ARCADE’S 30th anniversary has got me feeling a bit nostalgic. Over the last few days, I have been fooling around with my old Kroy machine, reflecting on where I was in 1981 when this magazine was launched. Remembering anything past a few weeks is a stretch for me, but 1981 is different. That was the year I graduated from architecture school and started my career as a young, idealistic, visionary designer…and landed in the dumps.
When I left the University of Oregon in 1981, the US was mired in a recession not unlike what we are experiencing today. In some ways it was worse because we had both double-digit inflation and unemployment. My big mistake after school was deciding to stay in Eugene. Flint, Michigan and Eugene, Oregon had the highest unemployment rates in the country, both over 15%. Much to the astonishment of my colleagues, I actually landed a drafting job in no time flat. It wasn’t Richard Meier, but it was work… but it wasn’t work for long. I was laid off within three weeks. After that I couldn’t even get work at McDonalds! Stubbornly deciding to stay and eke out a living in Grateful Dead’s ground zero, desperation finally drove me to become a door-to-door salesman, offering to paint or draw peoples’ homes. I barely made enough to fill my Pinto with gas, and worse, I was introduced to two new video sensations sweeping the nation and quickly became addicted to PAC-MAN and Space Invaders, which further exacerbated my financial woes. After several months of degradation, I humbly called it quits, gave up architecture and traveled the globe. When the recession eased, my travels landed me in Seattle around 1985 to take up my craft again for good.
The world of architecture is a very different place since those days of the early 80s. Take communication for example. Just think, not only had personal computers and email not yet been invented, we didn’t even have fax machines. Architects actually had to communicate by talking to each other and writing letters—how archaic!!! And having Twitter would be considered a nervous habit, being “linked in” was some kind of weird hippy un-game, texting was done with rub on letters and social networking was just simply picking up chicks from the interior design program. And smart phones? Man, we all used the pay phone down the hall. And talk about primordial, remember the tools of our trade: the squeaky sound of the Mayline that needed oil, electric erasers that sometimes acted as portable helicopters, burned-out nostrils from breathing in ammonia while making endless blueprints, Rapidograph pens that constantly clogged and drooled black ink on finished drawings, White-Out and drafting dust (not to be snorted!!!). How about coloring with markers until you had what was the equivalent of a meth high or working with grizzled veterans who smoked at their drafting desks during working hours? And women, where were the women???? In 1981 “gals” were still vastly outnumbered and looked at very differently. I still remember a female architecture colleague getting flowers from our boss (that’s what we called them in those days) on National Secretary Day. He also had her pick the wallpaper, carpet and furniture for his house. Men were expected to come to work with a tie and jacket, and women were expected to look, well, you know…I should point out that “french curve” was actually a drafting tool, not a term for a foreign exchange intern. I laugh at kids now who complain about REVIT and CADD and being computer jockies. You might think hand drafting is somehow more dignified until you spend all day drawing a 2×4 reflected ceiling plan. Your boss comes by at 4:30 in the afternoon and decides to move the whole ceiling over a half a tile! Erase or start over? Probably the worst thing about those days was really the architecture. It was during this period of time that the profession was beginning to embrace Postmodernism. The movement went on to create probably the most hideous and cartoonish body of buildings in the history of American architecture. This leads me to a final incriminating reflection on where I was in my architecture career when ARCADE was launched: In 1981 I actually believed that the Michael Grave’s Portland Building was cutting edge!Happy anniversary, ARCADE! (I can’t wait until pastel sweaters, big hair and thin ties come back into style—wait, they already have!!!)