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


Good topic and interesting discussion.

I think it's sad that politics plays such an outsized role in how people interact with each other and relate to each other. I think it's giving too much power over to politicians / sociopaths to decide where to live based on which team controls the politics. The difference between red and blue is so minute on so many issues, and still we have been tricked into caring about which asshole will be elected. And the regular people continue to get screwed. That's a fact. Local politics is a little different, but not by much in my eyes. Maybe since we are tricked so easily we deserve to be screwed.

Enough about politics -  I went to UC, so I have an affinity for Cincinnati. I never worked there, but some projects I see being built are fantastic. There seems to be enough 'fertile ground' there to sustain a design-driven practice, especially when thinking regionally like Carrera and others have mentioned. I think De Leon Primmer Workshop (Louisville) is a good comparable model to go along w/ LakeFlato etc.

Great point about the number of tiki bars in Seattle. My mind is made up for you David, do your tiki bar thang and move west. Seriously though, good luck w/ the decision.

Nov 12, 15 10:19 am  · 

+++De Leon Primmer Workshop

Nov 12, 15 3:52 pm  · 

Thanks again for the responses… This thread has helped clarify my thinking. De Leon and Primmer Workshop is an interesting example. They do great work, and that’s the type of practice I’d ideally love to establish someday. They’re often held out as an example of an innovative firm that has managed to thrive in a small city, but they’re also interesting to me because their decision to launch in Louisville was purely a business decision; my understanding is that neither partner had any personal connections to the city when they first arrived.

If pressed, I’d probably say I’m 80% in favor of heading off to Seattle next year, even though there’s a compelling case to be made for staying in Cincinnati. That said, I reserve the right to change my mind several times between now and the time I actually have to pull the trigger, and I probably will. But for me, it boils down to the consequences I’m willing to accept if either locale doesn’t work out.

If I’m in Seattle for a few years and things aren’t working out, I can always move back to Cincinnati or somewhere else. Doing so would be a major disruption and possibly a career setback, but it’s a scenario I’ve already faced and I'm willing to accept it.

However, if I decide to stay in Cincinnati a few years and things aren’t working out, I don’t want to end up kicking myself for not moving to Seattle back in 2016 when I had the chance, before getting tied down with a mortgage and becoming too old to make a fresh start someplace new. That’s not a scenario I'd be willing to accept; it gets back to Donna’s quote about regretting the things you did rather than the things you didn’t do.

My parents and their health is an issue, but they know how hard I’ve worked to become an architect and I don’t think they’d want to see me limit my possibilities on their account. Also, if running my own practice doesn’t work out or if I merely decide that I prefer the structure and stability of being an employee, Seattle offers far more options for that than Cincinnati.

Nov 13, 15 9:49 am  · 

You have to go to Seattle. If you are somewhere where you feel good and where you want to be, you won't regret it. Take a leap and build wings on the way down while you can.

Nov 13, 15 12:07 pm  · 

^^ While both are GSD, de Leon is from SF, but Primmer has Midwest roots as he went to Kent State & Ohio State before GSD…..grew up in Eastern Ohio...."Home" can be regional.

Nov 13, 15 6:33 pm  · 

^ In that case, the Pacific Northwest has always felt more like home to me than the Midwest, my affection for Cincinnati notwithstanding.

Nov 13, 15 6:39 pm  · 

Since I've spent my whole career in Seattle and AM more or less from here, I can at least speak to that option.

Seattle is a great town in which to be an architect. No question. The economy is strong and fees are high. It's been good to me, and I have never left for long.

But Seattle is a difficult place to break into if you're not "from" here, which despite comments made above, many people are. Seattle is the biggest small town in America, with everything that implies.

Seattle also has way too many architects, so the competition is intense. Because many successful firms are headquartered or have significant presence in town, Seattle punches way above its weight in the design world. That plus quality of life draws many aspiring design professionals to town. These are cannon fodder for those who are already established here. It's fine if you don't mind being cannon fodder, but at least go into it with your eyes open.

Despite the large number of designers here, Seattle itself is culturally VERY conservative. I don't mean we vote Republican or whatever. I mean that there is one way of doing things, and that's it. And that way of doing things was set awhile ago. Maybe before you were born. Deviate from it at your peril.

Which manifests in a lot of odd ways. When Seattle does big signature design projects, they tend to be horrible messes driven by an outside ego run through the local meat grinder, like the Experience Music Project or Central Library, or vast monuments to mediocrity and design-by-committee. The "Seattle Process" for getting projects approved is second only to San Francisco for its sheer, nonsensical torture by a thousand cuts. Nothing is ever straightforward in this town.

We do have some really great architecture here, but not nearly as much as you would expect for a city which otherwise prides itself on being an engine of innovation and tastemaking. I can probably count them on one, or possibly two hands, with fingers left over.

Most Seattle firms do all their best work elsewhere.

Honestly, I think Tigerman's advice is good: put down roots and devote energy to your career in a place where you are already connected. Move home, wherever that is. Build up the place you know and love, with people who know you. That's what I did, at a time when Seattle was far, far, far, far, far from being an attractive place for an architect to settle down for the long haul, and it was a very good choice.

Nov 13, 15 6:52 pm  · 

Gwharton, change a few details about Seattle's conservatism, and it sounds like you're talking about Cincinnati. Cincy can be so insular and parochial that it often feels like a small town one-tenth its actual size. If a city's design culture was my only criteria I would've stayed in NYC or moved back to Los Angeles, but I'm hoping to find a spot that strikes a balance between design culture and quality of life.

Cincinnati probably has more "signature" buildings within its borders than Seattle (mainly due to the University of Cincinnati making a conscious decision to hire signature architects to design new buildings on campus), but I'd argue the more everyday projects in Seattle are of a consistently higher standard of design than in Cincinnati. Your typical high-rise apartment tower going up in the Denny Triangle without much fanfare would be the talk of the town here.

What I'd like to do over the next few weeks is try to track down a couple of former professors who have their own practices in town and pick their brains about the climate here. I wonder how many of them would be able to survive from architectural practice alone without also teaching full-time at UC.

I may also meet with my bank to see how realistic it would be for me to buy a house or condo here within the next few years, versus someplace like Seattle which is already a hot market. Housing prices in the more desirable parts of Cincinnati are already starting to approach those in Seattle, while other parts of the city continue to be plagued by crime and disinvestment. Guessing which burned-out neighborhood will be next to gentrify seems to be the most popular parlor game in town.

Nov 15, 15 10:16 pm  · 


AIA Seattle has announced their annual honor awards. Winners include projects by some of my favorite firms out there, as well as quite a few firms I'm not familiar with. The jury consisted of four architects. One of whom, Juhani Pallasmaa, had been a subject of study in my Phenomenology seminar at DAAP, which had a huge influence on my thinking about architecture.

The Cincinnati Design Awards were also announced a couple days ago, and the differences between the two awards programs are illustrative of the different approaches to architecture in each city. While AIA Seattle concentrated on architecture throughout Washington state, the Cincinnati Design Awards lumped architecture in with interior design, landscape architecture, and environmental graphics, and are presented jointly by the local AIA chapter as well as ASLA, ASID, IIDA, and SEGD. I believe there was only one architect on the jury. (On a similar note, Cincinnati Design Week was a couple months ago. While the local AIA chapter was a sponsor, the event was dominated by branding, marketing, and graphic design firms. I don't think a single architecture firm participated.)

This is unfortunate IMO, but maybe it's to be expected in a city so heavily dominated by consumer-based companies like Procter & Gamble, Macy's, Kroger, etc. that the discipline of architecture is typically seen as merely an extension of branding strategy or graphic design. It diminishes the role of architecture, and severely limits the possibility of architects to achieve local recognition. Not counting renovation work and interiors projects, it looks like only about two or three ground-up architectural projects won awards this year.

Nov 19, 15 8:51 pm  · 

Let’s see if I got this right….this is the “Award of Honor” in Seattle?

And this came in 2nd place in Cincinnati?

Maybe it was a good thing we didn’t vote to legalize marijuana in Ohio.

BTW – The Seattle site, home of Microsoft, crashed my computer twice when I tried to download the “Award of Honor” – Maybe that’s your answer…..

Nov 19, 15 10:17 pm  · 

^ And yet you use Seattle-based NBBJ as an example of "great firms" located in Columbus.

It's easy to cherry-pick a couple of outlier projects and use them to score rhetorical points, but my point about the overall quality of the awards still stands.

Nov 20, 15 11:24 am  · 

Did you study with Afsaneh at DAAP, David?

Nov 20, 15 11:45 am  · 

^ No, I'm not familiar with her. I looked her up on Google and it appears she's at Miami University now. My phenomenology seminar was led by John Hancock (no relation to the founding father), who was also one of my thesis advisors.

Nov 20, 15 11:48 am  · 

She seems to be jumping back and forth between the schools. I can't tell your age and, to be honest, I haven't been keeping up with these threads well enough to know if you mentioned it. Sorry.


Phenomenology is a difficult subject, but it was during those discussions when I felt that thrilling sensation of my brain being expanded while I was consciously aware of it. 

Nov 20, 15 12:20 pm  · 

David, (Just having fun) – Seattle may be NBBJ’s “headquarters” listing 30 Washington/Seattle projects on its website, but its little 22,000 SF Columbus branch office lists 25 Ohio projects….thanks to Friedrich....hard to know where they are "based" these days.

Nov 20, 15 1:40 pm  · 

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