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Friday Feature: Peter H

Feb 11, 2011

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Peter Houseknecht and I am an Architect who has worked predominately on a wide variety of private development commercial projects. Many of these were hospitality projects in which I was involved with the Interior Design either separately or in addition to the architectural design. These projects included resorts, conference centers, hotels, restaurants and all other types of food service, casinos, country clubs, wineries and combinations of these uses. I also have experience with government projects of various types and some private residences as well. Currently I am the project manager for the Evergreen Line that is a new expansion of an existing transit line in metro Vancouver, BC.

What made you decide to go into your field?

Perhaps it started at a very young age with creating elaborate electric model train and racing car platforms with people, buildings, covered bridges, farms and streetscapes forming little towns complete with landscaping, snow and lighting effects. Some elements were model kits while other parts I built from scratch with balsa wood. My grandfather was passionate about model railroading whose hobby I shared with him starting as far back as I can remember.

What did your family think of your chosen field?

They did not really care one way or another so long as I was happy

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why?

It’s hard to just pick one as there were several teachers but also employers, work experiences and clients that equally qualify as well. My first architectural graphics professor for teaching me to communicate graphically in a variety of ways as well as to think with a pencil or other drawing implement. My second year architectural design professor for really opening the door to what a building design entailed, how to approach it and to think about the sequence of events and hierarchal order of a design and the resulting experience of it’s inhabitants. My fifth year architectural design professor for sharing his great design mind in concert with an open mind, enthusiasm, sense of humor, flexibility and hanging in there – don’t let the bumps and obstacles get you down attitude.

Various employers for giving me a full breath of opportunities, tasks and responsibilities very early in my career. Others for expanding my skills and arena of practice particularly with hospitality work that combines so many uses, design talents and creative disciplines in a tightly interwoven and expressive project type full of imagination when at it’s best.

Client’s with which I enjoyed a truly collaborative and open minded relationship who allowed me the freedom and trust to practice our profession to its full potential without premeditative end results. This provided them with the full benefit our services can offer as well as resulting in a project exceeding their expectations with a lasting contribution to their business, their client services and their lives.
This in turn provided me with a truly deep sense of satisfaction that our hard work did mean something, it mattered, made a difference and realized an old school time dream – it did and can make the world a better place. Their excitement as a result of the open collaborative process without question has been the greatest reward of my career. Likewise other collaborative experiences, yes even including with general contractors, where teamwork and project goals were paramount with everyone pulling together with back support in lieu of stabs to make the best possible project were also deeply satisfying. The shear power and joy of true and fully committed teamwork is electrifying and restores hope in human spirit especially in today’s world.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)

School was a really heavy and challenging workload – considered at the time to be second only to pre-med (persons on a degree track to enter medical school not to be confused with others experimenting with bio-chemistry and less certain of their major). There was a very high drop out rate and lots of all-nighters meeting deadlines. The constant work load and long hours in the studio challenged my commitment and motivation on more than one occasion.

During nights darkest hours yet again sweating, seemingly endlessly, over your design work while producing perfect ink presentation drawings and cutting 5-ply Strathmore board with razor sharp knives to produce pristine models, occasionally if still possible counting to ten hoping all your digits were still with you that by now are looking like the walking wounded and redoing any mistakes while strategizing how to shoehorn in some time for that rather inconvenient structural engineering final later this week that you haven’t nor could ever have studied enough for, all in hyper sleep deprived mode that is on the verge of answering the question of “just how long can a human being go without sleep before spontaneously collapsing into a coma” that was way beyond any military research on the topic, eyeballs ready to write you a “Dear John” letter, your bed a distant memory, unknowingly enacting the Walking Zombies before they were called such, occasionally uttering random thoughts and curses in what would at other more rested times be recognized as the English language but whose afflicted overtones are likely more recognizable to your Neanderthal ancestors than current day friends and family.

Without provocation a soft wave arrives in your consciousness that at this very moment “normal” people are perhaps sleeping –peacefully – free of stress or worries – but the real test is that at this very moment in time back at the dorm there is a party going on which is registering on the Richter scale. Knowing you could be right now in the heart of it all in the arms of someone you’d give your eyeteeth to be with – but no……..someone must take the high road and answer the call to save the world by learning to create the best environments for the spirit of humanity to flourish within taking that to new heights while your buds are out exploring the boundaries of how to flourish in any environment they find themselves in quite successfully and could not imagine in their wildest dreams anything of greater height educationally than what they were experiencing right now thank you very much and are having the time of their lives passionately pursuing their personalized Studies in Humanity curriculum. How do you spell – I really want to be an Architect!What inspires you?
Most things in life qualify – it’s a matter of how open my mind is and how observant I am at any given moment. When the lines are open the magic seems to come out of nowhere and reveal itself in many and different ways – sometimes literal but most times in other ways. Viewing elements and activities through conceptual eyes tends to trigger a chain of ricocheting thoughts and ideas taking my imagination to new unrelated and unexpected places. At other times and more profoundly are ideas, thoughts, concepts or new perspectives that arrive in my mind as a seemingly unconnected package that appears out of nowhere. Likely just transferring from my un-conscious mind to the conscious dimension, but presents are fun.

Otherwise viewing other architects and artists work from any discipline usually gets my imagination flowing as does engaging in some form of creative activity regardless of the medium involved.

What schooling is required for success in your career?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Syracuse University that was a 5-year program. I think that is still the typical program stateside although there are other paths. That was followed by a minimum 3 year internship working full time in the profession to be eligible to start taking licensing exams. My first license was earned in California which at the time had a 3 stage exam process that took about a year and a half minimum to complete due to infrequent scheduling and sequencing. The heart of it was a 5 consecutive day exam lasting up to 12 hours a day and a 26% passing rate.

Today I feel a Masters in Architecture is the current minimum standard I would recommend to someone considering the profession. I would also suggest including coursework in urban planning and business as well as other related design fields of the profession such as lighting and interior design. Computer proficiency in a variety of CAD and 3-D modeling programs is paramount as well.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?

People who are well connected and architecturally talented followed by people who are well connected followed by people who are talented. Networking with peers and other people connected with the industry you want to practice in is important and getting involved with your community is helpful. An inner passion and natural heartfelt commitment to the profession is helpful as it is often more of a lifestyle than a job. It is a profession that should be chosen more out of a love and enjoyment of what it entails and one where that passion outweighs financial reward.

What is the best advice you were ever given?

Continue on and obtain your architectural degree as it is one of the best educations you can get – then go and be a politician or anything else but an architect. Well guilty as charged – I did not take the advice.

Follow your heart, your inner voice, your bliss and your truth. We’re working on this one – heh who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks and guess what – these are evolving and moving targets.

Follow the money – aahhh has anyone seen hide or tail of this – any hints – rumors – is there any left?

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)

Yes and no. No as this has become a profession that is amongst the first to be affected by any negative changes in the economy and one of the last to recover. So there are more and sharper spikes and valleys with regard to work opportunities than ever. I have lived thru several recessions with this being the worse by far with reports I have heard of general unemployment between some 9 and 14% but with estimates of 50 to 75% of architects who are unemployed.

Yes with there being more firms and people in the profession and in schools than at times earlier in my career. Also firms are less restricted to local or national markets than in times past with more opportunities to work internationally. During my college days and early professional years most architects in the USA were male and of Anglo origin. While that may statistically be the case, thankfully I have witnessed a vast change with many more women and people from all origins enter the field that has really enriched my life both professionally and personally a great deal.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?

You need to love the work and most of what it entails, but it is a field in transition. Try to get a real world baptism into the profession as early as possible particularly during college by talking with architects, volunteering with a firm, engaging in work-study school courses and working at firms during school breaks etc. to help determine your passion. Then get the best education you can and work for the best firms you can particularly where you will get exposed to all aspects of the profession, which are quite varied. Keep an eye on and engage with new technologies, sustainability and issues of shifting from the current North American car oriented paradigm to a new model as they will all have profound impacts on the field in the years ahead as will current paradigms of architect-client-general contractor models change to something new.

One Comment

  1. It’s good to hear your voice Peter, having been a former employee where Peter was a principal in an Interior Architecture firm. I miss all the the late night suppers that were served in the studio but not the impossible deadlines that I thought would surely kill me. Hope you are well! Nancy BR.