“It’s good to be back.”
I am sure those words have been uttered by many people over the centuries. In most cases, they are spoken with a smile, exhaled in a relieved, relaxed sigh that connotes once again being surrounded by the familiar and comforting. If you’ve ever experienced a homecoming or the rekindling of an old friendship, you can relate. It feels great. It keeps you grateful.
Although roughly 15% of all U.S. architects live in California, I am often reminded of how “small” the Southern California architectural community can be. I began my career in 1986 in another Inland Empire firm “paying my dues” by emptying everyone’s trash cans, installing Borco on drafting boards, and running blueprints in the back of the office in a noxious cloud of ammonia. Now, 30 years later, I often run across people in the IE with whom I’ve worked in the past. You don’t burn bridges, you attend AIA meetings, you help out when and where you can, and eventually you run across a familiar, friendly face.
This month marks the second time I have worked for PCH Architects. I first met the principals in May 1999 when I decided, for my young family’s sake, to trade my lengthy 100-mile per day commute to an Orange County architecture firm to work closer to home. It wasn’t just any city, it was Redlands. A jewel in the Inland Empire, Redlands is an art colony that is home to not only a prestigious, private university but a community of involved citizens bursting with conservative tradition and a high degree of civic pride: the Bike Classic, the Redlands Bowl, and the Holland Festival are examples of that.
Practicing architecture is a noble endeavor. I can’t count how many times my kids came home saying ‘I told someone at school you’re an architect and they thought it was cool.’ Or the number of Career Days I’ve attended in an attempt to explain our profession to elementary, middle and high school students.
Why did Seinfeld’s George Costanza lie about being an architect? Because he wanted to impress others. Why do we practice architecture? Some of us are altruistic, desiring to enrich the lives of others through the medium of the built environment. Others chose the profession because they excelled in drafting or three-dimensional thinking. Others inherited the passion for design from a parent or grandparent or other relative. And others, like me, just thought that being an architect sounded interesting, explored it and decided to pursue it.
An architect recently told me, “You aren’t really an architect until you’ve built something. Several million square feet at least. Not until you lay awake at night trying to resolve a design issue in your head, worried sleepless about whether or not that roof will support the extra weight of that equipment.” I suppose there’s a lot of truth in those criteria.
Regardless, is there any other profession we’d rather pursue? Not a chance.