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VIA Architecture: Friday Feature: Steve McDonald

Mar 02, 2012

Meet Steve McDonald, one of the newest members of the VIA family:

Who are you and what do you do?  
I am Steve, and I am an aspiring guitar player, dad, and architect. The latter two items take up a lot of  time, so the aspiring guitar player is a perpetual thing.

What made you decide to go into your field?  
In summer 1978, I was traveling from New London, Connecticut to Spokane, WA  via the Empire Builder, and we had a layover in Chicago.

I remember looking out our hotel window at the then Sears Tower. An old gentleman asked what I was looking at, then described to me the skyline- but specifically the Sears Tower and its bundle tube design. He said he was an architect, and from that point forward that’s what I was going to be. I’ve still never designed a super high-rise building to date, though.

What did your family think of your chosen field?  
Yea… he’s going to college!

Who is the teacher who had the most influence on you and why? 
Harry Merritt-  in college he taught me to see what wasn’t there, and then draw it.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced along your educational path? (academic, financial, motivational, family or peer pressure, outside distraction, etc.)  
Probably financial. In 1987, I took out $8k in loans during college and was petrified every time I signed for a new loan.  I  wondered how I was going to pay this off when most of my peers were graduating with no job or an unpaid internship—wait– isn’t that how it is now?

What inspires you?  
Right now, it’s my family.  My eldest is almost off to college and her excitement of next year is infectious.  The middle daughter wants to play division-one soccer and go pre-med.  My kindergartener is just learning that everything can be dismantled with a screwdriver. My wife is embarking on a photography career. They are all embracing change to be the best they can, and their passion is powerful.

What schooling is required for success in your career?  
Learning architecture from all phases.

What kind of people are the most successful in your field? Are there any specific attributes?  
The soup-to-nuts architects that can, or have, done all aspects of architecture.  I admire pragmatic solutions that can be built because, ultimately, I became an architect to see work get built.

What is the best advice you were ever given?   
Don’t buy a boat and live on it.

Is your field growing? (ie. is there room for new entries and is there career growth?)   
I would say it’s stabilizing. Because of the horrid attrition over the last few years, we are reclaiming past architects and absorbing new ones. But yes, there is a future for aspiring architects.

What advice would you give someone considering a career like yours?   
Learn your craft from all perspectives. Some components of making architecture may not be so sexy, but when you are aware of all of them you elevate you credibility as an architect.

What keeps you motivated in your field?  
Learning something new every day with the thought that I can pass it along at some point. Watching buildings get built is pretty cool too.