Archinect
anchor

You can't go home again. Or can you?

"I’m of an age when very young architects sometimes ask me, “When do you go out and open your own practice? And where do you practice?” My answer is, when you’re no longer capable of taking instructions from another architect, you should open your own office. And where? You should go home. Now, I suppose that sounds simplistic, since Chicago is just a great city of modernism—yet it is my home.

"It’s not important where you’re from, but you need to go home. Going home shows an allegiance that will be returned in kind by your city, by the city government, by the powers that be. My coming home after Yale has long since paid off. I wasn’t born on the right side of the tracks, but it doesn’t make any difference. You show your loyalty to your place of birth, and it will pay you back in spades."

-- Stanley Tigerman, as recently quoted in Architectural Record

"A ship is safe in the harbor, but that's not what ships are for."

-- William Shedd

This is a question I've been wrestling with for quite a while, especially now that I'm almost licensed and I'm ready to stop worrying about becoming an architect and start paying more attention to what kind of architect I want to be, and where. Until recently I had every intention of sinking my roots in NYC and building a career there, but the housing situation finally got to be too much for me to put up with, and I ended up moving back to my hometown of Cincinnati about six months ago.

My long-term goals are to eventually start my own practice (or at least take on a leadership / equity role at an existing practice) and do thoughtful design work that I can feel good about. I certainly don't see myself as the next Gehry or Zumthor, but I know that I'm capable of designing stuff that's a far cry better than your typical developer-driven schlock. Just for frame of reference, I have a lot of experience in higher ed projects, civic design, and corporate interiors. I design best when I'm working directly with the end users, rather than on spec projects for a third party who sees design strictly as a commodity. Starting my own practice, if it happens, is still probably a few years away at this point; I've done some small side projects here and there, but I feel like I need at least a few years as a project architect at a design-oriented firm before I'd be ready to take that leap.

I'd also like to live someplace where I actually enjoy living, where I can get outside the city and see cool stuff on weekends, and where I can eventually afford to buy a house or condo.

With all that back story out of the way, I'm torn between staying in my hometown of Cincinnati and setting off for greener pastures in the Pacific Northwest, particularly Seattle. Let's look at the pros and cons of each:

Cincinnati

Pros:

  • It's comfortable, familiar, and I have a good network of friends and family here. My parents are getting older and starting to deal with some health issues, so that's also a factor.
  • Cost of living is dirt-cheap compared to Seattle, and I could probably own a decent little home here within the next 3-5 years.
  • The city is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, with a lot of new development happening downtown and in the close-in neighborhoods. Although not as booming as Seattle, there seem to be at least a few opportunities for an architect to get their foot in the door.
  • As far as travel times go, Cincinnati is a half-day drive from Chicago and a 90-minute flight to NYC, even if airfares from Cincinnati's joke of an airport are obscene.

Cons:

  • While the city itself is somewhat moderate if not progressive politically, it still sits squarely in the middle of Duck Dynasty territory, and aside from a few city council members, Cincinnati's political leadership from city hall to its congressional delegation is about as progressive as Attila the Hun.
  • The city's design culture is similarly conservative; you'd think orange brick and beige EIFS were the only building materials that had ever been invented. There are a few small boutique firms who do nice work (mostly interiors), but the city's architecture scene is dominated by a handful of large legacy firms that tend to be very corporate and formula-driven. Local corporate clients and contractors also tend to be incredibly corporate and formula-driven.
  • The weather is terrible for at least six months out of the year. The older I get, the less tolerance I seem to have for temperature extremes, and my allergies are a constant source of angst here. I'm literally allergic to my own hometown.
  • It's technically my hometown, but my family moved away when I was 10 and I didn't move back until I came to UC for grad school. During the interim, I've spent most of my adult life living in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and a few other places. After all that, living back in Cincinnati often feels like living in my mom's basement.

Seattle

Pros:

  • Construction is booming there, and it seems like nearly every big firm in town is on a hiring spree.
  • I've always been in love with the design culture of the Pacific Northwest, particularly by firms like Mithun, Olson Kundig, Miller Hull, and others who design within the language of Northwest modernism.
  • It's a very progressive city politically, and I won't feel like bashing my head against the wall whenever a local pol opens their mouth. At least not as often, I presume.
  • The weather and natural setting are my idea of perfection. I'm fine with 50-degree temperatures and overcast skies (must be my British ancestry), and I could spend a lifetime exploring the Cascades. Where else can you stand on a downtown high-rise and see three national parks on a clear day?
  • Easy access to Portland and Vancouver is icing on the cake.

Cons:

  • With the boom comes the bust, and I wonder how long the current flurry of construction will continue. Another market crash or a natural disaster (hello, Big One) could bring it all to a screeching halt overnight.
  • Although I have a few friends out there, I'd basically be building my network from scratch in an unfamiliar city. Presumably this would be less of an issue the longer I'm out there, but it's still daunting at first.
  • The cost of living keeps going up by leaps and bounds. Although still a bargain compared to NYC or SF, I'm still pretty upset about being priced out of New York and I'm leery about putting myself into a place where that might occur again. Actually buying a house would probably have to wait until I either get a plum commission or marry somebody who makes as least as much money as I do.
  • The miracle of flight aside, Seattle is a hell of a long way from Cincinnati and NYC. I worry about being out there when I get the late-night phone call saying my mom or dad is in the hospital and things don't look good.

So, what will it be? Stanley Tigerman or William Shedd? I'm not asking the peanut gallery to decide for me, but I'd appreciate any insights or constructive advice. I'm hoping to have reached some kind of firm decision by the end of the year, and if I decide to move, it would be at the end of April.

Thanks in advance...

 
Nov 9, 15 10:35 pm
shellarchitect

maybe something to consider is what else you want in your life.  Many of my friends who moved away after college have returned now, partially because they were having children and wanted to be near their families.  No idea if that is even on your radar, wouldn't have been on mine, but might be something to consider.  

Perhaps if the local architecture scene is banal that is an opportunity to blow some minds without having to really do something risky

Nov 9, 15 11:24 pm

I'm single and don't want children, so in that regard Seattle probably has the edge. Although it's changing, Cincinnati is still very blue-collar Catholic, and the norm is that you get married right after high school and start making babies.

The opportunity to make a splash architecturally has crossed my mind as well, but I'm not convinced there's enough of a client base here to sustain that type of practice.

Nov 9, 15 11:31 pm
jla-x

being from Ny and living out west for a while....I can confidently say that the west is the best.  that said, fuck NY, SF, LA...all the architecy places....go find new ground...maybe places that seem the most in need...stake out some turf in a place that is less saturated with designers...be open minded...my 2 cents

Nov 9, 15 11:33 pm
Olaf Design Ninja_

banal local scene doesn't mean you have to be banal right? local kids get local respect.

some of your experience should land you sustaining jobs.

you already tried NYC, so not sure if Seattle will be different.

i'm voting Cincy

(i've never really been from anywhere, so it's hard for me to understand or sympathize, other than I know from a short high school experience, when you're hometown it means a lot on many levels)

Nov 9, 15 11:43 pm
whistler

Best to be a "big fish in a small pond". Be intelligent, get involved with your community, volunteer, be creative, strategic and most importantly entrepreneurial......

and of course produce quality work, the clients will find you.

Nov 9, 15 11:58 pm

I don't know a simple answer or anything like that. 

Whether you can go back to hometown and establish a viable career in your profession or not depends on circumstances in life. The same can be said about going to another place and establishing a career, a business, etc. in your profession and doing so viably is no simple answer. What is most crucial for you depends on things that I can not remotely determine which is more viable for you.

You bring valid pros and cons for each location. Your parents didn't necessarily raise you up to live in their home. They raised you up to live your life. I'm sure they would love you to visit and not be a stranger and perhaps be around in time in need, they also want you to be successful in your career. 

Although you mentioned network of friends, who are your friends? Are they viable for your business in starting up? On the other hand, you had been to different places so going to Seattle won't be new. You would probably get a job working for a firm for maybe 5 years to build professional connections like connecting with developers, building friends, getting yourself connected before setting out on your own. 

You may still have to do that in Cincinnati. 

I understand wanting to be close to your parents or being available to be there when they are in need of console. Do you have siblings that live long-term nearby the area? I understand that concern. I also understand that professionally, Cincinnati isn't compelling. I also understand that going back to Cincinnati where your folks live can mean they can become a distraction to your professional objectives as a career. It can derail things a bit. What's best is hard to foresee. No crystal ball here.

Alright: One of my godparent's son, lives in Alabama but takes time to visit her in her old age with health challenges. I tell you this that you may consider doing that as it become a viable option. I would consider that if you decide to live in the pacific northwest. 

Hopefully, nothing requires you to do that in the next 5 years. Hopefully, your parents health remains relatively good for the next 5 years. Positioning yourself to be able to do make periodic visits throughout the year, use of online communication like Skype (with video conferencing) and keeping close as you can is something that may help in those times. 

I believe your parents would want you to succeed in your profession. 

You mentioned that you have friends and family in Cincinnati but that may or may not be viable to setting up a firm.

I'm not sure I provided you much insight or constructive advice.

I'm sure others have some good ideas, advises, etc.

Nov 10, 15 1:00 am
no_form
Balkins you need to leave home before you can return to it.
Nov 10, 15 1:08 am

No shit, Captain obvious.

My own life circumstances are my own. I had been away from Astoria for 3 years. I also like the Pacific Northwest and Astoria area. BTW: I used to live in the Los Angeles area in my earlier part of my life.

Lets not derail the thread to be about me. OKAY?

Mr. Cole deserves that. 

Nov 10, 15 1:15 am
midlander

David,

I think you're overthinking this. You don't seem even slightly excited by the possibility of returning to Cincinnati, so there seems to be no potential upside to it. Give Seattle a try - you certainly will have opportunity there to learn good things that matter to you if you do decide to move on later.

My definition of home is the place where I feel happy to return to after travelling, and where I have friends I want to stay close to. It's not the same as my parents' definition of home - and that's fine.

Nov 10, 15 3:05 am
midlander

^to add to that - I feel like I have 2 or even 3 homes. Sometimes you've got to keep moving, but always hope to return...

Nov 10, 15 3:09 am
tintt

I agree with jlax and would look beyond both Cincy and Seattle. Astoria perhaps? Lol. Seriously, why not find a medium sized city in a climate and political scene that fits you -- could be a great place to be and start a business. Look at a map, it is a big piece of land we have here.

Nov 10, 15 7:58 am

The network is important if you're looking to start your own business.

I lived ten years in Philly followed by ten years now in Indy.  I can say that it easily takes years to build the beginnings of  a network, and that's only possible if you *do things*, meaning get involved, volunteer, go out and talk to people of all kinds constantly.

In Philly, I really didn't have a network outside of my coworkers until I had a baby, then suddenly the mom's groups opened up to me. In Indy, my network exploded when I started my son at a public school and started volunteering tons of time there.

If you're not interested in children, of course, those networks aren't so open to you (you don't want to be the single man with no kids at school showing up to your local PTA meeting just to volunteer, trust me!).

Ten years in, with my husband running his own business and serving on a neighborhood board and me serving on two boards and doing tons of volunteer work, we have a broad, important network and are very, very tied into our city.  You've moved around so much, David, that you must not feel that kind of network anywhere. So it seems to me you have two very hard questions:

1. Could your current network in Cincy, combined with the burgeoning bits of progressive thinking happening there (as it's happening in every city right now), build into something meaningful in ten years, or is it truly too much of an entrenched uphill battle?

2. Will being far from your parents be a burden? I feel heartache every day being far from my parents; we do keep present in each others' lives, but I know I only have them for a limited number of years. And it saddens me that my son is growing up only seeing them several times a year.

I know I'm not adding anything to what you've already considered, but I guess I'm reinforcing that these issues ARE all things to consider.

Just two more things, and they contradict each other: I've always been a fan of the saying "Better to regret the thing you did than the thing you didn't do." On the other hand, Seattle is, from what I read from afar, getting to be extremely expensive. It's heaven on earth in almost every other way, but I honestly feel like it's getting to be SF or NYC level cost of living.

Nov 10, 15 8:20 am
poop876

no_form, I spit my coffee on my screen reading that comment!

Nov 10, 15 8:54 am
shellarchitect

you also mentioned depression in another thread... I think is important that you recognize that some things will follow you where ever you are, and moving across the country may only be a temporary distraction.  That doesn't mean any of your well reasoned pros/cons aren't valid, they certainly are, and it's never an easy decision.

Nov 10, 15 9:55 am
no_form
Call up your alumni network. Immerse yourself in the local scene. Donna was totally right. Do things to get involved and participate. Talk to everyone you already know, even friends who aren't in the industry but live where you want to be.

If depression is holding you back use talk therapy, use meds, any and all healthy resources to empower you to do what you really want.
Nov 10, 15 10:52 am
null pointer

My two cents: I'm probably never leaving the city. The knowledge you get in a good local firm here is extremely specific and confers an advantage that pays off only in places like this. NYC's building and zoning ordinances are full of arcane shit that you can only understand through ritual divination (devouring every fucking DOB tppn, and every CPC commission report in the past 10 years). 

I'm surprised you left, David. Were you doing any projects with larger developers? Any clients that you may have run projects for? I mean, it's relatively easy to leverage contacts here. Everyone wants something and everyone is busy. Have you considered coming back?

Nov 10, 15 10:58 am
no_form
Live where you want to be not where you think you should live. Do what you want to do not what you think you should do. Anything less will just add to your misery and those around you who you thought you were helping.
Nov 10, 15 11:00 am
SneakyPete

I have been told that Seattle does not take kindly to imported people. Basically if you're not FROM there, it's hard as hell to ever feel like you belong.

Nov 10, 15 11:05 am
no_form
Sneakypete that's what you were told. But I have a friend who moved there and took donna's advice has made a great life for themselves there. Intention, dedication, passion. Wherever you bring those characteristics you can succeed at making new friends, finding jobs, etc.
Nov 10, 15 11:14 am
3tk

Donna covered most of what I'd say:  if you're going to try to start your own firm or become an equity holder in an existing firm, you're going to need a fairly large and solid network.  The consultants/contractors/colleagues that you can call for advice w/o having to be billed are essential in starting and maintaining a viable business - not to mention having good clients.  Most of my friends who have their own practices took 2~3 yrs to become more or less stable and profitable (and that was before the financial crash).

Having lived in smaller towns (but those that had a good design community) and larger cities (NYC/StL/Mpls), I can say that there are advantages to both.  In a smaller community, once you're in the network, it's pretty easy to navigate and have a voice (conversely if the market is saturated or money is tight, it's hard to break into); while a big city gives you access to a level of design and allied arts/professionals that are often a level above others.  It's more about what you want.

Nov 10, 15 11:48 am
Larchinect

It's a lot more exciting, in my experience, staking out new ground than living in one of those 'architecty cities' 

Nov 10, 15 1:10 pm

David, what about Louisville, or Lexington? both of them are cool cities, and close to home. I know Kentucky makes you furious, but it just suffers from what every state suffers from: blue cities surrounded by vast red rural conservatism. 

Nov 10, 15 1:12 pm
BR.TN

F-U Tigerman I'd never pass up NYC for the largest city in my home state.

"Best to be a "big fish in a small pond""

whistler, true. Always better to be the best player on a minor league baseball team than a mildly skilled player in the MLB *rolls eyes*

I must be young.

Nov 10, 15 1:26 pm

In some ways it just depends on what you want to do. I'm finding that I'd rather have a direct impact on my personal community in ways I can enjoy and feel local pride in; if I wanted to explore the latest technology in reactive curtain design, I'd work for SOM NY doing projects in China. Neither one is better than the other, they're just different goals.

Nov 10, 15 1:32 pm

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses so far. I'll try to respond to a few points:

My definition of home is the place where I feel happy to return to after travelling, and where I have friends I want to stay close to. It's not the same as my parents' definition of home - and that's fine.

Agreed. At various times in my life, Chicago, New York, Philly, the Pacific Northwest, and even Jacksonville, Florida have felt at least as much like "home" to me as Cincinnati.

Seriously, why not find a medium sized city in a climate and political scene that fits you...

You pretty much just described Seattle or Portland. "Medium-sized" is subjective, of course, but after living in four of America's five largest cities (sorry, Houston) I'd consider Seattle to be mid-sized. Cincinnati often feels like a small town by comparison, in good ways and bad.

1. Could your current network in Cincy, combined with the burgeoning bits of progressive thinking happening there (as it's happening in every city right now), build into something meaningful in ten years, or is it truly too much of an entrenched uphill battle?

That seems to be the million-dollar question. I alternate between optimism and pessimism, sometimes on a daily basis. I'm always curious to know how top firms like Bohlin Cywinsky Jackson and Lake Flato manage to  get started and thrive in second-tier cities like Pittsburgh and San Antonio, respectively.

2. Will being far from your parents be a burden? I feel heartache every day being far from my parents; we do keep present in each others' lives, but I know I only have them for a limited number of years. And it saddens me that my son is growing up only seeing them several times a year.

Eh, it's complicated. While I love my family, our relationship isn't exactly the stuff of a Norman Rockwell painting. I have mixed feelings about living away from them.

I've always been a fan of the saying "Better to regret the thing you did than the thing you didn't do." 

Agreed. Worst-case scenario if I move out there is that things don't work out and I end up moving back here (or elsewhere). Been there, done that. Worst-case scenario if I stay in Cincinnati is that ten years down the road I'm kicking myself for not moving to Seattle back when I had the chance.

On the other hand, Seattle is, from what I read from afar, getting to be extremely expensive. It's heaven on earth in almost every other way, but I honestly feel like it's getting to be SF or NYC level cost of living.

That's my worst fear as well, or at least my worst fear that doesn't involve a megathrust earthquake. There are a couple of key differences between the situation in Seattle and those cities, though:

1. SF and NYC, for differing reasons, made it almost impossible to build new housing for about 40 years, thinking that people would somehow just stop moving there and that housing prices would magically drop. Seattle, by contrast, is going gangbusters building new housing. (There's an anti-development faction in Seattle, but they were soundly defeated in last week's election. If the election had gone the other way I'd probably be singing a different tune.)

2. The Seattle metro area takes up a much smaller geographic area than NYC or SF, and housing prices drop off pretty quickly once you get a few miles outside the city. Although commute times would become an issue, neighboring cities like Bremerton and Tacoma are still very affordable.

I'm surprised you left, David. Were you doing any projects with larger developers? Any clients that you may have run projects for? I mean, it's relatively easy to leverage contacts here. Everyone wants something and everyone is busy. Have you considered coming back?

I miss NYC like crazy and I'd never completely rule out the idea of moving back, but somebody would pretty much have to offer me my dream job with compensation to match, and I'd need to find some effective way of staving off the burnout that would inevitably occur. Renting a car and driving up to the Catskills a couple times a month turns out to be much easier said than done. I think I'm reaching a point in life where having a strong connection to the outdoors is becoming more important to me than being in the middle of a global city 24/7.

I have been told that Seattle does not take kindly to imported people. Basically if you're not FROM there, it's hard as hell to ever feel like you belong.

People say the same thing about Cincinnati, and I'm in sort of a weird gray area between native and transplant. Yes, I was born here and have family here, but old-timers look at you with suspicion if you didn't go to high school here. I have a few friends in Seattle, all of whom are transplants, and they haven't had any problems fitting in. Seattle is expecting to grow by 120,000 new residents over the next 20 years, so the nativist element is well on its way to being marginalized.

David, what about Louisville, or Lexington?

Nothing against either city, but if I decide to stay in this region of the country, I'd just as soon stay in Cincinnati.

Nov 10, 15 2:11 pm
gruen

Seattle is not heaven on earth. Except, there are no mosquitoes. 

No one who lives in Seattle is from Seattle. So you don't need to worry about that. 

Do not underestimate the value of knowing people and being known in a community, especially when owning / starting a business. I started a firm in a new community and over two years later I'm still the new guy. But you can do it. 

Do not underestimate the value of a vibrant economy to assist with the starting of a business. A rising tide lifts all boats. This gives an upside to Seattle (also Des Moines IA, but you won't choose that...)

Seattle is extremely expensive and is full of crap residential design as the baseline housing stock. A very depressing place to buy. Perhaps some bargains in condos.

Seattle is welcoming to modern design. Yes, it is also building like crazy. 

Seattle has a billion architects already. 

Seattle might as well be in another country if you are from the midwest, it's really far away. Get used to the airport if you hope to see your family again. 

The surrounding communities are also extremely overpriced and are really far away. Do you really want to live in Everett WA and commute to Seattle? I wouldn't. Maybe some of the neighborhoods south of downtown. 

Still, I'd come down on the side of Seattle - and I'd probably buy a 35 foot classic cabin cruiser and do a liveaboard and then spend a ton of time networking during my first year or two. 

Since you are single, I will mention that there are a lot more men than women in the Pacific Northwest. This may or may not be a good thing for you. 

Nov 10, 15 2:25 pm
Carrera

All great comments, like the subject….I agree with both opening quotes….a dichotomy of sorts…but I will tell you that when all is said and done in your career it is family & roots that will sustain you and your “career” will turn into a snapshot.

Have to say that I’ve seen lists like this before and they always seem to be centered on what the firms & cities can do for someone rather than what the person can do for the firms and cities….

…..Thinking regionally, David is sitting at the midpoint of an I-71 corridor between Columbus & Louisville, adding Indy to the mix creates a golden triangle with Cincinnati 100 miles from all three…no excuses there…..a Lake-Flato made it happen in a town the same size as Cincinnati and is twice as far from Houston & Dallas…hell they could have made it in Astoria….it all comes down to who you know in this business and the people in that triangle can provide an ample supply of opportunities….the question is what does one have to offer….San Antonio didn’t put Lake-Flato on the map, Lake-Flato put San Antonio on the map.

The Cincinnati region is a “safe harbor” with plenty of waters for sailing your “ship” and “it is (your) home”.

Nov 10, 15 7:25 pm

David Cole, 

I wouldn't worry too much about the megathrust but a well built house that is stable can survive the earthquake. Remember, the Inca built unreinforced masonry that can survive the largest earthquake is seismic history. Be on sound and high ground, you should be good if you live in the Pacific Northwest or at least in-land some.

Where I am, it isn't the tsunami as much as the earthquake that I would be most concerned with.

The ball is in your court so. 

I would tell you that not all of Seattle will have the high price. Some core areas in high demand like downtown will likely be more expense but the places outside the 'hot spots' are going to be less expensive but there is pros and cons to that.

I'm sure you will have good arguments for the different places but at the end, it's your decision.

Nov 10, 15 8:54 pm
Larchinect

Its not about being a 'big fish in a small pond.' It's about blazing your own path--the antithesis (and what I find most young and naive tend to believe) is that practicing in a big city will somehow make you more talented.

It doesn't it will just make you more proficient practicing in THAT environment, which is particularly difficult to break into as an entrepreneuer (which is what this discussion is really about).

Unfortunately, what keeps the brain drain alive in many small towns is this romantic fantasy that you have to go to the big city to make change. What actually happens in most cases is you become a cog in the machine with little real impact on your local (or global) community. 

Sure, we all get better at tennis by playing with a pro. I did some time in the 'city' (Denver and Fort Collins) and credit a lot of my philosophy to my experience there, but as has been stated in another thred, 'employees will tell you to stick around until you know it all, while employers will tell you that is a fallacy.'

If you cant make an impact in a cow town, you're sure as hell gonna have a hard time making an impact in NYC. 

My point is, don't underestimate how much local design activism can push your professional development.

Nov 10, 15 10:10 pm
Carrera

Larch, well stated.... it does come down to "design activism", believing passionately in what you do and not being shy about standing on a box and telling your story and sharing your concerns and solutions.

Had a great architect once tell me "I'm not a clerk in a store taking orders". Think Lake-Flato is a great example of this, they believe in something... mostly themselves...and built a practice around their Texas Hill Country roots.... which would be a good strategy in Ohio.

Nov 10, 15 11:56 pm

I'm all in favor of being involved in the community and pushing for positive change, no matter where I live. Even in a megacity like NYC there are plenty of ways to get involved at both the neighborhood level and a city-wide level, so I don't necessarily buy into the idea that you need to be in a cow town to make a difference in your community. I also don't buy into the idea that you need to be a native to be involved in your community; even in a city as insular and parochial as Cincinnati, some of our most effective community activists have been people who moved here from elsewhere. The fact that they bring an outside perspective often gives them more credibility than somebody who's been here for seventeen generations. That said, even the most modest changes in this town are usually ferociously opposed by the entrenched old boys club, which yields incredible power in this city. More than one person has had their career ruined because they ran afoul of the entrenched power structure. A friend of mine is a passionate community activist who works for a huge multinational engineering firm, and local tea party groups have tried at various times to get him fired and have gone to court to have his voter registration revoked. It never ends.

People who know me on social media know that I'm very involved in my community and that I have no qualms about getting involved and voicing my opinions. That won't change regardless of where I'm living, and even places as progressive as Seattle still have plenty of big challenges that demand public involvement, especially from architects.

The big question to me is which place has more fertile ground, both for me to get involved and make a difference, and also to advance my career and perhaps start a practice. Becoming the Lake Flato of Cincinnati would of course be something worth striving for, but I wonder how realistic that idea really is. As much as I love that idea, I'd still rather be a "cog in the wheel" on well-designed projects at a big firm in Seattle than a solo practitioner struggling to bring in small-scale kitchen renovations and deck additions in Cincinnati.

Nov 11, 15 7:56 am
Larchinect

Im far from being a native in the small town we're in. I dont think you need to be in a cow town, just challenging the idea that you have to be in a big city. There are a million ways to stat a business. For us it started with being in a place we liked, with a lot of the things we desired for our personal lives. I also found the place that seemed to have a balance of potential for growth, and a community small and progressive enough to afford us access. In other words, my business plan has focused on solving local issues and doing lots of work to separate us from the pack. Maybe it sounds cliche. If it were me i would start with a place i really care about with reasonable space for growth and change. Of course, it helps if theres a little wealth and appreciation for design.

Nov 11, 15 11:10 am
Larchinect

Fertile ground=culture that appreciates design or has the capacity to intellectually and space (socioeconomically and geographically) for some type of growth. Lastly, it has to be a place you can really care about, that inspires you one way or another and makes you want to be there.

Nov 11, 15 11:14 am
Carrera

David, think that one needs to think regionally when considering a practice in Cincinnati….was discouraged to open an office in Cincinnati for the reasons you state and I failed to think regionally….Columbus isn’t like that, is still "home" and has great firms like NBBJ & Schooley Caldwell....when thinking “cog”.

Nov 11, 15 11:51 am

I dont think you need to be in a cow town, just challenging the idea that you have to be in a big city.

Being in (or at least near) a big city is just a personal preference on my part. Not denying the possibility of starting a viable practice in a smaller market, but I'd at least like to be within the orbit of a mid-sized city if not actually within the city itself.

Fertile ground=culture that appreciates design or has the capacity to intellectually and space (socioeconomically and geographically) for some type of growth. Lastly, it has to be a place you can really care about, that inspires you one way or another and makes you want to be there.

Agree 100%

David, think that one needs to think regionally when considering a practice in Cincinnati.

I think that's my problem with Cincinnati, especially within the context of Larchitect's comments above about fertile ground. I love Cincinnati itself, and because it's my hometown I'll always have a strong sentimental bond to it, but to be blunt I really don't have much of any affection for the region in general. I often joke that I wish I could pick up Cincinnati and move it to the north bank of the Columbia River across from Portland. (Would anybody really miss Vancouver, Washington?) The big appeal about Seattle is that I can be passionate about and inspired by the city itself as well as the Pacific Northwest region in general.

Nov 11, 15 12:13 pm
Xenakis

Oakland is essentially an east coast city by the Bay - we refer to it as the Jersey side" in that SF is hell bent on becoming the next Manhattan

Nov 11, 15 12:33 pm
vado retro

any place in the united states is duck dynasty territory once you leave the metro area. and i should know because i actually do live in the epicenter of duck dynasty territory and it is not a hell of a lot different than the suburban/rural areas that surround any large city. The only significant the logo of the sportsball team appearing on the cap of the inhabitants.

Nov 11, 15 1:27 pm
Carrera

^ I’m with you on that “duck dynasty” syndrome….I live in a 600k metro area and was at the drive up ATM behind one of those behemoth trucks with a pair of rubber balls hanging on the hitch…truck was too big to fit under the canopy….guy was standing at the ATM wiggling with his hand in his pocket (thought he was high on something).…when he got his money he stepped to the side and took a piss on the wall of the ATM, in full view of the lineup….gave us that “what’s your problem” look as he got back in his truck….so they do drive….into the city….to take a piss.

Nov 11, 15 1:50 pm
jla-x

True the Duck Dynasty territory is pervasive, but I have been really surprised with the number of "good" clients that I have found scattered throughout "Duck Dynasty"  Territory...I always feel good when I can infiltrate such territory...because generally thats where change is needed most.  For instance, I just did a huge landscape design for an older house.  The landscape was completely grass...I designed a xeric garden using many native plants that really sets the house apart from the "fuck nature" attitude of the surrounding community.  

Nov 11, 15 2:08 pm

It's not the Duck Dynasty territory itself that bothers me so much as the Duck Dynasty people holding elected office in my city, county, and state.

Nov 11, 15 3:35 pm
Xenakis

Duck Dynasty? Tell you what - "better move it when ahm own your tail with my Chivey Crew cab"

Nov 11, 15 4:39 pm

I think you're going to run into Duck Dynasty people wherever you go. If it weren't for the overwhelming population center in King County ... Washington's politics would probably be a lot more red.

Nov 11, 15 5:02 pm

^ I'm sure the same could be said for a lot of blue states

Nov 11, 15 5:06 pm

Yes, but the overwhelming population center of King County is what makes it a blue state. Same with Multnomah County in Oregon, or NYC for that matter. Cincinnati and many other smaller cities aren't big enough and/or liberal enough to sway state politics in the same manner.

Nov 11, 15 5:15 pm

I get it. My point was that with the population center you might find a lot of like-minded people electing politicians you agree with. Outside of that population center, or even on the fringes, you'll find the opposite. 

Nov 11, 15 5:40 pm

Yes, I'm aware of that. My point is that I'd rather live in a state where the like-minded progressives outnumber the Duck Dynasty crowd and elect the politicians who make the laws that I have to live under. Austin, Texas might be the most liberal city on the planet, but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans when they live under the thumb of a bunch of inbred bible-thumpers.

Nov 11, 15 5:56 pm

Back on topic, I should also mention that I'm considering Portland as well as Seattle, although the list of pros and cons in the OP wouldn't change very much. Cost of living is somewhat less expensive in Portland, but differences in typical salaries (per the 2015 AIA Compensation Report) and tax rates (no state income tax in WA, although OR has no sales tax) mean Seattle actually comes out somewhat ahead when it comes to budgeting. But Portland has much better public transit and several awesome tiki bars. Priorities.

I have another trip booked out to Seattle in mid-March, during which I'll probably also take a side trip down to Portland. By that time I'll hopefully have some interviews lined up and I'll be in a position to look at some apartments in each city.

Nov 11, 15 6:29 pm

David, we recorded the podcast today and I specifically asked our guest to make a comparison between NYC and Seattle, just for you!

Nov 11, 15 10:26 pm
cncguy
David,
Great post! I'm in the middle of thinking through leaving a great career in Texas to move to New Mexico(architectural equivalent to a third world) unfortunately I have no base to draw from, the only reason I'm going is to join my wife who took over a family business. It's very political there, the one and only interview process I went through for a campus architect position ended with they already had their "guy" and used me to fill the needed requirement for the state. Four interviews and complete waste of time....so if anyone has insight please let me know.
Nov 11, 15 10:48 pm
geezertect

only interview process I went through for a campus architect position ended with they already had their "guy" and used me to fill the needed requirement for the state

That was probably the most honest feedback you will ever get looking for a job.

Nov 12, 15 7:10 am

Block this user


Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: