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My Mentor's Mentors
What I discovered they all had in common
Posted on August 1, 2023 @ 5:42PM

"There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. "
~ Christopher Alexander

I became a self employed architect, opening my own studio relatively early in life, soon after becoming licensed. Many would say it was far too early to make such a move. 

I was mindful at the time of the adage that 'there are no young architects' and I worked passionately to ensure those wonderful first clients who entrusted their projects to us had the very best that I - and the amazing young staff I was so fortunate to be surrounded by - could possibly provide. Looking back on it, I can say that although I am far wiser and more experienced in so many ways now, those years were as productive professionally as any in my career.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what made a good architect good, and really great architects great. It was certainly clear that architecture demanded a complex, deep, and diverse skill set. I quickly realized working as a principal was profoundly different than working as an employee. And I learned over and over that whatever aspect of excellence I might be failing to focus on at any given time would rapidly force itself into first position as a primary concern. It was a time of tremendous growth.

Perhaps inevitably I started thinking about my mentors; those who had found their way to practices that were inspiring to me, for various reasons and in different ways... and I followed that inquiry upstream, considering in turn who inspired them, and why. There was something of an epiphany here for me when I realized that regardless of the enormous diversity of these people and their practices, they seemed to all have three things in common: Insatiable intellectual curiosity, evidenced by ongoing learning and travel; very strong academic backgrounds in history and architectural history; and some form of ongoing engagement with teaching along with practicing.

Once that realization became clear to me, I resolved to seriously follow their examples on all three counts. The path to the levels of excellence of my mentors remains ever as elusive, but I am indebted to them for the examples they continue to set and the influence that early realization had on my career and life.

Author: Sam Rodell

Sam has practiced as an award winning architect for forty years, and has also built many of his clients' projects.  He is licensed throughout most of the western USA and Canada, and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) which expedites registration in other states and provinces. He was the first Certified Passive House Consultant architect in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.