My Dream of Becoming an Architect Just Like Grandpa
By Patrick D. Murphy, President, PDM Architects
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From the time I was about ten years young anyone that would listen to me was told the same story of my life dream. “When I grow up, I am going to be an architect just like my grandpa. He designs many buildings and we go to the dedication parties when the building is open. They have ribbon-cutting ceremonies and bless the buildings. Grandpa helps to cut the ribbon with the owner and then everyone has a party. It is a lot of fun.”
It was an age of wonderful innocence and wide-eyed enthusiasm. There was a peaceful feeling of future success with this dream because nothing had entered my life to challenge it at the age of ten. So my journey to be an architect began as an exciting prospect of a fun-filled future and continues today, half a century later.
But… back to the beginning. My grandpa, Thomas J. Nolan Sr., was a seventh-grade graduate in the latter years of the 1800s. He was self-taught from the eighth grade onward. Grandpa was proficient in welding, masonry, carpentry, artistic painting, music, stage productions and best of all, architecture. He started his architecture business in 1911 after serving an apprenticeship with a large architecture firm in Louisville, Kentucky. This was a monumental decision that changed the trajectory of our family for well over 100 years.
In 1929, Grandpa’s eldest son, Thomas J. Nolan Jr. (my uncle), joined the growing business. Obviously it was not the best times to join any business, and they struggled together for the next fifteen years to keep the dream alive. It was now 1945 and the Great Depression was over and the world’s greatest war was winding down. My other uncle, Robert A. Nolan Sr., now entered the business with his brother and Grandpa. This marked the boom times. The architecture business grew rapidly and prosperity was in the air.
I was born into the family as the youngest grandson in 1953. By the time I was ten years young, my cousin had joined the architecture company as the fourth family member in the business. In a newspaper interview, my grandfather stated jokingly that perhaps there was an architecture gene in the family. And perhaps there really was an architecture gene, because another cousin joined the company in 1971 upon graduation from architecture school.
I grew up in this vibrant and nurturing environment. My parents and grandparents encouraged my interest and architecture every step of the way. My mother provided materials and instructions to me as a child to practice freehand drawing often. My father would tell me stories to enhance my business sensibility. And my grandpa would take me to the architecture office on special occasions as a child growing up.
When I was twelve-and-a-half years young, my grandmother passed away. My parents invited Grandpa to move into our home and live with us. This was to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. However, we quickly realized as a family we were one bedroom short.
My grandpa sat me down one evening after dinner for a private conversation. With a twinkle in his eye, he explained how all of his project architects were very busy at the office. And he had become aware that we were going to have to add on to the house to accommodate the expanding family. So, Grandpa inquired if I would be interested in becoming the “project architect” on the new house addition. I about popped. “Yes. Of course I want to help out. How will all this happen? I don’t know where to begin.” Grandpa intervened with a broad smile on his face and said that he would certainly be there to assist. This calmed my concerns and gave me a sense of confidence.
We worked on the drawings every night on the kitchen table for a month. When the drawings were complete, Grandpa said that it was time to contact the contractor to build the addition. He made the arrangements and let me know that the next Saturday morning the contractor would take a first look at the site.
When the contractor arrived, I was at my grandfather’s side. This was all new to me and also very exciting to see the conversion of architectural drawings to real buildings. My grandfather greeted his friend the contractor. Then grandpa put his arm around my small shoulders and said to the man “This is my grandson and he is my ‘project architect’ on the job.” The gentleman bent over and gave me a firm handshake and said, “If there is anything that you need during the construction, you just let me know.” I was dreaming the dream at age twelve.
I was a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore when Grandpa passed away. For me, it was a tremendous loss of a great friend. He had given me so much in a very short period of time. It was now time to continue forward on my own. School was always a challenge for me. Studies, retention of information, test anxiety, organizational skills, and short attention span were mountains for me to climb in the academic world. My grades would fluctuate all across the spectrum.
By my senior year, the applications to colleges were being returned. My requests for response from various colleges of architecture were arriving in the mail. All of them were eloquently worded and contained the same message. The academic departments, upon review of my high school transcripts and entrance test scores, were recommending that I choose a different major that would not be so rigorous for my college experience.
I was devastated. How could they not understand that this was my lifelong dream? I was deeply wounded and got rather angry. Fortunately, this was short-lived. My parents and grandparents had invested in me very heavily. They had sewn into my early childhood fabric a strong self-esteem and a healthy sense of positive expectancy. Therefore, I made the decision to not be denied without a good fight.
Upon gathering my wits and courage, I called and spoke directly to the dean of architecture school at the University of Kentucky. I had prepared the sales job of my life. He talked at length about the academic rigors. I countered with my desire and my dream. No one had ever called and challenged him before. And he finally relented and granted me permission to enter the program at the school of architecture, based upon my unique boldness, persistence and passion.
The bachelor of architecture degree was a five-year study program. In all, it took me six years of academic ups and downs to successfully complete the requirements. Many of my advisors would question me along my journey. I would simply get a new advisor. My passionate spirit and drive to pursue the dream grew stronger, year after year of progress and positive accomplishment.
It was a whole new beginning upon graduation. I now entered a world of real practice and a minimum of a three-year apprenticeship. After the minimum three years as an apprentice architect with an accredited degree in architecture, an apprentice can sit for the exam. The exam was grueling. It covered five days of testing starting on Monday morning, running each day for eight hours of testing through Friday, which has a twelve-hour design problem to resolve. This was now the most formidable academic mountain to climb. It was the final obstacle for me to overcome academically.
Knowing that this was going to be a very difficult part of the journey, I set a goal to pass everything on the first attempt. Not many apprentices pass on the first try of all the battery of exams. Next I discussed the commitment with my wife, because it would require lots of sacrifice. We agreed to go for it.
For three years from the beginning of the apprenticeship, I would commit to study every night after work, and spend the weekends and holidays studying as well. We even gave up vacation time to allow for intense study. Discipline became the order of every day. I implemented dedication to overcome my short attention span, took courses on speed-reading and retention, traveled to preparatory seminars and took mock tests. The closer we came to the success and achievement of a goal, I found the more intense my activity became. It was thrilling for me to overcome lifelong obstacles and learning impediments through self-discipline and prayer.
Finally the “big day” had arrived. I was ready. Never in my life have I been so confident. The test anxiety was gone. The days of testing were pure joy to exhibit my newfound powers. Now understand, all exam participants have to wait for about three months to get the results. We had sacrificed, prayed and anticipated that I would win through and upon completion we had to wait.
Finally, the letter arrived. On the very front of the letter it read… Mr. Patrick D. Murphy, ARCHITECT. We had won through! All the collective effort had paid off. The year was 1980 and only three new architects had passed the Architectural Registration Board certification. This meant I could be registered as an architect in any state in the USA.
The rest of the story is a wonderful history to date. In 1982, I establish my own architectural company, Patrick D. Murphy, Inc. Architects. I was twenty-eight years young at the time. Notably, it was the same age as my grandpa when he established his company. Our architectural business has been very successful and provided livelihoods for many employees and other family members.
I am still living the dream. We began with nothing but excitement, hopes and an optimistic view of the future. Today I am still enjoying the journey that began for me as a ten-year-old child. As I type this story in my office, I have a full-color portrait of my grandpa that was done many years ago, hanging on the wall. He still inspires me today and I have the opportunity to inspire many others to pursue their dreams. My grandpa, my family and I encourage you to find your dream and pursue it with passion. I promise you there is no greater journey.
Patrick D. Murphy, AIA, GRP (Green Roof Professional)
Patrick D. Murphy Company, Inc., Architects
— Patrick D. Murphy, AIA, GRP
When I grow up, I am going to be an architect just like my grandpa. He designs many buildings and we go to the dedication parties when the building is open. They have ribbon-cutting ceremonies and bless the buildings. Grandpa helps to cut the ribbon with the owner and then everyone has a party. It is a lot of fun.
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