Our career is one that most definitely has no set pattern to one’s success.
Zaha Hadid came to visit us when I was working in Philip Johnson’s office. Philip said to her, “Build something, even a dog shed in your back yard.” She had won the Peak competition, but had no built work, and this recommendation started her career as a true architect.
Edward Barnes, my first employer in New York City, told us a story during his 60th Birthday lunch. He said that he almost gave up around the age of 50, until a small addition to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis could not be done due to poor foundations in the old building. Because of this, Barnes was commissioned to build an entirely new museum. This was his first major success, and caused him to be catapulted to the I.M.Pei / Philip Johnson league.
Philip Johnson, my 3rd employer, got a start from a quiet residential architect when Mies needed an office in New York City for Seagram, to a high rise master with full spectrum class A clients. His part in MOMA architecture department and donations also kept him well exposed to media giving him all important intellectual insight to what ever was going on every minute.
Steven Holl, with whom I had the pleasure to help creating Kiasma in Finland, had a long story to tell. Like most of us, he had almost given up when a student’s parents chose him to do REAL architecture… and live like a monk in order to afford living and designing, as he was one without parental trust fund to survive, unlike Johnson and some others.
It was Philip Johnson who picked up the design of Piano + Rogers for the Pompidu Center in Paris. Rogers was biking bare-footed to teach when he found out about their success. Eero Saarinen picked up the floor design of the Sidney Opera House. This proposal had been rejected by others.
Architects have gotten their major commissions from attending a game at a baseball park (Peter Eisenman), or being in an elevator at the right time with Donald Trump (Costas Kondylis). A visiting Japanese gentleman said to James Polshek, “Why not come to Japan and build some nice buildings?” The rest is history.
So how did I get started?
At age 5 I loved Japanese images of structures and temple gates.
At the age of 11 I fell in love with the images of F. L. Wrights Taliesin East, which I found in a Life Magazine article.
At 14 my art teacher wanted us to draw a perspective study. I said I wanted to design a house. Her architect husband had a collection of JA (Japan Architect) and Detail Magazines from Germany. After couple of months I did my design, and her husband said to me, “That will be your career.”
Throughout my teens, I lived at Alvar Aalto’s designed university Campus at the Technical University. I loved the way each building sat beautifully, forming comfortable and ever-changing vistas.
I worked all hours that could while I was a teen. My jobs ranged from being a press photographer and congress technician/sound engineer, managing student cubs and being a DJ. As a consequence, my grades were not good enough, as my department was the MOST difficult of all University departments.
My second love, apart from painting and photography, was music and sound engineering. I thought it would support me better than painting in a small country like Finland. But I had managed to get international recognition in photography by doing an album cover for John Mayall. Through this, I met people in music who wanted me to continue to learn sound engineering in London’s Apple Road studios. This included a conversation with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant telling me how they made their music sound so different. From there I was recommended to study at George Martin’s AIR Studio at Oxford Circus, London. Eight weeks later an opening for Rolling Stones Mobile came up while I was visiting their office to see if I could join them in recording the Black Sabbath European tour – and I got the job (after one week trial).
The 24/7 music world and associated travel allowed me to compare environments. I was attending live recordings for acts like Traffic, Deep Purple, Bad Company and others. On the way back from one such trip in London City, I looked over Hammersmith overpass and said to myself, “there has to be a better way,” just as I had said about photography and music before.
And thus my search for how to study architecture was reignited. A year later I found myself at NELP Department of Architecture, though still continuing to do special recordings with the Stones in Germany and others in Stones Mobile Studio. The combination of being able to travel and study projects around Europe while also designing school projects was a blast. I particularly enjoyed my 3rd year thesis about art museums. It allowed me to see dozens of museums is short succession while doing research and thinking of design. My findings from the thesis still apply after some 35 years.
I applied for an internship at Aalto’s office, but a few days later he passed away. So my plans shifted. I went to Central Europe, but they didn’t seem to like British education. My professors suggested that I go to United States…
And this is where the practical and philosophical comparisons between Europe and US start in this book, including earnest and ‘not just fun’ pictures from the rock and roll period, and architecture travel images from European architecture.
Tips for 1. ‘Pre’ architecture phase, 2. For each year in architecture program, 3. And perhaps the most important one: how to choose the all important first job, as this sets the stage, THE foundation for entire career.
And as we don’t have any more professional fee structure as it was until middle of 1970’s based on the difficulty of the project, how can one protect and still grow to become solid professional him/herself from endless hiring firing due to fluctuations in project flow in the office.