This month on #Architalks the topic is "First Project". The question that I have been wrestling with while thinking about the topic is how do you define "first"?

Is it the first building that I worked on when I finished college? For me, this was a high school remodel. This was a complicated project. It was an existing school that the gym, auditorium, and a couple of other spaces were being kept while the rest of the school was completely re-built. And all of this had to be done while the existing high school was still functioning on site. Coming straight from the “theoretical” world of architecture school this was a serious eye opener. My job was wall sections.


Or is my first project the first project that I stamped as a licensed architect? This was just a small restaurant remodel. The project was pretty limited and yet still my hand was shaking like crazy when I was actually stamping the drawings.

Am I going in the wrong direction? Was my first project earlier than this? Was "my first" the first thing I touched in an actual architecture firm? My first exposure to working in an architecture firm was doing renderings of small coffee shops for a small firm in Moscow, ID. At that firm, I moved on to also do my first “real” architecture work.


Do I need to be looking further in the past? Is my first project the first project I designed in Architecture school? In my case, it was a pigeon coop designed “in the spirit” of Robert Venturi. Looking back on this project it is strange to call it my “first project”.

HMMM…. How to define first? That is a hard question. Every project has its firsts. At the start of each project I have the benefit of beginning with more knowledge than last time, but I also begin each project trying to find out what I DON'T KNOW.

Ahhh... I have got it. I think my “first project” should be defined as where I learned the big lessons about architecture (and life). So my first project is officially….

dah dah da dun….

Working on a Cattle Ranch. A little unorthodox, but let me try to explain.

smells like cows

It was the greatest project possible for a teenage cowboy that mostly just wanted to be outside (read NOT IN SCHOOL). There were many, many lesson learned there that have stuck with me through until today. There are some great lessons that can be learned from working with cows.  Here are a couple of the major lessons that still guide my work.

The differences between working with cows and sheep are pretty significant. With sheep, you can just “lock horns” pick up an ewe and move her. I don’t know if you have every tried to lock horns with a full grown cow, but I am here to tell you the cow will win. With cows, IT TAKES A CAREFUL DANCE. Each of you testing your ideas and trying things until you get to the final decision. I find this to be true on every architectural project I have worked on, all of the many factors need to touch each other in just the right way until there is a beautiful rhythm.

dancing with cows

Another important lesson is that IT IS BETTER TO LISTEN THAN TALK. There were so many people on the ranch that knew more than I ever will. For the most part, all I had to do was keep my mouth shut and I would learn a lot. This is definitely true today. Every client that I have worked with knows more about their needs than I do, so if I can just listen I will know more about how to help make their project great.

I don't know about every cattle operation, but ours operated on pretty thin margins. There was never more than a quarter tank of gas in the truck. When it came time to make repairs to the fences and buildings the first question we asked was how can we DO MORE WITH LESS. Over the course of a couple of years, I pretty much rebuilt a shed using little more than wire and duct tape. This same thought is imbued in all di'velept projects. We are committed to higher quality than duct tape and wire, but given all the constraints; budget, time, and program, how can we do more with less.


OK, this may not, strictly speaking, be a project. But there are many lessons from building, herding, and listening on the ranch that are inherent to my approach on architecture.

This post is one of many in the #Architalks blog series. If you have ever thought that all architects think the same, all you have to do is read through some of the posts below. The diversity is apparent.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
My First Project: The Best Project Ever Designed That Wasn't

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
My "First Project"

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project - Again

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
first project first process

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: My first project

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
my first project: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The First One -- A Tale of Two Projects

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
Why every project is my "First"

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
"My First Project"

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Early Years of My Architecture Career - My Role

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
I Hate Decks

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[first] project [worst] crit

Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
My First Project - The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Project Me

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Fake it 'til you make it

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
my first project

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
My First Project

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project

Aaron Bowman - Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Community 101

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage

Nisha Kandiah - TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
The Question of Beginning

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