I received little of my dad’s DNA. He was an engineer and every time he tried to explain to me what he did for a living, my eyes glazed over. The same thing can happen when we talk about “connecting Sunday to Monday.” Too often it’s a fog of abstractions. But that’s not the case with David Greusel, a principal with HOK Sport Venue Event. He’s an architect who sees his work as a calling…

[Editor’s Note: Mike is taking two weeks off to celebrate his son Mark’s wedding to Christy. This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, the opinion journal of the Work Research Foundation: www.wrf.ca/comment.]

Comment: How would you explain what you do to an interested nine-year old child?
David Greusel: As an architect, I draw the designs for buildings before they are built. That way the people who are building the building know what to build. My work is to come up with the plans for buildings. In nearly thirty years, I have designed a lot of buildings of nearly every type imaginable: schools, churches, stadiums, and grocery stores, to name a few.

Comment: What first drew you to this work?
David Greusel: I can remember as a kindergartener playing on the floor with wood blocks. Adults around me would look at the things I built and say, “He’s going to be an architect, isn’t he?” I didn’t know what an architect was, but it sounded like fun.

Later, in high school, I found myself building models of buildings for my own amusement. So the choice of architecture for a college major seemed fairly obvious. Though I have dabbled in writing and theater work since then, it’s clear to me that I have always been called to be an architect.

Comment: As a novice, what were your most valuable learning experiences?
David Greusel: When I first graduated, I worked for a small firm in Wichita, Kansas that employed six people most of the time I was there. What was invaluable for me was being in the same room as the other architects, all of whom, of course, had more experience than I did. I would overhear their conversations, their phone calls with contractors, and their casual questions to each other (“Does two-by-four cabinet blocking go horizontally or vertically?”). I have often said that the two and a half years I spent in this small office was my real architectural education. It was definitely the reason I passed the architectural licensing exam on my first try.

Comment: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
David Greusel: Apart from Scripture, I think it would be never to make the same mistake twice. It is indisputably human to make mistakes. But to make the same mistake over again means that you’re not learning anything.

Comment: From what sources do you draw inspiration for your work?
David Greusel: Because my current work requires me to design in many different cities, I try to learn as much as I can about the culture, history, and architectural traditions of a place before I start designing there. In the best case, I spend one or several days just walking around a new city, trying to get a feel for it, before I ever set pencil to paper. I am inspired by the builders who have come before me. I want to know why they made the choices they did, why they used the materials they did, and what they were trying to create in their community so that my addition to the city will be part of a continuing conversation, not an architectural one-liner.

Comment: What rituals and habits structure your work day?
David Greusel: It would be nice to be able to answer that I spend the first half hour of every work day sharpening my colored pencils, but that would be untrue. One of the things I love about my work is that there is no such thing as a “typical day.” Frequent travel of course creates immense variety in my days, but so also does the number of projects I have worked on, and the myriad of people I have met and worked alongside in doing all those projects over the years. So apart from drinking hot tea and responding to email, my work day has very little about it that is either ritual or habitual.

[Next Monday, David will share a bit more about the tools he uses and one particularly favorite project – PNC Park in Pittsburgh (home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.)]

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