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Friday Feature – Brian

Jul 30, 2010

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian O’Reilly, and I’ve just officially joined the Via team. Since beginning as a contract employee in April of this year, I’ve primarily provided architectural design support for the SR99 Vent Buildings.

What made you decide to go into your field?
In retrospect, I am surprised it took as long as it did for me to settle on architecture – it seems so obvious now. It fulfills my need for both an artistic and arithmetical outlet – a balance of qualitative and quantitative. My sketchbook page should be filled with both formal explorations, as well as a few rough proportioning calculations, hopefully the buildings I have a hand in will reflect that.

Or, this could all simply be a means of carrying on my childhood obsession with fort-building.

What did your family think of your chosen field?
I happen to be on a long drive from Vermont to New Jersey with my entire family, so here are a few quotes:

“Damn proud”
“Right up your alley”
“All those Lego kits paid off”
“A little surprised you didn’t go into landscape architecture”

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?
Professor Don Corner at the University of Oregon taught me the importance of intent. Such a simple way of evaluating the success of a design, but often overlooked – What is your intent? What is in support of this intention, and what detracts? Easy.

Also, quick shouts out to Tim Simpson for chemistry, John Padden for jazz, and Carl Straub for poetry.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)
Doubtless, it was my lack of direction during my undergraduate. I certainly value the liberal arts education I received; all the same, I suffered a bit of anxiety when, with contemplating my future, I drew a blank. Once the possibility of a career in architecture dawned on me, I was finally able to focus my efforts and feel confident in the direction my life was taking.

What inspires you?
Complex puzzles with simple, elegant solutions. Mid-century Danish furniture. New England barns. Non-repeating number patterns. Scarpa details. Moment diagrams.

What schooling is required for success in your career?
There are several areas of knowledge I consider essential to success in architecture – how you go about getting the knowledge is of less importance (NCARB does not share this opinion).

  1. How to design. Really, this is a way of thinking. It’s the means by which you generate an idea, and proceed with this idea to a final design. The most popular choice for getting this knowledge is going to school – that’s what I did, but I’m sure it’s not the only path.
  2. How to build. Knowing how a building is actually put together is invaluable. Being able to zoom in and carry your concept through construction makes the difference between a nice sketch and an exceptional building. Putting in at least a year or two pounding nails and actually building things is the best way to develop this understanding.
  3. How to communicate. No matter how brilliant a design or elegant the detailing, it will never be built unless you are able to effectively demonstrate to a client that the design is aligned to their needs. The ability to relate to others, and successfully communicate with them is crucial to realizing a project.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?
Those with a left/right brain balance – a healthy mixture of artistic creativity and arithmetical ability. A knack for three-dimensional thinking. Persistent enthusiasm for exploring new ideas. Obsessive attention to detail. Clarity of vision. And, supreme confidence.

What is the best advice you were ever given?
Professor Don Corner, University of Oregon, relating a story from his stint in architecture school:

Student (defending his project): Well, I wanted my building to be different.
Professor: Why not make a good building? That would be different.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)
As became all too clear in recent months, our profession is subject to fluctuation. When I completed my graduate degree in the summer of 2008, I would have been hard put to speak with optimism in regard to job prospects. However, two years later, things are slowly improving, and I’m confident they will continue to do so. For now. The market will, some day, go down again. The question then becomes, how do we position ourselves to weather times of economic bust, while also reaping the benefits of the boom?

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?
Surround yourself with people who share your passion and enthusiasm for the field. You will propel each other to a develop innovations, a greater breadth of knowledge, and a deeper understanding of the subtleties of architecture and design.

Oh, and avoid all-nighters – outside of providing you some mild bragging rights, they generally make you over-tired and stupid.