William Stewart

I always wanted to be an architect. Ever since I can remember, I have had this fascination with the allure of architecture. I still chuckle when I think about how I used to take photos of buildings with my Kodak Pocket Instamatic camera and then, on my hands and knees, tape the pictures together on our basement floor to make a collage of the entire façade. But growing up in the predominantly blue-collar city of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, did not provide much opportunity for access down that less-traveled road to a future in architecture.

Then I met Don Hancock, my high school drafting teacher, who recognized that I had a unique interest. Mr. Hancock taught me how to draw; more importantly, he showed me the passion of how lines on the paper could form beautiful images. It was in his class that I saw my first architecture magazine. At that moment I knew I had found my calling, down a road with a whole new world of possibilities.

Mr. Hancock was the first of many people who crossed my path on the journey to fulfill a dream. There have been many of these mentors since, all, in some way, having an influence on my decisions and my choices down this chosen road. We have all had these special people in our lives, and, even though their guidance may have touched us long ago, their influence lasts a lifetime.

It is our responsibility to do the same. Our profession faces enormous challenges as we move into a new era. We are entrusted with the obligation to do our part, to help those entering the profession develop into the leaders who will take us far beyond where we have been before. It’s amazing how the smallest of gestures—something you say, a little encouragement, or a thoughtful action—can have such a great impact and inspire someone to chase his or her dreams.

The investment that we need to make to see prosperity in architecture’s future is to challenge and empower emerging professionals to lead the process of creating solutions to issues that look beyond the obvious and heighten public awareness of the importance that design plays in improving the quality of life.

I was reminded of this during a recent visit to Chicago to see Walter Sobel, FAIA. Walter, a respected and revered mentor, was celebrating his 100th birthday and his 80th year in architecture. He talked at great length about how our legacy is not the buildings we design, but rather the influence we impart on the public, our clients, our colleagues, and the young people who will inherit the responsibility to lead the profession. He asked me what I was doing to further this concept of “building leaders.”

Walter’s concern for the future of architecture illustrates the significance of the passion we all have as stewards of the profession. Although there has been much discussion in the media recently about how architecture is not a desirable profession, Walter reminded me that it has always been a good time to be an architect. His words made me thankful for all the people in my life who had a small, or large, part in guiding a young man—who at one time thought his future consisted of driving a delivery truck—to achieve his dream of becoming an architect, and who even ended up having the incredible honor to serve as the president of the American Institute of Architects.

It has been an amazing journey. It couldn’t have happened without all the mentors who encouraged me to dare to take what the poet Robert Frost called the road less traveled by. And, as he said, that has made all the difference.

Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 President