Architecture stories


Hello all, 

Here I am at my computer on a gloomy Friday afternoon and I was thinking of all kinds of ridiculous events that happened in studio during my last school year...  

It got me wondering if any of you have funny stories, horror stories (the xacto knife is the most dangerous tool after all), or embarrassing episodes from school or firms (current and/or past) to share!

It can be anything... from how you fell asleep during final crit because of your last all-nighter or how a mouse got into your model because your school is falling apart (true story). 

I think it would be a nice end-of-week laugh, what do you think??

Whoever comes up with the funniest or most cringe-worthy story will receive this virtual golden scale: 

Aug 14, 15 1:26 pm

one on the x-acto knife, in this case a large box cutter. My school was a short block away from a hospital, and one morning, close to the end of first year studio, we walk in to the main hallway to find a trail of big blood drops going out and in the direction of the hospital. One of my classmates had been working on his model and using the box cutter on a table with the blade towards him, and sure enough, one of his passes went too far and landed on his thigh, opening a 6" gash. He walked to the hospital e.r. and had it stitched, bu the blood trail stayed for a couple of months for everyone to see.

Aug 14, 15 1:46 pm  · 

Lots of sneaking onto the roof of the building to watch the sun rise over the Santa Catalina mountains...

Oh, and the first couple years at studio we had what we called the "courtesy phone". It was an intra-campus phone that hung in the corridor, and someone somehow got a code number you could punch in and then call anywhere on the globe. Pre-cell phones this was a big deal...The international students (mostly from Malaysia and UAE) would call their families, and all the students who did semesters overseas would call the European friends they made while there.

Then they pulled the phone and a few weeks later some of those people got calls from the University asking "Do you know anyone who would call you from this number?" As far as I know they didn't pursue anyone, but it must have been thousands and thousands of dollars of international calls.

Aug 14, 15 3:09 pm  · 

I was called out by a client, an older gentleman with a cane, to look at an even older farmhouse for renovation.  We went into the house through the back door leading into the kitchen which was a narrow (8-ft+/-) addition across the back of the house.  I went in first, and as I stepped across the threshold, there was a giant snake (6-ft long) laying across the kitchen floor.

I step back immediately and turn to the old man saying "We should come back later."

The old man is between me and the door preventing me from leaving.  Once he understands my trepidation he says "Well, you got to kill it." 

I hesitate, but he hands me a 2x4!  Not wanting to say no to a commission or disrespect the man, I wade into the kitchen, board in hand.  I'm confused and so is the snake.  I don't know much about killin' snakes, the kitchen in small and the 2x4 is a poor weapon.  I decide the best way to hit him is with the end of the board, (more surface area) rather than swing the board and catch an edge.  And so a great struggle ensues- Me dancing around the kitchen, the snake twisting all about, spraying off something noxious so the whole house begins to smell.  After the demise of the snake, we walk the property, as though nothing happened. 

I did not get the commission.

This is an awful story, I know.  One I'm not necessarily proud of or one I'd repeat if faced with a similar situation, but it happened...

Aug 14, 15 4:41 pm  · 

I was on a site visit/final fixture adjustment for an overseas retail project with some coworkers. Thing were pretty intense given that the client had made some significant changes to interior finishes with days (3) to spare. Needless to say all the trades were a little testy at the end of the build because finger pointing was getting direct and personal. 

We had finished our work for the project and were heading out for the opening party and heard scream in the private parking court. I turned to see one of the contractors holding a sizable blade similar to a cleaver above his head, ready to bring it down on another contractor- clearly from a different trade. Fortunately, he was held back by several other persons. That not to say he didn't try again.

Needless to say we got out of there as fast as possible and went to the party.

Aug 14, 15 9:42 pm  · 

Job interview with Philip Johnson, interview by Johnson himself, dressed in his bathrobe, in the bedroom of his NYC apartment. 

Aug 14, 15 10:08 pm  · 

Miles I love that one...I have another Johnson story....almost as crazy....I believe everyone is dead so I will gather my thoughts and tell it later.

Aug 14, 15 10:47 pm  · 

My only PJ story is when I served him and his friends margaritas, back when I waited tables after architecture school.  Five bucks for a 'rita made with Cuervo Gold; that's how long ago this was.  One of his buddies was named Himmler, I think...

Aug 15, 15 12:38 am  · 

JeromeS that story is awful! Poor snake, and poor you to be in that situation.

Miles there *must* be more to that story...did he ask you to show proof of your facility at, um, CAD?

Aug 15, 15 10:42 am  · 

Donna, that reminds me of recently found - apparently printed out email I used to take notes on while reading "Origin of Geometry" by Edmund Husserl with Introduction by Jacque Derrida

14 years old......

If you can't read that, our studio was taking up 70% of the architecture buildings internet bandwidth.  One guy in studio had 2 or 3 characters on Everquest (Evercrack) and I think Kazaa was the popular P2P, although back then to get direct links to say useful "tools" for drawing you had to navigate porn sites, which of course was funny when I tried to help a fellow female student locate some tools..."umm...yeah, sorry about that, been surfing porn site trying to find this really.  well, yeah who doesn't like porn, but this link and this guy said go here and here to get this bit for that bit, etc....I swear"

While at UPENN for grad school, someone told me the architecture building was taking a good disproportional chunk of the campus' bandwidth......

JeromeS that's a great story!

Aug 15, 15 11:48 am  · 

so here is an architectural practice story which will give guys like Balkin's a heart attack and others major anxiety, told on archinect elsewhere but worth repeating...for all you so worried about the title "Architect".....

A developer called me up prior to me having a license -

"Chris, the architect doesn't have time to draft the builder's pavement plan (BPP) for the building department, department of transportation, and Con-Ed upgrade, wondering if you would do this and they will sign and seal."

This is a strange NYC process, basically a circular proposition to get started, one department wants the other department to approve, etc.. before starting, so you do this weird back and forth....or you could just have a pre-filing meeting, but that costs the client they do the dance.

This architect's stamp was actually in CAD and his drawings are always passed along.  His firm probably did a good third of the cheap modern high-rise residential in NYC, mainly Brooklyn.

one day I get a call from the architects' office -

"Chris, did we authorize you to do those drawings?" - Project Architect

"Who are you and I work for so and so?" - Chris

"We are the architects of record, we did not authorize you, etc..."- Project Architect

"Not sure that's my problem, I did drawings for the developer who said your office was supposedly stamping them." - Chris

"Ok, what happened is the developer came in and our secretary stamped the drawings and we weren't really hired.  We need you to state you were authorized by us." - Project Architect

"Haha, really....Ok, Ok you authorized me." - Chris

Aug 15, 15 2:15 pm  · 

Yeah, I seen a few cases like this over the years. The Project Architect has a malpractice issue right there. The stamp should be under exclusive control of the architect and used exclusively by the architect.... no one else. In other words, the secretary should not touch the architect's stamp..... ever. The architect should be the only human being touching the stamp or applying it. 

However, that case is probably too old to go after.

The biggest issue I see in the story is supervision matters but then New York supervision requirements are what they are and not assuming they are like Oregon. 

Aug 15, 15 2:50 pm  · 

I once witnessed a colleague get fired by having a trashcan kicked at him and told to go fucking home, now. His offense: being slow and causing the Partner to miss a 6:30pm appointment with a physical trainer.

The next morning I got a call from the office manager. He was concerned colleague X might not realize he had been fired, and asked me to make sure he didn't return to collect his stuff until Partner Y left for vacation later that week.

In fact he never came back for his stuff - he asked to have it mailed to him :)


Marc, there was a site shutdown on a project I worked on when a fight broke out between the union and non-union laborers employed by two different contractors (big project contracted in separate parts). Unfortunately one person was killed and several injured in the melee. This project was in the US.

Aug 16, 15 2:52 am  · 

I was fired once....

Our firm was joint-ventured with a world-famous architect who was in town for the first time. Our principal was like a giddy schoolgirl around this guy. Insecure and wanting to make an impression, but also a flake and extremely unorganized. 

Anyway I get a call on a Sunday afternoon from the principal, asking what time the hero's flight was supposed to be. I wasn't sure, as I'd booked the flights weeks ago. I drove to the office to check my email. I'd not only forwarded my boss the itinerary, so did the airline. Knowing his nature, I had previously also printed the itinerary, circled the details in red fucking marker, and left it on his desk. I opened his email and found both email itineraries on the first page, in plain sight. I was pissed off.

i get another call from the boss. He'd taken the Hero to the airport without knowing or checking into the flight schedule, which was somehow my fault, and they'd missed his flight. 

A week later I got a call to meet before work, and I knew something was up. Fired. My manager protested on my behalf to the point of crying. Within a couple of months, both she and two others quit, 1/2 the staff.

...And that was probably the best thing to ever happen to my career, in all seriousness.

Aug 16, 15 5:48 am  · 

One of the guys in my father's office was detailed to be liaison in Emery Roth's office for a highrise we were design architects for (Roth was production, my father weaseled the design job away from them). He said there was a little supply room where among other things drafting leads were issued one at time, with every single disbursement recorded.

Aug 16, 15 10:19 am  · 
go do it

Gave a bid for a small project and I padded the bid a little to make it worthwhile and there are some unusual custom elements.

So the client looks at the bid and says  "oh, that is a great price I was prepared to pay $10,000.00 more."

Dammit!! left money on the table.

Aug 16, 15 3:48 pm  · 

Miles, my first job the secretary held the leads in her locked drawer and wrote on a clipboard each time you asked for one.

Aug 16, 15 4:55 pm  · 


That's a terrible story, and a far more tragic end to what was a surreal ending for me.

The party coordinator hired one of the best african-american gospel choirs in the Texas, and a group of African models from Paris. 

Picture people on podiums- stripping to Amazing Grace... 

Aug 16, 15 9:34 pm  · 
go do it

^Picture people on podiums- stripping to Amazing Grace...

OK give me a minute...............................................OK I got it. Pretty cool!

Aug 17, 15 12:35 am  · 
wurdan freo

Hey Tim Sadler The technical term for that type of concrete vibrator is actually, "Donkey Dick"... Well.. Because... Use your imagination.

Aug 17, 15 10:26 am  · 

I accidently let a girl in my design studio borrow a gag (loaded with a cap gun cap) pen....  she did not think it was funny at all

She never spoke to me again.

Aug 17, 15 10:27 am  · 

This one is from my student years a long time ago. Midterm consultation with the Urban Design professor advising our group work. We had to envision an important intervention in a mid-size town of our choice. We had already chosen the town and that was it. No work had been done.

The group is freaking out, and I tell them that I will handle it. I went to the library and stared at the map for 15 minutes. Then we went to the classroom while the professor is talking to the group before us. I grab a bunch of colored chalk and start drawing the town map on the board. The professor only glances over his shoulder and continues the other group review with their plans on the desk.

Our turn comes and I start explaining where the critical point of the downtown area are, how we plan to alleviate traffic by moving it across the river, by creating an urban park incorporating the historic buildings and the river, blah, blah, blah. All using all my arsenal of professor-liked words and more colored chalk changing the city on the board.

The professor then praises us for our hard work in memorizing the urban layout, gives us a few pointers on our ideas, and the go ahead to 
"continue our good work".

Aug 17, 15 10:40 am  · 

So Zbig, the most important part of the story: did you continue the "good work" you showed the prof or did you actually look at the city and realize everything you had said was ridiculous and start over for real?! We need to know what comes next!!

Aug 17, 15 11:31 am  · 

During undergrad there was one particular classmate that would always ask me questions about how to do things in CAD. Most of the time their questions were pretty basic and the kind that could be easily figured out by anyone who put even a little effort into figuring them out. A lot of times they would ask the same question day after day and it was getting very frustrating being their unpaid CAD tutor / on-call help desk. 

One day I had enough so when they asked from across the room how to do something like insert a jpeg* I gave them the following step-by-step instructions without missing a beat:

  • Hit the F1 key. 
  • In the window that pops up type "insert jpeg."
  • Read the instructions and do what they tell you.

They didn't ask me any more questions for a while.

*I can't remember if this was what they were actually asking, but it is illustrative of the types of things they'd ask.

Aug 17, 15 3:05 pm  · 

^ Reminds me of the day I took my professional exam, some guy walked up to me before it started and asked if he could borrow a pencil (back in the day of pencils), said he forgot one, I had 15 freshly sharpened, I told him “No”. Felt it was my duty to the profession.

Aug 17, 15 3:19 pm  · 

My father hired a kid from California and nobody in the office could figure out why.

At some point I made a model with mat board cut into a an open grid to represent a wall of glass with narrow metal mullions. Being that the model was at 1/8" scale, the work was pretty delicate.

California kid sees the model and asks how I did it. I told him I used the electric exacto. He spent a good hour searching for it that day. The office was not exactly the most organize place in the world, I told him it would turn up. For months he keep asking people if they'd seen it. Every time he asked it was all we could do not to crack up. I'm pretty sure he never caught on.

Aug 17, 15 3:57 pm  · 

^ Reminds me of working on a framing crew and asking the new guy to go to the job trailer and get the board stretcher because they cut a 2x4 an inch short. 

Aug 17, 15 4:30 pm  · 

miles, you see Johnson's johnson?

Aug 17, 15 5:32 pm  · 

Donna, we did the work as usual: intense work 22 hours a day for the last two weeks of the semester. We had to provide sheets for the final submission.

Aug 18, 15 8:59 am  · 

My female colleague prepared over several months a visioning plan for an industrial area of the city. This included restructuring several large roadways. During a coordination meeting with the traffic engineer, he told her that her curves were sub-standard.

Which is really uncalled for, especially when he hasn't even met her.

Aug 18, 15 10:52 am  · 

some guy's standards are just too high.

Aug 18, 15 10:58 am  · 

When I was a kid, my dad, who was a dentist, had his office on Vine Street in Hollywood, right across the street from the Capitol Records building.  Back in the mid 1960's , he used to take me with him to the office on the weekend, when he'd go in and do lab work, or to do some repairs on the equipment.  I'd play around in the halls, stairs and elevators of the four-story medical office building... i'd run around the halls, go up to the roof and fly paper airplanes off the building - eight year old kid stuff.  It was an adventure, and on the weekends there usually weren't lots of people around.

One Saturday, on the floor below my dad's office, I was goofing around in the hallway, and out of a door comes this scary looking, gruff old guy, yelling at me.  "Get the hell out of here!  There shouldn't be kids running around here!  I can't hear myself think!  I need quiet!"  He scared the crap out of me.  My dad said he was an architect.  I didn't even really know what that was, but I knew that guy was mean.

I learned years later that it was John Lautner.

Aug 18, 15 5:12 pm  · 

He would have been in his mid-50s but then his graying hair and balding appearance as well as age lines would have made him appear older than his age but also to an 8 year old, someone in their mid-50s would be considerably old. 

He lived for a few more decades. (about a few more decades)

He would have a gruff also Michael Ironside-ish gruff. appearance.

Not to claim John Lautner looked like Michael Ironside... exactly or that incredibly close but definitely carried some degree of shared gruffness and demeanor and composure.

Aug 18, 15 7:27 pm  · 

Maybe its just composure but still... the appeared demeanor can make him more challenging to be say.... easily personable. 

Aug 18, 15 7:43 pm  · 

I'm certain that I deserved to be yelled at. :)

And he was probably a very nice man.  But he will always be "the grumpy guy downstairs from my Dad's office" to me.

He was a great architect.

Aug 18, 15 8:37 pm  · 

I had the occasion to meet a Texas oil man who's nickname was "Eyeball".  He was a long time friend of my  Ex-Laws.  He was in his 70's when I met him.  He was visiting my ex mother inlaw in Greenwich when they were both young.  He had established himself  and  was considering building an home for himself and well with his taste he decided to set an appointment with Phillip Johnson and interview him about designing his project.  So he set the appoint for 1:00 pm so he could lunch at the Plaza with  my ex mother inlaw.  After lunch he went to Johnson's office and the receptionist  informed him Mr. Johnson was running late, would he mind waiting

for his return.  Eyeball, didn't have any pressing matters so he chose to wait.  About thirty minutes later Johnson comes storming thru the door, looks at Eyeball and says come with me.  So Eyeball left  the office with Johnson and ends up spending the afternoon hanging paintings.

Listening to every command from Johnson and paying particular attention to everything he was after.  Come the end of the Day, Johnson thanking him and says, son you did a grand job.  The office will be sending you payment for your time today.  Johnson had no idea he was talking to a potential client up until Eyeball says,  "I'm not a helper, I'm the potential client you were to be meeting with at 1:00 this afternoon."  Johnson became very flustered, and Eyeball says, I think I will go find myself another Architect.  I'm Eyeball hired a number of Architects during his life span.

 In his 70's he would travel to France and rent a Villa and invite any and all of his friends to  stay at the palace on the house. When I met him he had his own Lear Jet and Crew on standby for when he wanted to return to Texas or Santa Fe.  He always sent the most amazing Christmas Gifts to my ex-inlaws. Took my ex-wife and myself out to dinner one evening in Santa Fe, sent a limo for us, dined in the best place in town. I never saw a check come to the table, so I'm assuming it was all just put on a tab.  Always said, you come back and join me at the Opera, as of course he was on the Board of Directors.

Aug 18, 15 8:49 pm  · 

Just starting out I worked for a developer and we were doing (Design/Build) a medium size shopping center. The parking lot was stoned and all the workers parked out there. Day came to final grade & pave, paver arrived and came into the building and yelled “everybody needs to move their cars & trucks!” He went back out, sat in his front-end loader and waited…..nothing. Without further notice he fired up the loader and started picking cars & trucks up and sliding them across the lot…didn’t stop till the cops arrived and pointed a gun at him.

After he got out of jail, many weeks later, after the job was done, he got into a phone dispute with my boss about him holding his retainage, got heated and you guessed it, he showed up at our office building and drove his tandem dump truck straight into the lobby….which was only partly glass!

Within that same year he barricaded himself in his house with his wife & kids until a swat team got him out.

Don’t remember seeing that guy again.

Aug 18, 15 9:20 pm  · 

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