The Best Architect in Dallas?

November 26, 2012 — 16 Comments

Architecture can be an incredibly creative field, wildly rewarding for those who like to think outside of the box … but there are also roles for those who love architecture whose predilections and skill sets lean towards the straight and narrow. There are times when I wonder “… which one am I?”


photo by Charles Davis Smith

Abbott Street Cabana – I designed and did the construction administration on this project [click the image for additional images and photos of this project]


My daughter asked me a question the other day that required me to put on my thinking cap.


Kate: Daddy, are you the best architect in Dallas?

Daddy: Uhmmmm …. maybe, it ahh, depends on how you – … well, you see, people have different abilities that allows them to take advantage of their particular skills. Some people might be good communicators, others might be good managers. Or, maybe they are really creative and design things that people can’t live without.

Kate: Which one are you?

Daddy: Well, I’d like to think I am a bit of all of those things.

Kate: So you are the best architect in Dallas.

Daddy: ……..

Kate: ……..

Daddy: Well, if you become an architect, I might not even be the best architect in this family. What do you think of that?

Kate: I don’t want to be an architect, I want to be a marine biologist.


Crisis averted for now. I was always pretty good at free-lancing answers, or at least calculated opinions to questions. Since having a child, I have become a master so that I don’t lie to my daughter, but I also don’t address some realities that at 8 years old she doesn’t need to process. I also would like to keep her thinking that her Dad is awesome for a little bit longer.

So what does this have to do with architecture and my opening paragraph? It means that at 44 years of age, and 20 years in the real working world, I still haven’t figured out exactly what sort of architect I am. Am I designer? I’d have to say yes but I would be the first one to tell you that there are better designers out there. What about solving problems along the straight and narrow – yes, I do that, I can’t help but feel that I owe it to the people who hire me are getting a strong balance between  design and construction knowledge. The last bit that I have figured out over the last 10 or so years is that while I still have a long ways to go to meet my individual goals, my communication skills might actually be my most developed skill. (It should come as no surprise that I like to talk.)


Construction Administration story


The blurb above was published in the Dallas Chapter AIA magazine and I had no idea that it was in the article. At first, I wasn’t particularly happy about the way I thought it made me come across. I don’t like to yell – I think it’s counter-productive and doesn’t really lend itself to creating the team environment that I try and create on every project. Now, several years later, I kind of like the quote … maybe because it makes me think that I am capable of moving outside of my comfort zone to get something accomplished.

Because of the skill sets I just outlined, it is easy to see why I have experienced my greatest success while working in small firms where I have to wear many hats. So what happens next? Does a person get to consider themselves a great architect with any one of these skills or does it take some combination of them to achieve greatness.

Maybe that’s why most architects don’t really hit their stride until their late 40’s, 50’s and beyond. I don’t think anybody can consider themselves the ‘Greatest Architect in [fill in the blank]. That’s really a moniker that gets thrust upon a person. Right now I would settle with being happy, paying my bills and having my daughter think I am the best architect in Dallas.

What are your thoughts, what does  it take to be considered great at what you do?




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  • Geoffrey Cavalier

    I am more than half way done with my undergraduate education in architecture and I spend probably everyday trying to figure out what I am good at. With about 60 other people in my year, comparing myself to my fellow students can be depressing sometimes because just about everyone is so good at so many things. Some people are just overall great at everything, designing, drawing, model building, Photoshop, 3D modeling. Some people are masters at just one of those. And then there is me. I take pride in mt Sketchup knowledge and skills, but there are some guys that know more than me. I recently became pretty good at using Photoshop to make all sorts of drawings, but there are plenty of people who are far better. I like the way I approach a design, but I lack “extravagance”, and compared to other projects it shows.

    I have had to realize I can not be the best at everything, and I can not be the best at on single aspect of what it takes to do a project, but maybe, just maybe, I can be the best combining what I can do, with the way I think design should be, and do something better than anyone. What I think I can do is be a problem solver. If there is one thing my B- projects seem to have is that the reviewers seem to think my project actually could work. I actually almost convinced a professor with a doctorate in architecture that a zoo skyscraper could exist. My designs and I are plausible. So this means I do the requirements, but I seem to be incapable of going above and beyond. So I need to work on that, but maybe I can work on being that architect that pleases the client. I fix their problem and give them something that works. Hopefully I can do this cost effectively as well.

    So I am not sure what it means to be a great architect. I am not even sure right now what it is going to take for me to be a good one, ( I’m not even an architect, I’m being really ambitious right now). I just think I am starting to develop one way to be an architect and maybe by the time I’m 50, not only will the way I do architecture work, but maybe it will be great.

    • incredibly healthy attitude to take.

      However …

      You are still incredibly young so try not to spend too much time figuring yourself out or limiting what you think you are capable of. As a student, you spend a lot of time on the proverbial island and all you can do is look across the way at what other people are doing on their island. Real life isn’t like this so relax. And I think you just gave me my next blog post topic.


      • Geoffrey Cavalier

        Thank you for your reply. You make a good point. I think it would be wise of me to explore myself more and architecture in the broadest since of the term. I am in school and this is probably the safest time to do it.

  • I’m a horseshoer and blacksmith, and I teach equine anatomy, physiology and biomechanics at a horseshoeing school. I’ve seen students who were truly awesome horseshoers, they picked up the technical aspects of the job with stunning speed and had spatial awareness coming out the ears. Many of those students couldn’t look a prospective client in the eye, couldn’t come up with a decent handshake to save their soul, and had the business sense of a gerbil. Most of them are now working at jobs where they don’t have to interact with people. On the other hand, some students I’ve met I wouldn’t ask to shoe a horse I hated, but they’ve got amazing skills with people. I’ve tried to hammer as much technical skill as I could into their heads, because those students will inevitably get clients and I can only pray they get good enough at actual shoeing to fail to cripple defenseless horses.

    There aren’t many great horseshoers, and I am certainly not one (yet), but the great horseshoers have five things: technical ability, care for horses, people skills, business skills, and humility. Without humility, nobody can ever learn enough to be great.

  • It’s a fantastic project, Bob. The best architect anywhere depends on the opinion of clients and end users. You win if your client and your building’s occupants think your the best.

    • Thanks Jes – and that’s a great answer. Proof of the pudding is in the eating (or in this case, the living).


  • Big Dave

    As an architect, sometimes I feel there are too many in this profession trying to be great architects, when what we really need are good ones.

    • I’ll bet that if you ask the ones who are generally regarded as great, most of them will tell you that they are simply trying to be good.

      • Big Dave

        Which is, I think, why they’re generally regarded as great.

  • Norm

    Just tell her “yes”. Affirmation of what she already thought was really all she wanted anyway. Our kids are kids for such a short time.

    • great answer Norm. I should have gone with that (but it would have made for a boring conversation here).

      Normally the answers to her questions are immediately followed by “why?” so I don’t think I’ll be getting out of any work here

  • When my kids say ask my input to solve a problem that’s my area of expertise. That’s when I consider myself truly great.

    • maybe as your kids get older (as I know yours are) they stop asking so many questions. At 8 years old, my daughter is a never-ending source of asking questions and seeking input. I think that’s what got me in the position of writing this post in the first place…

  • Patricia

    The peak of creativity is about age 65…I think my architect has truly just hit his stride and now maybe he will get to do even more of his fabulous GREEN projects I hope I hope…he is very good at so many areas…including problem solving, but he does not do enough talking – the silent type – fine wine? needs a referral?

  • Mikheil

    To be considered great, Architect should have excellent design, technical and communication skills. Combination of all three makes one great. Bob you have all three, I think you are very good Architect with clear potential for greatness.

    • very nice of you to say, but I think I like laying around on the couch too much to achieve greatness (unless it’s greatness at “lying around on the couch”)