Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Archinect: Where did you study architecture?
Coming out of high school in Switzerland, I figured I'd already started the ball rolling on school loans, so why stop there?! So I went to Yale and got undergraduate degree majoring in architecture, and then to Harvard to get my Masters from the GSD. I graduated with over $100k in loans from the two schools. Good times!
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
I made the leap into architecture during college. Professor Alec Purves' "Architecture 101" was pretty much all it took - where I was considering Art or English as major options, I took an architecture course knowing I'd probably like it, but not realizing quite the extent that I'd fall in love with the subject. Although, I do remember when I was a very small child, someone asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I told them, "I don't know," they asked me what I was good at, to which I answered, "Math and Art". The person (I wish I remembered who it was!) said, "OH, then you should be an architect!" So from that point on during my childhood, whenever people would ask the question, I'd always tell them I wanted to be an architect. It was a prophecy that self-fulfilled.
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
Well it didn't end abruptly. I kept leaving and coming back to architecture, and leaving again. I had architecture jobs, then I'd go into graphic design or web design or landscape architecture - even interior design on a TV show, then I'd be drawn back into architecture. It has a certain pull on my heart that even now I can't deny - who knows, I might go back into it someday. If my history is any indication, I'm already overdue for a career overhaul again. But the most recent break from architecture was a little over a year ago - I was at an event in Washington DC where I met a TV producer who heard that I'd done a small TV show a few years ago. He was adamant that I meet his boss out in California and it just so happened that I was going to be in CA the following week. One thing lead to another and I found myself agreeing to take on a designer position in an already-successful TV show called Designed to Sell on HGTV.
John Gidding Reel
Describe your current profession.
Designed to Sell shoots out of 4 cities, so essentially it's a small franchise. There are 3 other designers, and I'm the newest addition to the team, shooting out of Atlanta. The show centers around the tenets of real estate and the intersection of design and desirability. People whose homes have been on the market fruitlessly write in and if they're picked to be on the show, we come in with real estate experts that point out why the house isn't selling. Then I come in as the designer and propose design solutions to these problems, which we implement and then have one more open house. Inevitably, the houses sell! We've had very few homes that don't sell. Meanwhile, my job has morphed from architect to interior designer on the shoestring budget of the century: I have $2,000 with which to turn three rooms into Shangri La. That said, I have a fantastically gifted team of carpenters and contractors that I work with - so labor isn't part of the budget. I've found creative ways of getting materials and using my architect's background to fabricate some fantastic elements for Designed to Sell . In fact, my approach to the show has been so out of the box that HGTV has recently signed me onto their network, and given me a new show that centers around my private design practice, which I've concurrently started, called "John Gidding Design, Inc" - which essentially responds to a demand in interior design for high-end homes.
Embedded video from [url=http://www.cnn.com/video]CNN Video[/url
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
My architecture education and subsequent career have always been focused on modern and contemporary design, with a specific interest in cutting edge fabrication, materials, and methods of construction. I've had the pleasure and honor of working with some of the country's most talented designers and landscape architects in my profession, so when I decided to go into TV, I brought that body of knowledge with me. I never had any intention of losing that fantastic advantage of having been subjected to design and research-oriented companies that taught me to push the boundaries of design whenever possible. So currently I find I have a very different approach to interior design than many of my colleagues in the field. Whereas there are many talented designers that focus on the surface-based, decorative aspects of interior design, I find I'm more engaged when I'm carving space, essentially condensing an architectural response into the stuff that makes up the built environment - and then having fun with it using all the fantastic tools of the architecture trade. Specifically CAD/CAM technologies, 3D milling, laser cutting, stereolithography and rapid prototyping, and other emerging methods of fabrication. The best part is that as a designer on TV, I'm given daily opportunities to use these technologies for free as the companies that provide these services vie for the chance to be seen on TV. By combining the two fields, I can bring a wholly new understanding of interior design to the homes of Atlanta, and also to the 95 million homes to which HGTV is broadcast!
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
Well, currently, no. The architecture profession is a fantastic one - I'm actively envious of some of the projects that my classmates from graduate school are working on. That said, it's also a thankless profession - one where the monetary compensation is far overshadowed by the investment in time and personal health. My most "successful" classmates have dedicated themselves to helping another architect's star rise, chaining themselves to the computer for 100-hour weeks in poorly-paid jobs. There are so few "best-practice" architecture firms that aren't large corporate design machines, so architects are faced with starting their careers either dismally poor and overworked, but artistically fulfilled, or the opposite where they sacrifice the artistic involvement in return for a benefits package and mildly better working hours. It's just the nature of the beast - architecture is one step too far removed from a direct association with profit-making and lifestyle-betterment (which is of course ridiculous because it deeply affects both arenas). If I'm ever drawn back into architecture, it will be because I'll be able to do it on my own terms - part of which will be hiring designers and paying them well!