New Kid On The Block

Scott Vrooman - Thursday, February 05, 2015

TriArch uses interns occasionally to help build an "apprenticeship" for a student who is questioning whether to go forward in the profession.  Last May, we hosted Emily Barton – a recent graduate of Holland Hall Preparatory School in Tulsa.  Emily is now a student at the University of Georgia, but we asked her to write a blog before she left TriArch last summer.  It is our goal to have her write more blog entries in the future to see if her perspective changes over the years.  This is her first entry, written on May 15, 2014:


It’s always hard being the new kid. It is especially hard when you are the new kid among a bunch of adults as has been my experience being an intern at Tri Arch. Not to speak poorly on my experience as an intern but, being a heavily infected outpatient from the Senioritis ward, I initially only viewed it as a graduation requirement, something I just had to get out of the way before I could finally declare my freedom from high school. However, over the last week I’ve learned a great deal about conducting one’s self in the workplace.



As I previously said, it’s hard being a kid among a bunch of adults, which I no doubt was. The first day I walked in and was introduced to a bunch of professionals. People who had gone to school and studied what they are now doing as their career. I felt dwarfed by their knowledge of how things work even if that was just how to properly pick up the phone. Here I was, a kid who just finished high school and when you really got down to it, I didn’t know anything. Sure, I can take a derivative of a function and I can provide some excellent literary analysis but I know next to nothing that will carry me towards whatever career I choose so, this has been a very informative and useful experience to say the least.


The first day when I walked into the office I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I would be contributing to the productivity of the office or if I would just be fetching Starbucks for my superiors (which might actually be considered contributing to the productivity) but I came in with open expectations, which were inevitably accompanied by a strong sense of anxiousness. However, that uncomfortable anxiousness, I realized, is something I will have to face a lot in the next few years. I will be facing a completely new environment and, maybe even more impressively, an entire new state that I will eventually have to grow accustomed to. Beyond that, for every single new job I get there will be an accompanying first day where I am once again the new kid. Although the prospect of moving and being dropped into a completely new environment is daunting, I have learned that there are so many interesting and exciting new opportunities that become available when you become vulnerable.


I am excited as I venture into this new chapter of my life. I am looking forward to the new relationships that I create with the new people I meet, trying new things, and learning that I don’t like some new things. I’m looking forward to learning more about myself and, little by little, coming closer to deciding what it is I want to do with my life and choosing where the next place is that I want to be the new kid. 

Calvin & Hobbes

Scott Vrooman - Thursday, January 29, 2015

We have a “heroes” section on our web site. I put it there because I think the legacy that people leave and who they impact are some of the best reasons for our existence. Ironically, one of my biggest heroes is not a real person. In fact, one of them isn’t even a person at all.


One of my biggest heroes is “Calvin & Hobbes”–Bill Watterson’s ground-breaking comic book characters from the 90’s. For those who don’t know, Calvin is a 5 year old boy who is filled with mischief, imagination, and deep, soul-searching questions about the universe and our place in it. It is a comic strip written for adults through the eyes of a 5 year old. Calvin has a stuffed tiger named Hobbes that grows and is alive in his mind, yet is merely a small stuffed animal from other people’s perspective. You get a real sense of his vivid imagination and clever wit from the detailed artwork and narrative that Watterson puts into the drawings.


Calvin is a jerk. He is self-centered, uncaring, and completely disrespectful to his parents and friends. So why is he one of my heroes?



Because it’s all a ruse. Calvin is a searcher. He asks questions, explores, goes on adventures both in his mind and in the world around him, and has undying loyalty to his “friend”, Hobbes. He has no time to worry about what others think of him. His only mission is to figure this world out and why he is in it. But the storytelling is beautiful. There is irony in almost every strip as he is completely clueless about his regular misinterpretation of what life is about. Then, usually through something Hobbes says, he gets it. You go along as a reader laughing at his antics, then there seems to always be a moment where his lack of wisdom turns into deep wisdom. It catches you by surprise, and it is extremely satisfying because you don’t see it coming.


Watterson drew the strip for 10 years, then he abruptly stopped. It was wildly popular, and he stood to make millions of dollars from merchandising and licensing. He refused to allow Calvin to become a commercial metaphor. Calvin became a conduit for those of us who grew up searching a little more than our peers. He was funny, rude, and had a complete disregard for authority. While this seems like a recipe not to be emulated, somehow it created a balance to the constant barrage of what society expects from each of us.


People typically think of their heroes as being a person who influenced them. Who am I to say Calvin & Hobbes don’t fulfill that requirement? 

Telling A Story

Scott Vrooman - Sunday, January 25, 2015

Most people think that architects draw and crunch numbers. I have heard from people the phrase “I wanted to be an architect but I was never good at math” at least two dozen times. While it’s true that there are benefits to being able to draw and to be able to do complex math on the fly, it is certainly not a requirement for the job. Technology has taken care of those gaps between inherent skills and enhanced skills.


Architecture is one of maybe 5 or 6 commonly identified “professional” occupations. Doctors, attorneys, accountants, engineers, and a few others are in that same category. Of those, architecture paints itself as the intersection between art and science. We deal with life safety issues in the built environment. So some of the reputation of “drawing and crunching is warranted.”


But there’s another side of architecture that is much more exciting to me. You see, architecture tells a story. Sure, the building can tell a story about the concept and symbolism behind it. But I’m talking about the story of the people that occupy the building.


We design a lot of schools and churches at our firm. While there are always opportunities to express abstract emotion in the architecture, I am always amazed at the amount of passion in the people that work in these building environments. They know that what they do has a purpose—that they make a difference in people’s lives.


They have a story to tell.


At a school, most everyone who works there believes at their core that education can change lives and they want desperately to influence their students with their story. For the students, they have a story, too. Sometimes it doesn’t include education. Sometimes it involves a broken family or frivolous focus.

Architecture gets to design spaces for the intersection of those stories. Does education change lives, or does a student’s apathy or disinterest keep their stories apart? A lot of that is up to the teacher and the student. But architecture’s role is to provide a space that those stories can play out without distraction and without barriers.


Architecture tells a story. But I believe architecture plays a bigger role when it facilitates the intersection of two or more stories. That is where the magic happens.


We may draw and we may crunch, but our greatest contribution is that we can weave.

Right Brain Left Brain

Scott Vrooman - Thursday, January 01, 2015

I’ll be honest, I didn’t start out wanting to be an architect. 


I was going to be a doctor. I’m not sure why I wanted to be that, because I wither at the sight of blood. It wasn’t until my 2nd year in college that I thought maybe there was something to designing buildings as a career.


It is speculated that Legos are a major force in getting kids interested in architecture. Back when I was growing up, Legos were brand new in middle America and most of our time was spent playing with Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs (which were invented by the son of Frank Lloyd Wright). I enjoyed building things, but I had much more fun racing hot wheels and riding my bike. I say all of this to remember that architecture is one of those careers that is a potpourri of many interests and talents. This was my eventual draw to it (no pun intended)…that I could wear many hats and make a living doing it.


Architecture is one of the few careers that requires an equal amount of right-brain and left-brain activity to do it successfully. In fact, 10% of the general population is left-handed (right-brained), but up to 50% of architects are left-handed. This points to a balance that has to take place on a day to day basis.


I am right-handed (left-brained), but I’ve always felt more spatially enabled than other right-handers. On the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed logical processes and systems. So, it would seem, I am in the exact profession I am supposed to be in.


But what of accountants, lawyers, construction workers, human resource people, etc.? Recent research has shown that most every job and profession in global economy is migrating toward having a need for the skill sets provided by “balanced-brained” people. That is, people that don’t necessarily have a dominant side to their brain. The world is in need of creativity and design even as it is in need of organized systems and processes that help the engine of commerce run.


When I was growing up, I didn’t know much about right-brain/left-brain collaboration and that most people had one side dominate their actions. I just knew that I liked to race hot wheels in crazy loopy configurations up and down the walls & floor of my bedroom while also maintaining a bracket for the round-robin tournaments for when I would pit one car against another until they were all eliminated except one (not surprisingly, it was always the same car that won the race, but when you’re 7, the science of gravity or better wheel friction coefficient doesn’t get in the way of being surprised at the victor). I was practicing left/right brain activity even then…it just took me 20 years to realize that’s what designing buildings is all about.


Doctors may also have right/left skills, although I’ve never met one who possessed that talent/curse. I’m glad I chose architecture. Either way, the mind knows what it needs, and eventually it leads us to the path that makes us the most intellectually fulfilled. Whether we follow that path is up to our heart.

Which can be known to have a mind of its own.