The Education of an Architect

(Baby Vampire Architect)

(Baby Vampire Architect)

Summer Break. Two words synonymous with school.

Summer is the best time of the year. But Summer Break? The original intent of summer break was for children to have a reprieve from school – only to go work on the farm.

Today, parents of school age children frantically plan lengthy vacations during the summer months. In my firm alone, every parent has a week or two off this summer.|1| Thus, the term Summer Break now only applies to the nostalgic thoughts and memories of our frolicking school-days.

I recall in 2nd grade my Dream Career was either to be The President, a Professional Baseball Player, or a Schwan’s Delivery Truck Driver.|2|

Mom my chuckled and proclaimed, “You could probably already become a Schwan’s Truck Driver.”

Then, “What is school for?” I pondered. With little effort on my part, I could already achieve my goals.

This is probably a poor representation of Dream Careers, yet parents often tell their children they can achieve anything – through hard work! But 2nd Graders are all about the glamorous careers. Still, many parents have a 2nd grade mindset and covet a glamorous legacy for their offspring – by desperately attempting to recreate their own long lost dreams – instead of actually nurturing what the child yearns to pursue.

Fortunately, most glamour dreams are easily overcome before puberty. I set aside my Yankees cap and had decided upon being an architect sometime in High School. I’m not going to claim that I was destined to be an architect due to my affinity for legos at age 6. For, I should’ve also been destined to become an actuary due to my memorization of Don Mattingly’s baseball statistics.|4| Yet, somehow eager people pushed me towards engineering, because I excelled at the newly-termed “STEM” fields. But I also coveted art and drawing, and I presumed that architecture was a more creative profession than the being a locomotive driver. Plus, I was good at Math!

However,after years of clipping “architectural” home plans from the Great Falls Tribune’s Sunday paper (because, I clearly would need to know this if I were to become an architect) my High School guidance counselor told me to reconsider my architectural ambitions. Not because it is a low-paying career, or that my Advanced Placement Calculus class would serve no purpose in the field of architecture,|5| but because her daughter was currently in architecture school – and it was hard. Perhaps she was a psychological savant – and knew that only impassioned individuals who were doubted could succeed in architecture.

My High School had two guidance counselors. The High School Guidance Counselor serving last names N through Z was impassioned, always gave me helpful advice, and most importantly could identify me from my fraternal twin brother.

However, I was unluckily born with the last name beholden to the non-savant High School Guidance Counselor serving last names A through M.

If my authorized High School Guidance Counselor serving last names A through M was in fact a savant she wouldn’t have mistakenly given me my twin brother’s SAT scores. And furthermore, during our “mock job interview” she wouldn’t have questioned my usage of the word “firm.”

High School Guidance Counselor serving last names A through M: “Hi Jeffery, I’ve reviewed your hypothetical Job Cover Letter, and there are a few areas that are confusing to me.”
Me: “Ummm I’m Brady…”
High School Guidance Counselor serving last names A through M: “Oh. Brady. Right. You need to be more specific when applying to this hypothetical company. Is this a law firm? Or an architectural firm? You keep generically calling them the “firm”
Me: Umm, I told you I was interested in architecture. I was assuming “the firm” was not a John Grisham novel, but rather a hypothetical architecture firm. Furthermore, if my hypothetical “firm” doesn’t know if they provide architectural services, or law services, then they probably have an identity crisis beyond the scope of this fake job interview session.”
High School Guidance Counselor serving last names A through M: “Perhaps, but I think you should still be more specific and say, “I am passionate about your ARCHITECTURE firm’s work. Otherwise it’s confusing. And this forces me to stress that maybe another career option would be more suitable. My daughter is in Architecture School and she works extremely long hours.”

Who was this miscreant to tell ME that I shouldn’t be an architect? I mean, I graduated in the top 5% of my class, was amazing at Math, loved art, and most importantly – had been clipping architectural floor plans from the weekly Tribune for months.

Stubbornly, I followed in the footsteps of her hard-working daughter, and I too went to Montana State University, to work long hours studying architecture. I would consistently stay in the dungeness, windowless, Cheever Hall – with a leeky roof – until the wee hours of the morning; only to go home to grab a Costco corn dog and to change my crispy socks before my 8am class. Other undedicated, apathetic, students would eat regular meals, maintain a typical sleep schedule, PLUS have time for extracurricular activities – only the truly fervent architecture students would work long hours until their eyes permanently began to droop.

Ultimately, I too became an impassioned Architecture School graduate, and now I often wonder if, perhaps, High School Guidance Counselor serving last names A through M was actually a true guidance-counseling savant.



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1 And if they don’t have summer vacations planned, then why have they inexplicably failed to return my wedding RSVP by July 1st?
2 If you don’t know what Schwan’s is, then you never grew up in the country, and never had a personal ice-cream delivery service. Ooh. And Flintsone’s Push-Pops!
4 Shouldn’t an icon (whom I have 120 individual baseball cards of in my possession), and a .307 career hitter receive even 30% of the Hall of Fame votes?
5 I have still never calculated the rotational inertia of a Select Structural #1 Grade Douglas-Fir beam.

This post is part of the #ArchiTalks series in which the multi-faceted architect Bob Borson, of Life of an Architect, selects a theme and a group of us other (architectural) bloggers all post on the same day, on the same topic. It’s similar to those 3rd grade art projects – where every classmate gets the same piece of (photocopied) paper with identical squiggly marks as a starting point – and then all the students use their creativity to produce an original masterpiece. This month’s theme is Summer Break. To read how others interpreted the theme please click the links below… Let’s hope that my squiggly letter B is transformed into more than my name (B)rady.

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Architectural Bucket List

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Summer Break = Extreme Architecture

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Summer Break and Aunt Loretta

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
summer break

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
2 Simple Systems That Will Transform Your Studio

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Vacationing with an Architect

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)

Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc. (@hawkinsarch)

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Summer Getaway

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project (@miss32percent)
#Architalks 10 – Give me a Break!

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#Architalks 10 – “”summer break””

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks: There, but not there

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Summer Break

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Architecture Students Summer Break

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Architect: Gift or Curse?

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Summer Vacation

Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
A Brilliant Summer Break

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
summer break [or] summer school

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Summer Break #ArchiTalks

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@simplybrinn)
Summer Break


  1. I’m right there with you on the floor plan clippings. Started when I was about 10, when my family would visit model home communities after church for fun. I’d take them back home and ‘fix’ them (let’s be honest, builder plans needed it!). That’s how I landed in architecture :)

    • brady ernst

      I probably have a binder of clippings somewhere still stored in my childhood bedroom. At the time I definitely believed I was going to need Cottage House #23’s kitchen layout. But after the first week of Architecture School I was like “never mind, I should’ve been clipping abstract point, line, and plane shapes.”

  2. This is exactly the sort of post that I wanted to read – and I hope you will take it as the compliment I intend it to be when I say that I wish I had written this post.

    We have Schwan’s even down here in Dallas, Texas and since my Dad originally hails from Minnesota, he (of course) demanded that my mother order red meat and frozen chicken cordon bleu in bulk. The summer before my senior year in high school, my folks went on a two week vacation leaving me at home to fend for myself. To repay them for their confidence, I ate 4 T-bone steaks a day for two weeks (no vegetables). My Dad almost killed me when they got home and found the deep freeze laid to waste.

    Thanks Schwan’s!

    • brady ernst

      Ha. Thanks Bob.

      When I was about 6 years old, the new Schwan’s driver changed his route and we no longer could find push-pops or that delicious circle of cheesy bread with the marinara cup in the center.

      Therefore, it was a phenomenon 5 years later when I gazed out the window and witnessed a giant yellow truck driving up our road – with a dust trail in its wake. I bolted out of the door and started yelling for everyone to come. “Could it be!”- my family exclaimed.

      You would have thought a miracle had occurred that day – another new Schwan’s truck driver had added our house back to his regular route.

    • brady ernst

      Yeah. One would assume that the Architecture School should be the most inspiring building on campus – not the one where you have to tape visqueen above your desk to divert the leaky roof water away from your models.

  3. I think this is one of the best of this series. It’s great story telling with plenty of soft sarcasm. I’m sure I’m quite older than you but our high school lives were quite the same. I had no counselor; I’ve been a pioneer my whole life figuring it out as I go. Greensburg’s Tribune Review still posts the house of the week but I stopped clipping them over 30 years ago. Working long and late is paying off and we have great stories to tell.

  4. Very fun post to read. I too was encouraged to pursue engineering. Which probably even made more sense for me as i had little to now art background to speak of in high school. But i must say, i have never regretted my decision to pursue architecture.

  5. Really enjoyed this post. I did not grow up with Legos and we did not have career counselors in high school (apparently, I didn’t miss out). I was good at math too, and was checking out the engineering school I was going to attend, when I accidentally walked into an architecture studio. My trajectory changed right there. BTW, love the way you use footnotes.

    • brady ernst

      Thanks Sharon,
      I’m glad you accidentally found your passion. And hopefully your navigation skills have improved ;) (winky face)

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