Lee Powers

Age: 43
Firm: Andrea Mason Design
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.

I think what’s unique to my generation is that we’ve had a double recession. We graduated into a recession, and we’re now experiencing one mid-career. You had a lot of people doing paper architecture, a lot of people running to academics as a viable way to make a living. I set out on my own. I felt it was now or never.

We’re very small. We do commercial and residential work. It’s just me and a freelancer who helps out—that’s the way I’ve had to deal with the recession. That’s been difficult. I’ve always had stress, but when you’re out on your own, that burden seems so intensely your own. Coming home sometimes I ask myself, “Is everything going well? Are people happy? Am I happy? Did this detail turn out well? Is their roof going to leak?” It does weigh on one’s conscience.

Technology’s a curse and a blessing. On one level you can squeeze more in, bring home a letter that’s half-drafted, email it to yourself, schedule a time to email it to a client in the morning. All that is pretty amazing, but it can also become invasive. You can be in a situation where you’re never really staying put, you’re always trying to squeeze something in. You’re there but you’re not there, but because you have to be there you are.

I have a young son, and love to take him out, watch him ride around on his scooter. We live in Brooklyn, so walking around is great, going to a museum, to the waterfront, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. A babysitter takes care of him, and he’s in school. But I take him to school every morning, and sometimes that’s a challenge.

A lot of clients are friends, and most have been incredibly respectful. With ones who haven’t been, and email me at 1 am, I’ve tried to make a rule not to get back to them immediately, unless I really feel the sky is falling. I try to keep that separation because I’ve watched other colleagues that haven’t, and it seems like chaos breaks loose. Often times with residential work, you’re already so personally involved, it can really get strange.

When I first graduated, I worked for Will Bruder in Phoenix, and we didn’t have any computers at that time. It was out in the middle of the desert. I think he had a cell phone, but it was pretty large. Nobody else had cellphones. It was very high pressure. We had long hours, but we really meditated on things. You didn’t really have distractions. And you were sitting in front of a drawing board with an electric eraser—that was the only thing that was quick. You were able to focus on one thing and finish it, whereas now you’re doing 12 things at once, and not finishing all of them, and then at the end of the day trying to finish them.

Technology enables you to get a quick answer to somebody, makes it possible to steal moments of the day to take care of yourself, or your son, or whatever it is. That part is liberating. But it’s a catch-22. If you’re in the middle of a museum and someone calls you asking about the finish for the hardware, it sort of ruins it. But you’re keeping your business going. I write a tremendous number of lists. They’re usually in one place, or I put them in my phone. It’s always an obstacle course, but you’re moving through it.
—As told to Alex Hoyt