Architect’s memoir entertains, informs, instructs

This Thursday, Sep. 30th, my new architectural memoir, Becoming an Architect: My Voyage of Discovery, hits the stands. One early reader, a prominent St. Louis architect calls it:

Enjoyable, fun and courageous! Although there are plenty of books about great architects, very few of them show how architects think and conceptualize.

—Robert O. Little, Former President, Ittner Architects, St. Louis

Many people wonder, “How do you become an architect?” In choosing this profession, I decided early: I wanted to design buildings for people’s living space, work and recreation. Looking back last year, what baffled me was that my simple quest to be an architect was beset with so many obstacles, some humorous, and the rest serious. I had been so many places and learned so many things in the process, I had so many stories to tell. Had I really examined my career? With the pandemic looming, I realized this might be my last chance. Perhaps I did have another book in me: my architect’s memoir.

Architect's memoir: my grandfather was an engineer on horseback
Grandpa: An Engineer on Horseback: For the railroad in 1918, still riding in 1931

Grandpa: My Construction Mentor

My architect’s memoir begins with early influences. An engineer on horseback, my grandfather rode his horse over a hundred miles home from western Montana to meet his newborn daughter. Frank J. Herlihy, civil engineer, designed and supervised construction of rail bridges for the Milwaukee Road in Montana. In 1913 he got news several days after the fact of the birth of his fourth child back in Lewistown. He followed the tracks for three days until he return to his family’s home, see his wife and greet his new daughter Alice, who would someday be my mother. With such an example, how could I resist attempting a difficult and challenging career? I determined I would be an architect and design buildings such as my grandfather had constructed.

Mike and I en route in Europe in 1959

A Dream Summer in Europe

One of my first forays into the wider world was a self-guided tour with my friend Mike, in the summer before my fourth year of college of Europe, including England, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, In those days travel was more accessible than today, when the continent welcomed Americans and students could travel through Europe on five dollars a day. The trip resulted in our visiting many architectural monuments in their cultural and historical settings, widely considered a stepping stone toward understanding building design. As Mike, an accomplished musician, guided us to the best musical events, I select the architecture most significant four our education and took the time to sketch the buildings we visited during our travels.

Architectural Education and Cultural Conflict

Any architect’s memoir must include his education and preparation. I selected Yale because, my high school guidance counselors informed me, it offered strong liberal arts, which I sorely lacked, theater, a strong interest of mine, and a prominent architectural program, I later learned that choosing an architectural major could save a year of Yale’s graduate program and allow me to sample professional studies as an undergraduate, During my junior and senior years, I began design courses and an architectural design studio, for which my professors and I agreed I was well suited. Even Paul Rudolph, the new leader of the school, an architect with a meteoric career, hand picked by the university president, seemed to like my work. I felt I was on my way.

Only later, during my first year back as a graduate student, did I realize something was going on at the school, a hidden agenda, which had a major influence on the success an failure of students. We encountered the jury system, a holdover from the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts, in which our projects were individually evaluated in a ghastly public show of “attacking” critic versus “defending” student. It was impossible to predict how Mr, Rudolph, who had an outsized influence on other professors on the jury, would react. Even after a year’s hiatus from the university to serve six months in the Army Reserve, and work in architectural offices, on my return the same problems seemed to underlie student education. I tired of the constant cultural war, ,which had very little to do with learning how to be an architect.

Resolving the Dilemma

Resolving this dilemma launched me on another series of adventures. I switched architecture schools, returned to my own Midwest to finish my degree, worked in Paris and Istanbul, visited Turkey, Greece and Rome and eventually returned home to resume my architectural career. More humorous travel tales and even more sketches round out the tale of how I became an architect. The final section of the book describes my entry into working life, secrets of survival in a complex and ever-changing profession and even some new directions which changed the scope of my architectural practice to help conserve and benefit the global environment.

Readers praise this new architect’s memoir

I loved the adventure of continuing to work while getting farther and farther from the nest. Milan! The Orient Express! Istanbul! Great characters—the South Africans, the Turkish vendor, Elias and Catherine (“Oh darn, I missed it by that much!”), Charlie, Stan, Bulent, Omar, the architecture in Milan and Istanbul, Turkish history and customs were all fascinating.

—C. Michael Lederer, Career Nuclear and Environmental Scientist, University of California, Berkeley

Another reader, a writer of humorous fiction, had this to say:

Architect's memoir-Becoming an Architect: My Voyage of Discovery. Cover image
My architect’s memoir

Overall, I found the book very entertaining. I particularly liked the travels in Ireland, France and Turkey with…wonderful sketches of famous places…[and] some very funny anecdotes.

—David Margolis, Author of The Myth of Dr. Kugelman and The Misadventures of Buddy Jones

Get a copy, give a copy

If you aren’t an architect or architectural student, you may be wondering if you’d be interested in this architect’s memoir I figure it’s a good read for anyone who wants to avoid dumb mistakes in his career path and get a few laughs at the errors I made in mine. It’s also an illustrated guide to some of the most famous architecture in Europe, enjoyable for anyone’s education. Moreover, the characters I met along the way, and the great architects I was lucky enough to have as mentors, are worth the time to read. Here are the links to get your oven copy

Buy a personalized, signed copy at Pete’s Bookshop

Buy e-book on Amazon

Buy Print Edition on Amazon

Buy Print Edition at Barnes & Noble

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