it chose me…

16 November 2011

Last week I read a few of my favorite bloggers write about what led them into architecture or if they had always wanted to be an architect. I admit I was disappointed not to participate in that endeavor. Then I thought, I have my own blog, I can still do it. Yes, I have always wanted to be an architect…well, almost always. So how did I become an architect?

The short version…how did I become an architect? It chose me.

The longer version (you’ve been warned) starts when I was in fifth grade as I was mastering (in my mind) the art of drawing Marvel Comic characters. I still have my comic book collection. The point is I was learning to draw and to think about it carefully. In 1978 I got the book “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way” as a gift and about exploded. It was the best gift a geeky artsy kid like me could get. You can still buy the book, but you can also watch a series of videos on YouTube about it.

image from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

Soon after I turned eleven or maybe closer to twelve, I saw something somewhere that trumped Spider Man and Iron Man. I found myself drawing houses, buildings and what I thought was architecture. That’s when I started to realize it chose me. It must have been that Christmas that my mother bought me my own drafting board and t-square (yes I’m that old). All I remember is sitting endlessly in my room “designing” houses and listening to that Beatles hits album over and over again. It was an LP for those of you who remember what that is. When I look back at those house designs (I still have them), they’re really terrible. During this time I went to my public library and found a book written by an architect about being an architect. Wow. How do they draw like that? How do they know what to draw? How can I do that? I want to do that. I must do that.

I spent a year at Cedarville College to get my head straight, but I transferred in the fall of 1986 to Kent State University to pursue my Bachelor of Architecture degree. Now my world really opened up to me. I had never seen this stuff before. I saw a few of the early Richard Meier houses and I was mesmerized. That’s really a house? How cool is that? I began to eat, sleep, and dream architecture. If I wasn’t hooked before, now I was for sure. Of course one of the first humbling experiences was the second day of studio when I looked around at what the others could do and realized that I was surrounded with the best of the respective high schools represented. It was a level playing field again. It was time to respond.

As it continued, I didn’t even mind the all-nighters and loss of most of my social life. Fortunately Amy hung in there with me after we met in 1988. They told me right before I graduated that I had received the AIA Medal of Honor for being the top in my class. It had never crossed my mind that I could even achieve that. I had my own obsessive agenda. It went over well when I left with my degree in 1991 to face a recession. Fortunately I could go home to work for an architect whom I had spent summers working.

1995 came and I had finished my IDP requirements. I took a job in downtown Pittsburgh and I fell in love with architecture all over again. That June I sat for my A.R.E. after preparing several hours a day, every day for over six months. I told you I was intense…oh wait I said obsessive. This was back in the day when the exam was offered once a year and it was a four-day test…yes offered all at one time and we chiseled our answers on stone tablets. Most of it is a blur, but what I will never forget is the eleventh hour of the twelve-hour design exam. I was reviewing my work (I had a schedule to complete it on time) and all of a sudden…a nose bleed. Fortunately my wife had prepared me and put a pack of tissues in my Art-Bin. I’ll spare you the rest other than to say, the test intense enough to cause that. It took until September to find out I had passed all of it…the first time. My complaint is the boring monsters who administer the test simply sent me a letter with all of my scores. It noted that you needed a minimum score to pass each section. All of my scores were high above that mark, so the least they could have done is put a smiley face sticker on top with a “good job” hand written on the top. So I had achieved my goal. I was elated even though there were no fireworks. I guess that experience has shaped my opinion about the value of the test and my disappointment in the many graduate architects who delay taking the test.

Much time has gone by since those days and my intensity hasn’t changed much. Now that I have my own firm it is a bit different, but I still obsess. Teaching part-time keeps me close to architecture is the pure sense even though I believe every one of my projects has potential (see my post on idealism is an attitude). I can’t say I’ll ever have much more than two cents to rub together, but I am blessed to get to do what I love to do every day. Maybe someday someone important will notice something I’ve done.

For those of you who chose architecture later in life, all I can say is great, I hope you’ve found your niche after pursuing other interests. I can’t relate because all I can remember is wanting to be an architect and pursuing it relentlessly. You know what; twenty years after leaving Kent State I’m still pursuing it. Or did it really pursue me?

image from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

I think this is what I looked like in college.

Thanks Stan for inspiring many young artists…and letting me borrow these images without asking.

4 Responses to “it chose me…”


  1. Wow, Lee, I’m impressed with your lee-esque drawings. I wish I would have known there were books for that when I was 14. Interestingly, every post I read on this subject in the recent blog-off focused on the “design” aspect of architecture, as if this is what architects do most. According to my experience, most architects don’t design. Am I off in my thinking? Are these bloggers promulgating a false stereotype?

    • leecalisti Says:

      Thanks for reminding me to give credit for the images. They’re not mine, but from the Marvel book I referenced. I could draw like that, but not for this post. I was sharing the type of drawing that captivated me as a kid.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “don’t design.” Design can be defined in so many ways beyond being the author of the original idea or concept. I think you understand that it goes all the way down to the details.

      If we calculated how much of our day or week we ‘designed’ versus other tasks, it would be a low percentage, but it’s the part of architecture that fuels the fire. I believe that the personality traits that leads one to being an architect are largely similar. It’s why we all stink at business. If I had a brilliant mind for business, I’d have never been an architect.

  2. magdarc Says:

    In my case it wasn’t love at first sight. It was a possibility which grew on me and now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.


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