Article Title

25th Anniversary | Must See TV

Pretending To Teleconference


Article by Robin Whitehurst, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Ellen and I have often joked that we should write a sitcom for television based on our experiences over the last 25 years. Believe it or not the A/E industry can provide for very interesting subject material that ranges from the humorous to the poignant. As architects we find that to do our job well, we need to engage with all sorts of people in very different places, while maintaining our focus on creating beautiful environments that bring meaning to people’s lives.

Our sitcom of course, would have to begin at our first office, the family room of Ellen’s Lakeview neighborhood house. Our only other office companion was Gus, her family dog. Every day when I heard the mail man on the porch steps, I would race Gus to the door. Gus enjoyed terrorizing the mailman and in the process shredding those precious checks from our clients as they came through the slot in the door.

Included in this episode would have to be Gus’s encounter with one of our first clients. We had just landed a large residential commission when the client wanted to stop by our office and drop off some ideas they had been gathering. As she came through the rear-yard patio door, Gus felt the need to welcome her by jumping up and placing his front paws on her shoulders. We of course were horrified, our client however, a dog lover, just laughed and hugged Gus right back. We knew then just how special our client was and were even more excited to design a new home for them.

One client we have been fortunate to become friends with is the Ismaili community. This episode begins with us trying to impress a large group of Ismaili’s in our cramped loft office conference room with an air conditioner that was loud and barely functional and sweets that the Ismailis wouldn’t touch until we were welcomed into the project. This was a cultural subtlety we did not know and we worried that we had somehow offended them with our choices. Ultimately, the President of the Glenview Ismailis ate the sweets and we designed a new Jamatkhana (a Muslim house of worship) in Glenview, Illinois, but this project didn’t come without its challenges.

After a stressful year of zoning approvals, we wondered how many more hoops the neighbors and officials would make us jump through when one gentlemen testified his concern was a new building would make his basement flood again and put another watermark on his tv set. All we could do was chuckle and realize all issues are important when it comes to adding a building into a community’s fabric.

The final scenes of the Ismaili episode would be at the nearly finished building on the night before the grand opening, with Ellen, myself, her son and many of our staff and the Ismailis stretching and stapling custom textile wall hangings to their frames while the Ismaili community were cleaning every surface of the building. Late in the evening, tea and sweets were shared by all in the Social Hall.

The reason we share our stories (and our sweets) is because we would not be the people we are today, nor the firm we are today, if not for our clients. Our experience working with people to create places for them to live, work and play has enhanced our lives and their environments and we are certain will give us funny and serious topics for our sitcom well into the future.