Sometimes I wonder if it took anyone else 33 years to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life. I can't even begin to count the number of things I wanted to be "when I grow up." The thing is, at some point I grew up and forgot to actually pursue the career I wanted to. Not that I'm complaining, nor do I have any right to. I've got a beautiful loving wife, a happy healthy baby boy, a good home, and a great relationship with my extended family. I've even got a great mother-in-law. However, as far as careers go, mine has been a bit of a let-down.
Again, I've no reason to complain. I don't have a college degree, and yet I work a job where I can sit inside, in the air-conditioning, and earn a fair wage capable of supporting my family, with a fair amount of job security and adequate benefits. Every time I think I've had enough, I think about all the people who have no job at all, much less one so cushy compared to some of the things I've had to do for a living in the past. But I don't know too many people currently in the tech support field who thought they'd be doing this for the rest of their lives.
My first attempt at college was laughable. Though I did fairly good in high school, I was nothing spectacular. Though I tested out of a number of classes at the University of Texas at Austin, I was a young, stupid teen who didn't appreciate the opportunity he was given. I just ended up making a fool of myself and causing a lot of people to be disappointed in me after my eventual withdrawal. For the next 14 years, I did whatever I had to do to get by. Often it was tech support, but there were many times where I was showing up at "Labor Ready" before the crack of dawn in hopes that I'd get the chance to dig a ditch. The worst job I ever had was carrying bubbling hot buckets of pitch up to rooftops during a 120 degree summer. I am reminded of that summer whenever I find myself making the mistake of thinking I'm too good for a job. Nevertheless, I still want to do something more with my professional life.
Two years ago I was given that chance. My parents, perhaps pitying their newly married son who was saddled with a mortgage, a newborn baby boy, and a mountain of debt, took pity on me, and paid down what debts were necessary to send me back to college. Without their assistance, I'd still be saving up for the one day I'd go back. Some people might be ashamed to admit that in their 30's, their parents had to help them pay for college. I'm not. At this point in my life, I'm simply eternally grateful, and every class I attend is pursued with the passionate determination that I will prove their decision was a wise one.
I have no illusions about there being the prospect of a third chance. This is it, and it's no longer just myself who is dependent on the results. I have a wife and child who will forever live with the consequences of my evening classes, projects, and tests. Further, I am no longer a young man with nothing but time to spare. I may not be old, but the knowledge that taking only part-time classes until I graduate will place me at 40 before I even beginning my real career is daunting at best. I'll be just starting out at the same position and level of experience of people literally half my age, and with a bedtime several hours earlier. It's a scary prospect, but one in which the rewards are worth more than the fear of what will be expected of me.
But why Architecture?
I'm not sure that it wasn't always there in the back of my mind, somewhere. My entire life I've had dreams themed around my being trapped in a never-ending building. One room would simply lead to another room, or another hallway. Even windows merely opened up into yet another building. The entire world had been somehow compartmentalized. As a child, I also played a considerable amount of role-playing games, and when running the game, my favorite part was drawing the floor plans of buildings, castles, and so forth. I've still got some floating around somewhere. Perhaps I'll scan them in some day and put them in the blog. I've always admired the Crystalline Architecture of some of the more notable buildings in Houston and Dallas, while at the same time having a fond attraction to unique looking buildings everywhere I go. My father got me interested in art from a very young age, and helped me to appreciate aesthetics early on. But none of these things ever resulted in me waking up one day and saying "I want to be an architect!"
What really started me off on the path was my first semester of my return to college. I was taking U.S. History through Reconstruction and Professor Jerome Barnes of Tarrant County College did such a fantastic job of teaching it that I became enamored with the subject. I knew what I wanted to be: A History Professor. I've always loved history, and here was a career I could really, truly enjoy. I found strength and vigor to pursue college even more fervently than before. I would be the greatest history professor known to mankind! I would--soon find out that it is very hard to be employed as a history professor, even with a Doctorate. The pay would never be outstanding, and I would constantly have to move just to chase a job that might only last a couple of semesters. My students would almost never appreciate the subject, and certainly never with the same enthusiasm I had for it. I realized this would never be a way I could support my family, at least not in the manner to which they were accustomed. I gave up my dream and decided I'd simply fall back on Engineering, the same field I'd chosen my first round at college.
I wasn't sure what sort of Engineer I wanted to be. There were certainly a lot of choices available. With global warming, concerns about sustainable practices, and pollution, and the new Green movement that was sweeping the nation, I decided I wanted to be a part of the solution. One way that sounded very interesting was a new program offered by the University of North Texas in Denton, called "Mechanical and Energy Engineering" or something like that. So I began working towards that, with the assumption that I would work with "Green Energy" and help make great strides in it. But the more I looked into it, the less it seemed like something I really wanted to do, and the math of energy fields was frankly terrifying. Maybe I would pursue mechanical engineering instead and develop the most energy-efficient automobile? Until I found that most engineers only work on one part of a car, which I'm certain is necessary for a variety of reasons, but when I design something, I wanted to be the one to design the entirety. It was a selfish reason, I know, but if I'm going to put so much work into a field, why not be a little selfish in what I choose to go for?
Along the way, class after class I scored a 4.0, and was invited by Phi Theta Kappa (the honor society for 2-year colleges) to join their ranks. In the application process I had to put a check beside my major which was as-yet undeclared. There were only a few options for Engineering, and one of them was Civil Engineering. This is when the idea first crystallized. I wanted to design buildings. Green buildings. Efficient buildings. Beautiful buildings. I understood buildings. I could relate to them. I'd spent most of my dream life trapped inside of them. Civil Engineers made buildings, right? I checked the box, and told my father about my choice a week or so later. His response was to assure me he thought I'd be great at designing roads and bridges.
Roads and Bridges? I didn't want to design those. I wanted to design buildings. Perhaps instead of Civil Engineering I needed to choose Structural Engineering? Wrong again. Architectural Engineering? I was certain it must be Architectural Engineering. And I was certainly wrong, again. It turns out that Architectural Engineers do not design the wall. They decide how many bricks the wall will require, and of what type of material the bricks will be made, or what gauge of wire will be used, or what width of plumbing, etc.
After a considerable amount of discussion with my father, we determined that what I wanted to be was, in fact, an Architect. In retrospect it seems this choice would have been obvious: I love designing floor plans, I love history, I have a desire to engineer solutions to problems, and of course, I dream of architecture.
Now with a clear goal in mind, I have been able to read more about the subject. The more I read and see, the more fascinated I am. I realize I have chosen a field of work that lets me combine everything that I love, including my family, and put it towards a use that can help others and even make a good living off of it. It's a field that combines art and science and allows the best among them to become a unique and respected member of both circles. Was Frank Lloyd Wright a brilliant artist or a brilliant engineer? Do most people argue the point, or do they instead simply marvel at the buildings that are a testament to his genius?
This first entry begins an effort on my part to chronicle the path that got me here, the path I'm still traveling, and the paths I will have to choose between in the future. As my knowledge and understanding of architecture grows, my attitude and beliefs will likely change on various subjects. I might forget many of the naive questions and ideas I have today, and worse yet, I might one day forget the struggles I had along the way. Perhaps even if I one day become the next great architect, this blog will keep me humble, and will remind me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, even as my imagination attempts to reach the clouds.
Mario Botta: Architecture and Memory - The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art opened in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2009 in a four-story building designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta. It's no su...
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