#ArchiTalks #22 Then and Now

I am pleased and honored to be part of the #ArchiTalks Architects Blogging Group. This post is part of the ArchiTalks series (my first!) in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is ‘Then and Now’What I thought I’d be doing and what I’m actually doing…

My better half would say that this post is perfect as my inaugural ArchiTalks post as it’s on my favorite subject. Me!

I’d wanted to be an architect from a young age; inspired by the Blue Prints of Tracey Island on ThunderBirds – I wanted to be that person that drew the plans of the building!

I completed all my studies at Oxford Brookes University (it was called Oxford Polytechnic in the 80’s) where I completed the Architects Registration Board RIBA Exemptions for Part I, II and III. All I wanted to do throughout my studies was still to be a ‘straightforward’ architect; no great ambitions to be the Zaha Hadid of the future – just to do some nice, residential designs for some nice people.

I had at this point (as part of the required Practical Experience) worked for a variety of different Architectural Practices on a variety of different projects and sectors but for some reason I was unsettled and was looking for something beyond architecture. Looking for something entrepreneurial. Looking for something to make my millions in.

The last architectural project I worked on was a ‘pig processing plant’ where our porcine friends came in trotting at one end and ended wrapped in clingfilm at the other and I was disappointed my architectural education had resulted in this. Therefore this realisation and a general sense of restlessness led me down a different path…

So from 1989 to 2003 I did the following in London, UK.

• Set up the UK & Ireland’s leading specialist Vectorworks (then MiniCAD) consultancy & reseller; first conVRgence & then The Design Division:



• I was one of the pioneers of Apple’s QuickTime VR Technology (the photographic concept and math evolved into Google StreetView); I was also included on Apple’s first promotional CD-ROM showcasing QuickTime VR companies and their work (1996)



I still have the Apple CD-ROM and incredibly the movies on it still work but if it weren’t for the ‘Way Back Machine’ Internet Archive (where virtually every website is ‘snap-shotted’ and archived) there would be no record of the time, effort, and money that went into those years of hard work.

The dream, however, was always to design and build our own house. With property prices yet to reach their Celtic-Tiger peak but increasing every day; we decided to up roots and move to Ireland. The original intention was to run the companies remotely from the West of Ireland so we literally packed as much into the car as we could and set off for the ferry to County Mayo. We had no house to move to and no school for the kids. We took the ferry on the Thursday, stayed at the mother-in-laws for the Friday, moved into a rented house and started the kids in school by the following Monday and we’d found the site were to build our house on within the same month – this is after year upon year of going backwards and forwards between the UK and Ireland looking for our ‘dream site’.

So this was really the turning point of me resuming my architectural career and it started with our own house. However, I still had no intention of being an architect for other people. In fact the idea actually repulsed me – “how could I spend the same time and effort doing a house for someone else when I knew how hard it was do do our own?”. In reality, it ended up being a lot easier than I’d thought; your own project is a million times harder than those for other people and it was when our own house was featured in a local paper that I began to realise that maybe I could go back to being an architect and setting up an architectural practice in the West of Ireland:

Following this article I was asked by succession of new clients to design and build their houses, extensions and restorations:

Sligo House

Contemporary barn extension for Tim Morris, bronze sculptor & foundry

Contemporary barn extension for Tim Morris, bronze sculptor & foundry

Before I knew it, inadvertently I had returned to architecture full-time. Originally working from home and currently working from an office in a nearby town:


The Practice has gone from strength to strength, from grabbing the last swings of the Celtic Tiger tail; to battling through the Tiger’s death and now hopefully a more stable type of country and income. However that being said – who knows what’s going to happen post-Brexit UK and a President Trump U.S and the impact this will have upon Ireland.

So I’m now back doing what I wanted to do as a seven-year-old. Were all the other years in between a waste of time? Here are a few conclusions:

• I’ve never been happier; I truly believe that I am now doing what I was meant to do. Although I am a very long way from the skills of a Frank Lloyd Wright; I have confidence in my work and maybe it’s that concept of getting good after 10,000 hours of practice but I am also beginning to be able to “shake houses out of my sleeve.”.

• The businesses I ran have helped me in my business now. The amount I have learned in forming and running businesses has been astronomic and it should be remembered that everything you do will effect and influence your success later in life. The area of painful learning included:

– Business
– Marketing
– Strategy
– Public Relations
– IT
– Social Media

• An architect is a very special and unique vocation. What was apparent looking back on my ‘non-architectural’ work is how very little of it exists today. The architect, however, will see his/her work for many years to come. Good, bad or mediocre, your designs are a solid manifestation of a design process and interpretation of client, society, and site that can be seen today and in the future.

So let’s all move forwards. Looking back is interesting and it does give perspective and clarity but in the words of Mies Van der Rohe:

“It is not possible to go forward while looking back.”

After reading a few of the posts from the other blogging articles (below) here are 2 ‘Then and Now’ photos:

Me as hitch-hiking architecture student on way to Paris

Me as hitch-hiking architecture student on way to Paris

Me & Ma on a pilgrimage. I'd forgotten FLW was mentioned in the newspaper article.

Me & Ma on a pilgrimage. I’d forgotten FLW was mentioned in the newspaper article.

To read how the other ‘blogging architects’ have interpreted this theme click the links below:

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Where It All Went Right

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
From Then to Now…Residential Architect

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Well, How Did I Get Here

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
then and now

Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
The Biggest Surprise of My Life as an Architect

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Then & Now…and the middle

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)

Nicholas Renard – Renard Architecture (@dig-arch)
15 Years of Architecture

Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc. (@hawkinsarch)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
then and now: #architalks

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)

Cindy Black – Rick & Cindy Black Architects (*)

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Then-Now: A Schematic Story

Rosa Sheng – EquitybyDesign [EQxD] (@EquityxDesign)

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
then and now

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)

Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Big Ass Buildings

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Pens & Fizzy Drinks: Or How to Set Measurable Career Goals

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
How did I get here?

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Reflection on My Wonderful, Unexpected Career

Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@architangent)

David Molinaro – Relax2dmax (@relax2dmax)

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Being the light in darkness

Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
The Joys of Being an Architect

Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
Then and Now

Lindsey Rhoden – SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc)

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)

Courtney Casburn Brett – Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)

Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Career Path: Follow Your Heart

Nisha Kandiah – TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
Then & Now : Still Chasing the Dream

Karen E. Williams – (@karenewilliams3)

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)

Rusty Long – Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)

Adam Denais – Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
The Reluctant Code Guru

Ken Saginario – Twelfth Street Studio ()

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
10 Lessons Learned from a Young Architect

13 thoughts on “#ArchiTalks #22 Then and Now

  1. Hi Mark,

    Nice inaugural post and we are happy to have you participating in our “monthly” ArchiTalks topics.

    I enjoyed hearing your tale of how you struck out for Ireland without a concrete plan in place, sounds terribly exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. I have often wondered what sort of life an architect would have with a remote or rural based practice. I think it would be wonderful to have a typical day in the life of Mark Stephens post to read.

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