BAPTISM BY FIRE
Robert D. Roubik, AIA, LEED AP
Antunovich Associates Architects and Planners
Why and how did you become an architect?
Growing up, I had an affinity for art and I was very detail-oriented. I liked to draw and was an avid model builder. My friends and I used to build model rockets, and I took great care in the craftsmanship of each model and would spend hours meticulously refining their construction. I was equally concerned about how the collection was presented in my room, as each model rocket was hung from the ceiling in a location based on the proportions of the overall collection.
When I went to college, I started out in the College of Engineering and transferred into the Architecture School a year later—not necessarily because I wanted to be an architect, but because I knew that I did not want to be an engineer. At that time, I was still uncertain about what career I wanted to pursue. However, when I took my first architectural studio course, one of the first principles that the instructor taught us was the importance of presentation, proportion, and attention to detail in architecture. It was almost like a light bulb went on, and it seemed like a natural fit for me. It was soon apparent that architecture was the direction that my career should be headed.
Why and how did you decide on which schools to attend for your architecture degrees? What degree(s) do you possess?
My home state university, the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), is a very well respected public university that has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. For these reasons, in addition to receiving in-state tuition, I had always planned to attend CU. It was here where I received a bachelor of environmental design with an emphasis in architecture. After I finished my pre-professional degree at CU, I decided that I wanted to pursue my professional degree at a school that had very different strengths. I also wanted to study in an urban center, since I was aware that most architectural graduates ended up practicing in close proximity to where they attended school—and cities offered more opportunities for architects.
Although I had visited Chicago only a few times in my life, I knew that it had a great architectural history and tradition. In addition, my father was originally from Chicago and moving there would give me the opportunity to reconnect with some family that I did not know very well. I applied and was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that allowed me to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). While I did not know a great deal about the school prior to attending, I was aware of the legacy of Mies van der Rohe and had studied Crown Hall in my architectural history courses at CU. At IIT, I received my master of architecture degree.
With over ten years of experience in the discipline, how will your career continue to progress and what do you foresee as challenges moving forward?
I anticipate that I will continue to work on increasingly more complex projects while helping my office transition to the use of BIM (Building Information Modeling) to design and document them. My career progression will include the expansion of my leadership role -- not only on the individual projects themselves but within our office as a whole. A big challenge for me will continue to be finding a balance between my professional and personal lives, which includes raising two small children with my wife.
What has been your greatest challenge as an architect?
During a stretch of about 18 months from 2001–2002, I experienced my first economic downturn as an architect. The office where I was working, which six months earlier had been bustling with activity and more work than we could handle, suddenly did not have enough work to sustain the current staff. In that time period, I witnessed five rounds of layoffs and a 40 percent reduction in staff. It was very disheartening to watch qualified and capable colleagues lose their jobs. This made for an uneasy working environment—since it was never clear when another round of layoffs would occur and who would be targeted. I have since experienced another economic cycle and was much better prepared for the layoffs that accompanied the resulting downturn.
Why did you pursue becoming a LEED AP Professional?
As architects, I felt that it is our responsibility to do our part to help the environment by designing energy-efficient buildings. In addition, with the advancement of energy codes, sustainable design is going to evolve from an ethical decision to a legal obligation.
What are your primary responsibilities and duties as a project architect?
Currently, I am the project architect for a new School of Music on the DePaul University Lincoln Park campus. I have been involved with the project since conceptual design and will continue to develop and document the design through the permitting, bidding, and construction phases. I supervise several staff architects assigned to the project and am the primary point of contact with both the owner and contractor. I also lead the coordination effort between members of our extensive consultant team.
What is the most/least satisfying part of career as an architect?
The most satisfying part of being an architect is seeing our work get built. The process of designing a building can be an arduous, painstaking, stressful one—and what makes it all worthwhile is to see the tangible fruits of our labor.
The least satisfying part of being an architect is the compensation. Although it is improving, the pay is not always commensurate with the time, responsibility, and stress that are an integral part of an architect’s daily work life.
Who or what experience has been a major influence on your career?
The most influential experience of my career so far has been my first project functioning in the role of project architect (PA). I had been working as a staff architect on a team of four on the schematic design of an institutional project called the Catholic Theological Union (CTU). A staff architect typically works on the design and documentation of individual components of a building, but ultimately the PA leads the team and is responsible for all drawing issues and construction administration.
About midway through the permit process, the PA for the project left the firm to pursue other opportunities and my boss asked me to the lead. Suddenly, I was thrust into an unfamiliar role, with responsibilities that were new to me. It was “baptism by fire.” Somehow I got through it and completed the project—which turned out to be very successful in terms of client satisfaction, budget, and schedule. The time period from when I took over as PA to the completion of construction was about two years—and it was the most stressful time in my professional life. However, I have no regrets, as the CTU experience enabled me to gain the experience and confidence necessary for helping me to grow as an architect.