Farewell to the Land of Hot Engineers

I’m not kidding.

When I left my practice nearly a year ago – and holy crap! where did the time go? – another architect offered me a home in the office he was sharing with friends.

Now here I am getting ready to head to a new office with a new group of people. And I’m realizing that the people who were his friends have now become my friends, and that I’m going to miss many things.

Miss watching the two accountants running around during tax season, trying to get everything filed and telling some pretty catty stories in the process. Miss being able to pop my head into the therapist’s office for the occasional mental health check.

And miss having the accountants’ assistant make me laugh by asking me to feel her leg. I guarantee you I’m not getting that at the new office. And if I do, the leg is bound to be a lot hairier.

However, there’s something I think I’ll miss even more:

Working in the land of hot engineers.

You heard that correctly.

Hot. Engineers. Two words I’d never in my life think of putting together.

When I think of engineers, I don’t picture hot. I picture ill-fitting pants. Glasses. Pocket protectors. I picture the structural engineer I met one year with enough hair in his ears to make me wonder if he was part werewolf.

Yet within the large engineering firm that shares our floor, I keep bumping into unexpected treats that no one ever told me about.

Did I miss something in college? The engineering building was right next door to the architecture school. Were these guys wandering around and I just never noticed? Is this what I missed by spending late nights hunched over a drafting table? And why have I never been asked to feel one of their legs?

So as I get settled into the new digs, perhaps I’ll find an excuse to pop over once in a while. Say hi to everyone. Get caught up on the latest gossip. Feel a leg.

And if luck is with me, catch a fleeting glimpse of a hot engineer.

Just Me?

Not really but…

I’m the only gay architect in Dallas.

For years, I’ve made that comment even though I know it’s not true. Just based on the law of averages. But also because I do know one or two others.

However, after 20 years in the industry, it still feels that way, primarily because we are not recognized within the architecture community. You have groups like Women in Architecture and Latinos in Architecture. Emerging professionals and young professionals.

And nationally the AIA is really focused on diversity and inclusion. But often that conversation ends before anyone gets to the LGBT community, unless you count the annual LGBT reception at our national convention.

As if that doesn’t make me feel a little isolated…

I received a call in 2014 from a gay couple who needed someone to look at their house. They were having foundation issues and the latest recommendation was to add 22 piers to the existing pier and beam foundation. However, in just looking at the house you could tell that wasn’t going to do anything except flush money down the drain. Ultimately, we designed a new house on the existing lot.

As we were talking in that initial meeting, they expressed how important working with a gay architect was for them, for no other reason than their own personal comfort level. And like a good business owner I asked them how they had located me.

After looking in several guides, one of them had finally turned to Google and typed in: gay dallas architect.

The first name to pop up on the list was Philip Johnson. Pritzker-prize winner. Designed the Beck House in Dallas. Certainly not likely to take on something as simple as this couple’s home.

Plus Philip was also dead.

The second item on Google referenced a blog post my firm had done in 2010 as a follow-up to The Architecture Happy Hour podcast about gays in architecture. And there was my name.

And lucky for me, I was still alive.

So perhaps being the only gay architect in Dallas, or at least the only visibly gay architect in Dallas, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But really…just me?

The Best Thing About My Job

And no, it’s not the pay…

Someone asked me once what I liked about my job. (Okay. It was my therapist during a mental health check-in.) And there were all the things you’d expect an architect to say: design; helping people realize their dreams; making an impact. But any idea what came out first?

“I like my clients.”

And I didn’t even realize that I had said that. In the litany of likes about my job, about my career, the number one like was my clients.

How many of us can say that? (Really – shouldn’t we all be saying that?)

I started working in architecture 20 years ago. And I don’t recall hearing the firm owner emphasizing the importance of liking who you’re working with. Of all the projects I worked on, I can’t say there was one that we took because we thought we’d have a good relationship with the client. Work always centered around the project.

Consequently, that meant there were times when projects did not fare as well as they could or should have. One couple I remember in particular kept pitting one against the other and the project architect being stuck in the middle. The project finally ended, but the process was quite bruising.

Not until we started sales training as owners did anyone tell us we were okay vetting our clients. Not rushing in with a portfolio and doing the dog and pony show was an appropriate approach. We were better off making sure we could have a good working relationship than just looking at dollar signs.

And apparently that idea is still paying off. Because I do like my clients. And I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.

Dallas Gets It Up

And once again with a crane

Dallas has a tendency to get – excited – about designer labels. We are, after all, home to Neiman Marcus. Yet that excitement extends beyond the clothes on our back and the shoes on our feet. These days, that also applies to Dallas’ architecture.

Drive into Dallas from the west, and you will either cross one or see both Santiago Calatrava-designed bridges. And once you hit the arts district in Uptown, you’ll be inundated.

Sir Norman Foster. Brad Cloepfil. Cesar Pelli. Thom Mayne. Renzo Piano. Rem Koolhaas. I.M. Pei.

Foster + Partners. Allied Works. Morphosis. REX/OMA.

All within spitting distance of one another.

No surprise then that developer Hillwood’s latest proposal – a 70-story tower across from the Perot Museum – has people getting excited. This is not just any tower. This tower has been designed by Sir Norman Foster. Excuse me. I meant Pritzker prize-winning architect Sir Norman Foster.

Because Dallas loves its designer labels.

But what is this costing the local architecture community? Granted – a local firm will be selected as architect of record – and collect their share of the fee (always a good thing). But at the end of the day, as with most of these projects, the local firm won’t be the one remembered.

Don’t get me wrong. I love that Dallas has a design-conscious philanthropic community willing to donate private money to bring these architects to Dallas. However, I’m hard pressed to believe that Dallas’ architecture community lacks the talent to design at the same level. Or have we become so taken with these Starchitects that we’re willing to overlook that talent?

A telling sign – on the Dallas Arts District web site, buildings are either prefaced or associated with the architect who designed them. Except for one. The Crow Collection of Asian Art is simply mentioned as that. No indication that the space was designed by a local architect. Or that the firm he was employed by was a staple of the Dallas architecture scene for 50 years. Simply the Crow Museum.

Immediately followed by “the Nasher Sculpture Center, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Renzo Piano.”

Creating the buildings that compromise the Arts District is certainly outside of my wheelhouse. However, is there no one in any of the firms in or around Dallas with the ability or the potential to create a building as elegant and unique? Has anyone looked?

Or does that matter anymore? Because we do get excited about our labels.

And this time it’ll be 70 stories high for everyone to see.