.

The Seattle firm is working on a project with internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry to build an interactive series of exhibits for the Experience Music Project in a big-budget job funded by former Microsoft CEO Paul Allen. The outside of the building is an amorphous multicolored skin, and visitors can pick up an instrument and jam.

Tim also worked on a multiuse theater in Memphis that houses opera, symphony, and other cultural activities. "It was gratifying to create a backdrop against which other artists could explore their own creative adventures," he says.

Seeing What Isn't There
Good architects have an eye for envisioning how a new structure will blend with the existing environment-in effect, for seeing what isn't there. When he begins a new project, Alan usually visits the building site to understand the setting and the style of nearby buildings. He works from site drawings and photographs as he conceptualizes the design.

Concept to Code
Every day in the life of an architect is unique, covering thousands of details from the big idea all the way down to the details of local building codes. The variety is overwhelming - writing, drawing, meeting people, being out on a site, watching them pour the concrete, even dealing with a group of people about a light fixture. "Even in a multiyear project, time goes by too fast sometimes," says David. "At every stage you encounter a different challenge."

Going Back to the Drawing Board
Architects derive tremendous satisfaction from seeing their designs take concrete form. "I don't have any children," says David, "so I always imagine it's like when a child has just grown up and graduated into the real world. You've lost sleep over it, fought all the battles, and now it's there in reality." It's also gratifying when the building begins to stand the test of time. "Someone will come up to you and tell you they noticed one day the way a sliver of light fell in a corridor. That feels great," says David. But by that time, the architect has gone back to the drawing board - on another project.